Smith Pipeline


May 5, 2008

Water-line installations are the specialty of this Atlanta-area firm

Rickey Smith started Smith Pipeline in Fairburn, Ga., just southeast of Atlanta, in 1984. For most of its existence, the company specialized in water-line installation, primarily for residential subdivisions.

“Installing water lines is our claim to fame,” stated Smith, who says he’s been told by many large contractors that he’s the fastest water man in the state of Georgia. “Our equipment is sized properly for water work. Our trucks are set up for it. Plus, we’re familiar with all the different city and county codes and specifications that go into laying water line. As a result, we’re able to do the work fast, and we do it right. When we finish a job, it’s clean, it’s nice and it holds water. There are no leaks, so everybody’s ready to go.”

For the most part, Rickey Smith ran the business from the seat of a tractor. “I was definitely a ‘working’ owner,” said Smith. “I was in the field all day, then spent the night doing office work, such as estimating and paying bills. When we got a second crew, I thought that was about as big as I wanted us to get because I personally wanted to see everything go in the ground.”

That began to change when Smith’s daughter, Kimberly, joined the company full time in 2003. Today, Smith Pipeline employs about 30 people on five crews, plus a boring crew.

“Kimberly took us to the next level,” acknowledged Rickey. “She has an engineering degree from Georgia Tech, but her organizational and management skills are what have really allowed us to move ahead. She makes things happen from a business standpoint, as well as managing the crews.”

At Kimberly’s urging, Smith Pipeline has recently begun to do sewer and storm-drain work, in addition to water lines. She has also increased the company’s bonding capacity to allow it to work on road jobs and other larger projects, including municipal water work.

“The vast majority of our work used to be for general contractors — now it’s for developers,” noted Kimberly. “Many times, we’ll still just bid the water portion of a job because that’s what the developer is asking for. But now, if he wants us to bid the sewer and storm drain too, we can do that. It gives us much more flexibility.”

Family atmosphere

Although the company is larger, Smith Pipeline is still very much a family business. Rickey remains President. His wife, Vicki, who handled most of the paperwork and billing before Kimberly joined the company, is Vice President. Kimberly is Assistant Vice President/Project Manager.

“We have more employees than we used to have, but we still try to maintain a family atmosphere,” said Kimberly. “Both Dad and I are on a first-name basis with everybody who works here, and with most of them, we know their families too.”

“Our employees depend on us and we rely on them,” added Rickey. “As we’ve grown, they’re the reason we’ve been able to maintain our reputation for fast, efficient, quality work. I’ve told them to call me if they need anything, any time of the day or night. Nobody’s a number around here. They really are like family.”

Signature jobs

In addition to the Smiths themselves, key people at Smith Pipeline include Water Superintendents Ronnie Oxford and Richard “Monte” Conley, Office Manager Ernie Bedell and Estimator Yadira Lopez.

Smith Pipeline does a substantial amount of work for homebuilders in and around Atlanta, providing water services for new subdivisions. Two of its largest clients are Unified Residential and Legacy Communities. The company has also done a large volume of work for Strack, Inc. through the years.

Signature projects include installing the water lines at some of the Atlanta area’s most exclusive addresses, including Sugarloaf and St. Ives Country Clubs, both in Duluth, and Traditions of Braselton.

“I still ride through Sugarloaf to take a look at the hydrants every now and then,” said Rickey. “When we’re working on projects like that, everything has to be just right and there’s pressure on us to perform. I estimate we put in six to seven miles of pipe at Sugarloaf. I’ve even been called out on an emergency to fix another company’s work the night before the pro golf tournament that’s held there (AT&T Classic, formerly BellSouth Classic).”

Most of Smith Pipeline’s work remains in the Atlanta metro area, but the company has also recently begun to travel for larger jobs. For example, Smith recently completed a 70,000-foot water-line job in Crawford County, near Macon, and has recently begun a 20-inch-diameter waterline extension project for Colombia County near Augusta.

“The best machines out there”

In order to do its water work efficiently, Smith Pipeline has turned largely to Komatsu machines from Tractor & Equipment Company. The fleet includes eight Komatsu hydraulic excavators (a PC200, three tight-tail-swing PC138s, two PC160s, a PC120 and a compact PC78); five Komatsu WB140 backhoe loaders; a Komatsu WA250 wheel loader; and a Komatsu D37 dozer.

“I was using another brand when my brother-in-law John Bray, who’s also in the business (Bray Pipeline), told me about Komatsu,” said Smith. “My TEC Sales Rep, Johnny Rexrode, brought a PC120 excavator over for me to demo and it was much nicer than what I was using, so I bought it. I’ve been buying Komatsu ever since. They’re comfortable; they’re productive; they’re good on fuel; and they’re fairly priced. To me, they’re the best machines out there.”

“TEC also has really good financing options through Komatsu Financial,” added Kimberly. “We often have bankers approach us about financing some of our equipment with them, but typically, they can’t touch Komatsu financing.”

Rickey says he was one of the first contractors to use excavators behind the curb to install water lines. “Back in the late ’80s, everybody used a rubber-tire loader,” he recalled. “But we found that the compact excavator was much more efficient, yet small enough that it wouldn’t tear up the curb the way a larger excavator might.”

“We’re really sold on the PC138s,” said Kimberly. “The jobsite can get very congested when we’re laying water lines. We often have curb guys and paving guys there at the same time, and they’re all in close quarters, so the tight tail swing is ideal. We think the PC138 is the perfect machine to lay water line.”

The Smiths also appreciate their relationship with Tractor & Equipment Company.

“Johnny Rexrode has always been very helpful, and we’ve also dealt with Mark Shoults (General Parts Manager-Georgia),” reported Kimberly. “One of the good things about TEC is that when issues arise, they work with us to make things right.”

Diversified, optimistic

Kimberly Smith acknowledges that residential construction has slowed down in the last year or so, which is one of the reasons Smith Pipeline is broadening the scope of services it offers clients.

“We’ve been successful specializing in water-line work, but we don’t want to have all our eggs in just that one basket,” observed Kimberly. “Our ability to do sewer work and travel farther to do larger jobs makes us more diversified than ever before, so we’re better able to cope with the current slowdown in housing. Over the long term, we’re confident that the Atlanta-area housing market will rebound.

“Regardless of the type of work we’re doing or where it is, our goal will always be the same: to do quality work, do it quickly, provide excellent service and treat customers fairly and honestly. As long as we do all that, we believe we’ll be successful in the current environment, and will grow when the overall national and regional economies improve.”