Schrock Excavating

THE FOUNDER’S ILLNESS SLOWED, BUT COULDN’T STOP, THIS NORTHERN INDIANA SITE DEVELOPMENT FIRM

Mar 13, 2014

Back in business with Komatsu equipment

When Dave Schrock started his own construction company, Schrock Excavating, in 1987, he had a dump truck and a small dozer. His wife, Diana, was working as a restaurant waitress. Money was so tight that when Dave would get a construction job, he would go to the restaurant to get Diana’s tip money in order to be able to buy fuel for the dozer so he could actually do the job.

“Luckily for me, she was a very good waitress, so she usually had enough tip money for me to fill up the machine,” Dave recalled. “I’d get the job done as soon as possible and hope that I would get paid right away.”

“Many people live paycheck to paycheck when they are just getting started,” Diana added. “That certainly applied to us, except there wasn’t a paycheck – it was job-to-job. It wasn’t easy, but we had faith it would all work out.”

With Dave’s hard-charging personality, it did work out. In a relatively short period of time, Schrock Excavating, based in Wakarusa, Indiana, near South Bend, earned a reputation as a company you could count on to do site work on time and on budget.

“Our specialty was commercial site development and residential subdivisions. I built the business on solid principles, and I was a man of my word,” said Dave. “In the early ‘90s, we experienced a ‘go-go’ type atmosphere, meaning deadlines were critical. Owners and general contractors were willing pay a premium to anyone who could deliver a site on time or early – and that was us. If I said we’d be done Thursday night at 6:00, we would make that happen, come hell or high water.”

To better ensure his ability to meet deadlines on each and every job, Schrock expanded his company’s list of services beyond excavation, grading and pipe, to include aggregate supply and asphalt paving.

“Expanding our services essentially made us a one-stop-shop,” he noted. “Based on our successful track record of completing projects on time, we grew rapidly. By 1996, we had 65 equipment operators and had become a fairly significant player in site development circles in northern Indiana and southern Michigan.”

Unfortunately, during that time, Dave began to notice his health was failing. By 2000, Dave knew he had a heart issue, so he decided to cut back on his high-stress job a bit, hoping that his health might improve. He had started “hobby farming” a few years earlier, so with the company he had built running smoothly, he felt he could spend more time on the farm “relaxing.”

“With my personality, I just can’t do anything on a small scale,” he said. “It struck me that having a million dollars worth of equipment and only farming 500 acres was incredibly inefficient. I expanded the farm to a 5,000-acre operation, so it was no longer just a little hobby. The farm has continued to grow, and now it’s about 8,600 acres.”

Throughout the years, Dave’s health deteriorated to the point that he started downsizing Schrock Excavating. In 2009, Dave received a heart transplant, and the company was down to about a dozen employees, most of whom were working on Schrock’s farm.

Company “rebirth”

Today, Schrock Excavating is experiencing a rebirth of sorts. Nearly five years after his transplant, Dave is “doing fine.” He remains President of Schrock Excavating, and Diana remains Secretary/Treasurer, but their son, Zach, now runs the daily operations. One of their daughters, Courtney, will soon graduate from college with an accounting degree and will come onboard full time as well.

“We slowed down, but never closed the excavating side of the business because I always suspected Zach might want to take it over,” said Dave. “He’s an awesome operator. Some people just have a feel for equipment and how to run it – and Zach is one of those people. He says it’s because he used to come out on jobs with me when he was little. Whatever the reason, when it comes to operating, he’s really good. And Courtney is very smart. She’ll manage the financials and the paperwork and will be the brains of the operation.”

The new company has already done several jobs. Commercial building sites remain a specialty, along with agricultural work that includes land clearing, drainage and irrigation projects.

“As more people realize that Schrock Excavating is back in business, I’m confident the workload will pick up,” said Dave. “Zach is different than I am; he’s more laid back and deliberate – maybe a little more careful. As a result, the new Schrock Excavating may never be as big as we were in the late ‘90s, but it may have a better recipe for long-term success. It will be a very precise and well-run company because that’s Zach’s personality.”

Komatsu means “good equipment”

It will also be a company with good equipment because Dave is a stickler for it. In fact, a difference of opinion over equipment caused him to start his own business in the first place.

“I was a foreman for a company and agreed with the owner regarding work, but I didn’t like his equipment philosophy,” Dave recalled. “He bought old, cheap machines at auction, and they were always breaking down. Customers would get upset because we’d fall behind schedule. I didn’t want to work like that. In my own business, I wanted equipment I could count on to run each and every day. Eventually, I found Brandeis, and Komatsu became my ‘go-to’ brand.

“With Zach basically restarting the excavation business, we both thought he needed some new machines. He asked for my advice, so I told him that I believe Komatsu produces top-of-the-line equipment – efficient, reliable and the best value on the market, and if he bought a Komatsu excavator and wheel loader, he’d never regret it.”

They met with Brandeis Sales Rep Doug Fox and decided on a Komatsu PC240LC-10 excavator and a Komatsu WA320-7 wheel loader.

“The WA320 is an awesome wheel loader,” said Zach. “It’s very well-balanced, quiet and offers excellent visibility. It’s also very fuel efficient. And the PC240, like all Komatsu excavators, is outstanding – smooth and powerful. It’s also the perfect size, big enough to handle good-sized projects but small enough to get into places where space is an issue. Both units have more than met my expectations.”

“Obviously, I’m a fan of Komatsu, but equally important is the long-term relationship I’ve had with Brandeis Machinery & Supplies,” said Dave. “They take great care of us, especially with parts and service. Beyond that, we have a mutual trust and know we’ll always do right by each another. Over 25 years, we’ve had a disagreement or two, but we’ve always resolved our differences. Because of that, here we are, a quarter-ofa- century later, still doing business together. I think that says it all.”

Great memories

Dave’s involvement in the new Schrock Excavating will be limited. He’ll be around for advice but will not be involved in day-to-day operations.

“I keep saying we need to sell the office and move on with the rest of our lives – have some fun,” said Dave’s wife, Diana. “But Dave is reluctant to do that. He’s an entrepreneur and this company was built on his blood, sweat and tears. In the back of his mind, I think he’d like to start all over again, but the future of the company is now up to Zach and Courtney.”

“In today’s economy, there’s always a place for a good contractor, so I think our children can grow the business if they want to,” said Dave. “Courtney’s fiancée is a construction manager who did an internship with us while he was in college. I’m hoping that he’ll join Zach and Courtney one day. I think they would make a good team.”

In addition to his own children, Dave has encouraged and helped former employees start their own construction companies.

“Contracting can be very rewarding, both monetarily and emotionally. I have great memories of the places I’ve been, the people I’ve worked with and the jobs I’ve done – and I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. I’ve worked hard and had good people with me. For anybody who’s willing to put in the time and effort and treat people right, this is a great industry that offers tremendous opportunity.”