Customers in Action

Camo Construction

VIDALIA, LA., SITE DEVELOPMENT FIRM FINDS SUCCESS THROUGH HARD WORK

January 04, 2016

“Komatsu seems to be a step ahead of everyone else”

Camo Construction

Mike Grantham is accustomed to working hard in order to succeed. In the early 1980s, he was a walk-on football player at Northeast Louisiana University, which is now the University of Louisiana at Monroe. By the time he graduated in 1984, he was a two-time All-American offensive lineman. Last year, he was inducted into the ULM Athletics Hall of Fame.

“My first year, we started with 30 walkons, but only two of us remained by the end of the season,” Grantham recalled. “Football is tough, and it’s especially tough as a walk-on. You don’t get any special treatment. I committed to being the best I could be, and I worked hard. In the end, I was fairly successful on the field.”

Grantham carried that same attitude and work ethic into the construction world. He graduated with a construction degree, went to work in Texas and then came home to Vidalia, La. In 1999, he decided to start his own company, Camo Construction.

“The name Camo comes from my favorite hobby, which is hunting,” said Grantham. “In the beginning, it was basically me – then I hired a few guys as I started getting jobs. We worked hard. It wasn’t unusual for us to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. My philosophy was to hit it hard, do it right, get it done and move on. We earned a reputation as a ‘can-do’ company, and we grew quite rapidly. By the time the Great Recession hit in 2008 and 2009, we had as many as 200 employees. Unfortunately, work dried up quickly, and we had to downsize, as did most companies at that time.”

Today, Camo Construction’s workforce hovers right around 50 people, which Grantham says is ideal.

“We were big, and I don’t want to do that again. It’s more of a headache than it’s worth. We’ve found a niche where we excel and where we’re profitable. We perform jobs that range from about $500,000 to about $2 million, jobs that are basically too big for the mom-and-pop firms but too small for the big national companies. We’ll take smaller jobs, and we can do larger jobs, but projects in that $1 million to $2 million range are ideal. We believe we can do those more efficiently than anybody else.”

Full-service site prep

Camo Construction

Camo Construction’s primary focus is earthwork and wet utilities – sewer, water and drainage.

“We try to stay as close to home as possible,” said Grantham. “We’re typically within a 100-mile radius of Vidalia, but we’ll travel if necessary. We specialize in full-site packages for residential, retail and industrial. We also do a lot of municipal work. We self-perform almost all aspects of a job, including the concrete and electrical work. About the only thing we sub out is asphalt paving.”

Camo Construction has completed a number of significant projects in and around Vidalia. It did most of the riverfront site work on the Vidalia side of the Mississippi River across from Natchez, Miss. Work included the fountain plaza and the parking lot. The company is currently doing site work for a large industrial plant expansion in Natchez.

To do jobs like those in a timely manner, Grantham relies on talented employees. Key personnel include Superintendents Chris Cothern and Hearne Hathaway, as well as Foremen Mark Doss, Ziggie Hunstock, Derand Snelson and Jason Grantham, Mike’s son.

“Everybody on our payroll, from top management to operators to laborers, is crucial to our success,” said Grantham. “We don’t carry any dead weight. Most of our guys have been with us for quite a while. They know what I expect, and they share my work ethic.

“Due in large part to our workforce, I think we have a reputation for doing a job right the first time and getting the work done fast,” he added. “That’s certainly our goal. We don’t mess around on a job. I don’t like it when we get slowed down by something out of our control and have to move off a job, then come back later. We like to complete everything at one time. If we have to come back with a single machine or small crew to dress it up at the end, that’s fine, but for the main job, we want to do it all at once.”

Komatsu productivity and H&E support

Camo Construction

In addition to a trusted group of employees, Grantham also relies on a top-notch fleet of equipment to improve productivity. Most of that fleet is Komatsu. Camo Construction has nine Komatsu excavators from a PC340 to a compact PC45. The company also owns three Komatsu dozers (a D65 and two D39s).

