Sioux Falls utility contractor believes in doing one thing, and doing it well
Most excavation companies start out small, doing one type of work and building up their service offerings and company size over time. While Bob Sherwood followed the model of controlled growth, he bucked the trend in terms of expanding his company’s services.
“I could easily have added everything under the sun to the business, but I have the philosophy of doing one thing and concentrating on doing it right,” said Sherwood, President of Metro Construction. “We believe that works to our advantage. We’re able to get in, do the job and get out quickly. In the end, that’s what this business is all about.”
A hands-on owner, Sherwood directs operations of the Sioux Falls company whose niche is installing underground utilities. His son, Aaron, is Co-owner of Metro Construction, and his wife, Sue, serves as Secretary. Aaron’s wife, Katie, is Office Manager. Partner Greg Branaugh, Owner of D&G Concrete, rounds out the management team as Vice President.
“I actually was building houses and apartments on my own in the 1970s, and decided to go to work for another contractor,” said the elder Sherwood.
Focus on one thing
When they did, the two began with five employees, an excavator and a loader. Bob said the focus was doing water and sewer work. Things haven’t changed much in the last 17 years, however, the size of the jobs has grown, he noted.
“We started out with water and sewer installations because that’s what we knew and we were good at it. The projects were mainly small installations, but we kept growing. Now we’re doing the same thing on a larger scale with residential developers as well as state and municipal work.”
Most of those jobs are within about a 10- to 15-mile radius of Sioux Falls. Metro Construction usually has around 20 projects on the books at any one time, and uses two full-time crews to complete them.
“We’re fairly evenly split in terms of government work and private subdivision work for developers,” Aaron added. “Much of our municipal work is as a prime contractor. We used to do quite a bit of sub work, and we still do some on state projects, but we like to bid prime as much as possible. It helps us control the schedule.”
Keeping customers on schedule has helped Metro Construction gain a reputation for quality work done on time and budget, something in which the company takes great pride. It’s also helped the company see an increase in the amount of subdivision work it’s done during the past several years.
“Focusing on one thing and doing it right means we’ve gained a lot of experience in just about any situation that comes up when it comes to putting pipe in the ground,” said Aaron. “Our private customers know that and turn to us often. We’ve developed a list of very good repeat customers, and we continue to work for them because we do everything we can to ensure their satisfaction.”
The philosophy doesn’t change on municipal work, even though Metro Construction often does those projects as a prime contractor.
“If there is a small amount of concrete removal or dirt work, we might do it,” said Bob. “Most of the time we sub out everything but our own work. It allows us to stay busy on another job until the underground work is ready to start, and then we can get in and get out quickly.”
Employees play a vital role
Sometimes Metro Construction has to move in and out of a job several times, depending on its size and scope. Such was the case on the recent 10th and 12th Street project that was ongoing for two years.
“It was one of the bigger jobs we’ve ever done,” Aaron noted. “There was a little bit of sewer work, but the main focus was on rehabbing the water main. We put in about 10,000 feet of new line in an older part of town, so you can imagine there were a few surprises along the way. We had to dig around quite a few old lines, abandoned utilities and unmarked stuff that was in the way. There were some other challenges with working in the streets and such, but we got it done, and everyone’s happy.”
Another two-year project involved running nearly 15,000 feet of utility lines on the Benson Road Department of Transportation project. Metro crews put in water and well lines, in addition to installing both poured-in-place and precast box culverts.
The management team at Metro gives much of the credit for the successful completion of its projects to a dedicated, hardworking staff of 22. Many have been with the company a decade or more.
“There are a couple guys who have been here since we started,” Bob pointed out. “It’s because of their commitment that we are where we are today. Each one of them plays a valuable role, so we depend on them heavily. They’re an excellent group.”
Equipment helps meet the schedule
Metro Construction also relies heavily on its fleet of equipment, much of it Komatsu machinery purchased from DMI’s Sioux Falls branch with the help of Sales Executive Roger Horstmeyer. Its current lineup includes excavators that range in size from the PC45 to a 96,712-pound PC400LC-7, a D41 dozer and a WB140 backhoe loader.
“Our business involves installing small sewer and water lines up to large stormwater lines anywhere from four feet and deeper, so we have all the bases covered,” Aaron said. “The smaller excavators (a PC45, a PC60 and PC78) have been a huge asset for us in the last several years. With the smaller size and tight tail swing, we can get in places where we couldn’t before, and they have excellent power for their size. We’re also able to get around in places on street projects we couldn’t before, because with rubber tracks they’ll go just about anywhere.
“The larger excavators allow us to get at those deeper and more wide-open excavations,” he continued. “We use them mostly in development work. They give us more production when we need it, and that’s extremely important when we have a tight schedule to keep.”
“We always take speed and production into account when we’re looking for machinery,” Bob added. “Our Komatsu equipment has done really well for us. We were sold on it almost from the beginning of the business. In 1991, the company bought its first excavator, a PC200-5, which we still run. It has 11,000 hours, and we’ve never really done anything to it. In my opinion, Komatsu has the best excavators out there.”
Metro Construction handles maintenance on the machines with occasional help from DMI. “They’ve been very good to work with,” acknowledged Bob. “One factor in our equipment-buying decisions is the service we get from the dealer, and Roger and DMI have always done a good job for us.”
Continuing its good work
Metro Construction is primed to continue doing good work for its customers as well.
“That’s what it’s all about — good work with a focus on customer service,” Bob observed. “We wouldn’t still be here without providing that to our customers. I really don’t have a desire to see the business get any bigger because if it does, we may not be able to offer that to our customers.”
Aaron said he’s setting himself up to take over the business when Bob retires, but he doesn’t see a need for a change of direction or philosophy.
“Metro Construction has always been known for utility installation, and I don’t foresee that changing,” he concluded. “What we’re really trying to do now is streamline the business, and focus on continuing to do what we do even better.”