Rockdale Pipeline

LARGE PIPE-LAYING PROJECTS ARE THE SPECIALTY OF THIS ATLANTA-AREA COMPANY

Apr 12, 2010

Komatsu reliable equipment and dealer support

Rockdale Pipeline has become one of the leading pipe-laying contractors in the Atlanta area, but success didn’t come easily and didn’t happen overnight. When company founder and CEO Paul Duncan first went into business installing residential service laterals back in the early 1970s, he still had a full-time job, so he did Rockdale projects on a part-time basis in the evenings and on weekends. ”During that time, my wife, Jo, would come in and run the office,” Duncan recalled. ”This was a family operation from the very beginning.

“I can’t say I ever specifically had a plan for Rockdale Pipeline to become a large company,” continued Duncan. “My goal was to do each and every project to the best of my ability and give my customers what they wanted — a good job at a fair price. By doing that, we developed a reputation as a reliable, trustworthy contractor, which in turn earned us more business. As a result, we’ve been able to progress steadily by growing a little bit every year.”

Today, Rockdale Pipeline employs about 100 people. Headquartered in Conyers, Ga., in Rockdale County, the company will work throughout the Southeast, but it prefers to stay primarily in the greater Atlanta area. Its specialty is laying water, sewer and storm lines, often on large, multimillion-dollar municipal utility projects.

“Laying pipe is our bread and butter,” observed Duncan. “We’ll do a pumping station if it’s part of a pipe job, but putting the pipe in the ground is where we really shine. The larger, the more difficult and the more complex a project is, the better it seems to suit us. We’re very competitive price-wise on the big jobs because we have the expertise required to do them efficiently and we either have the equipment we need or we’re willing to go out and get it.”

A family business

Rockdale Pipeline is very much a family business. In 1982, Duncan and his brother-in-law O.D. Richardson, who, at the time, had his own construction company, joined forces in a 50/50 partnership. O.D. dissolved his company and merged with Duncan creating a larger, more powerful Rockdale Pipeline.

Today, Duncan serves as CEO of Rockdale Pipeline. Richardson’s widow, Myrtle, remains a partner and her son, Kenneth Richardson, is President. Other family members also play key roles. The Richardsons’ daughter, Shirley Cooley, serves as Vice President. Arthur Richardson is a Superintendent. Paul Duncan’s son, Rickey, and daughter, Charlotte Garrett, are both Project Managers.

“Some people think it’s difficult to work with family, but I disagree,” Duncan maintained. “Family is going to be with you and support you through thick and thin. They’re more devoted to the company and more committed to making sure it’s successful. So, I think it’s easier to run a business when family is involved — plus I enjoy it more.”

In addition to family members, Rockdale Pipeline also relies on talented and dedicated employees throughout the work force, including General Manager Dan Stevens.

“Some places have people who come and go — we have people who come and stay,” noted Duncan. “We’re very proud of our managers and our pipe crews. We think they stack up favorably to any crews in the business.”

Big jobs

Rockdale Pipeline has completed many large water and sewer jobs, not just in Atlanta, but throughout the Southeast, and has even gone as far as Dallas, Texas, for jobs.

“The first big job we did was in 1984, a couple of years after O.D. and I got together,” Duncan recalled. “It was called Deep Creek in south Fulton County. When we got it, we were kind of a newcomer and I think there might have been some skeptics who questioned whether we could handle a job of that magnitude — but we completed it on time and on budget. From that time on, we’ve been willing to tackle just about anything.

“At the Dallas job, we installed 108-inch pipe, which was the largest-diameter pipe we had ever worked with,” he noted. “We also had a large job in Tampa, Florida, installing 84-inch pipe that was 50 feet long. We had to buy a 100-ton excavator specifically to be able to handle pipe of that size, but we don’t have any problem doing that. We’re willing to bid a job, then if we need specialized equipment, that’s fine — we’ll go out and get it.”

Rockdale Pipeline’s largest job to date was a $93 million sewer separation project for the city of Atlanta. “It was a two-and-a-half-year job to separate sewer water from storm drain,” Duncan noted. “It included replacing a lot of sewer and water lines and along with that, rebuilding the streets with new curb and gutters. We finished it up about a year ago.”

Taking on large, long-term jobs like that is second nature to Duncan, who says he’s always been an optimist regarding his and his company’s capabilities.

“I’ve never even thought about there being a job that we couldn’t do. Some are a little tougher than others, but we’re convinced we can do nearly anything when it comes to putting pipe in the ground. We’ll go wherever the job is and do whatever needs to be done to complete it on time and on budget. If we need more people, we hire them. If we need more equipment, we get it. Whatever it takes, that’s what we do.”

Reliable equipment and dealer support

For equipment to do those big jobs the company is known for, Rockdale Pipeline turns primarily to Komatsu machines from Tractor & Equipment Company.

“We have Komatsu wheel loaders (WA250s up to WA500s), dozers (mostly D61s) off-road trucks and hydraulic excavators,” said General Manager Dan Stevens. “I’d estimate we probably have about 70 pieces total and roughly half of those are excavators. Komatsu equipment has worked very well for us through the years. It’s reliable, productive and it lasts a long time.”

Rockdale Pipeline has Komatsu excavators ranging from a compact PC78 up to a PC750, including numerous tight-tail-swing machines such as the PC308. “We really like the Komatsu zero-tail-swing excavators because we frequently work in tight conditions in downtown Atlanta and elsewhere,” explained Stevens. “They allow us to be more productive in those situations, and save us wear and tear on the equipment because we’re not banging the back end when we swing around.”

In addition to the equipment itself, Duncan and Stevens say they appreciate the support they get from TEC and their salesman, VP/ Regional Sales Manager-GA Tim Aiken. “Tim’s the best,” acknowledged Duncan. “We have total faith and trust in him and everybody at TEC. They stand behind their products and provide the support we need to be successful.”

“The bottom line is, we get great productivity from the Komatsu machines and great parts and service from TEC,” added Stevens. “We do most of our own repairs and maintenance in-house, but when we need TEC, they respond quickly and efficiently, and that’s very important to us.”

Providing value for customers

Like many construction companies, Rockdale Pipeline has felt the impact of the economic downturn. At its peak a couple of years ago, the company employed about 200 people. Today, its work force is approximately half that.

“It’s been difficult, but we believe better days lie ahead,” said Duncan. “I think we’re going to start seeing improvement this year. Of course, it’s going to take some time to get back to where we were, but eventually, we’ll get there.

“I think the key for any business is to take care of its customers and do each job to the best of its ability,” he added. “That’s true in good times and bad, and it’s certainly what we do. As long as we continue to provide value to our clients, we should be able to get our fair share of available projects and we hope to be able to build on that as we move forward.”