“Komatsu seems to be a step ahead of everyone else,” said Grantham. “For example, its new intelligent Machine Control dozers and excavator with integrated GPS are great additions to its lineup. We don’t have either one yet, but I fully intend to get one of each the next time we’re in the market for new equipment. We try to keep up with the latest technology, and Komatsu is the clear technology-leader. Even with its traditional machines, we believe they’re more advanced than the competition.”

Grantham says he’s been very happy with the Komatsu D39 dozers, which are new units for him. As for the trackhoes, every single one he’s ever owned has been a Komatsu from H&E. Why? He says it’s a combination of reliability, longevity and productivity.

“I’ve run a lot of different excavators over the years, and in my mind, Komatsu is number one by a wide margin. I had a PC200 that had more than 14,000 hours with the original motor and pump. In fact, I’ve never put a pump on a single Komatsu excavator that I’ve owned. I like to buy machines and keep them, and Komatsu excavators let me do that. I make sure we perform the routine maintenance services, otherwise, all we do is put fuel in them, turn the key and put them to work.

“As far as production goes, I’ve run a Komatsu trackhoe side-by-side against the other leading brand – right next to each other doing the same thing – digging all day long. At the beginning of the day, they were roughly the same, but by the end of the day, the Komatsu was double-cycling the competitor. Komatsu’s hydraulics perform all day long, but when the hydraulics got hot on the other brand, the hoe slowed way down.”

As much as Grantham likes Komatsu equipment, the support he gets from H&E Equipment Services in Alexandria is equally important to him.

“We’ve had a really good working relationship with H&E through the years. I know I can count on the company to be there for us. The staff answers the phone or returns my calls promptly, even on weekends or in the middle of the night. H&E does a good job with replacement parts, and someone will often bring them to me or meet me halfway. Frankly, we haven’t had a lot of interaction with their service department because our equipment has performed so well, but when we have needed them, their technicians have been responsive and knowledgeable.

“I also like that H&E doesn’t seem to have a lot of turnover, which means I’m dealing with the same people I was when I started my business,” Grantham added. “Jeff Bonial was my rental rep, and he’s now my salesman. CJ Nichols has been the Branch Manager since they’ve had a branch in Alexandria. That tells you a lot about a company. If people stay, it’s because they’re treated right, and it’s probably a good indication that they’re going to treat you right as well. That’s certainly been my experience. I make one call to Jeff or CJ, and I know they’re going to do their best for me.”

Cautious optimism

When he started Camo Construction a little more than 15 years ago, Grantham says he didn’t really have any specific expectations of what he wanted or expected from the company.

“I just wanted to work for myself and see if I could make a go of it. As it’s turned out, I’m pleased with where we are. We’re big enough to do good-size work, but not so big that it’s all-consuming. We’re doing a job right now that’s probably going to end up in the $5.5 million range when all is said and done, so it’s not like we can’t do big jobs or aren’t challenging ourselves. I just don’t like being so big that we lose the personal touch.

“I don’t know that I’d necessarily say I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. I do enjoy driving around and seeing all the projects we’ve done in the area. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with it. But more than the projects themselves, I’m pleased with the reputation we’ve established. I think a lot of people know I can be hard, but I think most of them also consider me to be fair. Most importantly, our customers know they can count on me. If I say we’re going to do something, we do it.”

As for the future, Grantham says he’s cautiously optimistic.

“The amount of work that’s out there has improved each year for the past few years. Early this year, the economy was just fixing to pop – then the price of oil dropped. Since then, it’s slowed down. But we’re still bidding jobs, and I believe when oil stabilizes at a reasonable price, things will pick up again.

“For us as a company, we have enough activity to keep us busy for now, so it doesn’t really change anything that we do or how we do it. It’s just like on the football field – we’re going to work hard. We’re always going to give our best effort. As long as we continue to deliver projects on time, on budget and without any hassles, we should be in good shape moving forward.”