Customers in Action

GTH Excavating

TREATING CLIENTS’ JOBS AS ITS OWN LEADS TO SUCCESS FOR THIS DENVER SITE DEVELOPMENT FIRM

June 01, 2015

“Komatsu makes good machines across-the-board”

GTH Excavating

In 2006, Ted Stutz started his own earthwork/ site development company, GTH Excavating. When he’s having a good day, he says GTH stands for Gone To Heaven. When he’s having a bad day? Well, you can probably figure it out.

“This is not the easiest way to earn a living, but I always dreamed of having my own excavation company,” said Stutz. “I started in construction as an equipment operator, then spent about a decade as a foreman/superintendent for some large companies in the Denver area. Nine years ago, I knew I had the knowledge, and it was time to either go out on my own or forget about it. I didn’t want to forget about it, so I bought a backhoe and went into business for myself. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

From his previous positions, Stutz had a number of contacts that led to a decent start.

“I started with just myself, but little by little, I got more work and added a few people,” he noted. “I had good relationships with the men I had worked with and the companies I had done work for, which helped me select employees and get my foot in the door with clients. If you think back to 2006, it was just before the start of the Great Recession, so my timing could have been a little better. A lot of construction companies went out of business during that time. However, I think the fact that we were able to make a go of it during those down years says a lot about us. Once we got through that and the economy started to pick up, I was confident we would succeed.”

Today, Denver-based GTH Excavating employs about 25 people and does a wide range of site development activity, such as earthwork, structural excavation and backfill. The company primarily focuses on private work, most of it as a sub for general contractors (GCs). One of its top clients is Brinkmann Constructors, one of the city’s leading GCs for assisted living facilities, warehouses, shopping centers, multi-family residences and major medical buildings.

“We’ve grown substantially in recent years, both in our number of employees and in the size of projects we’re doing, which is because of the good relationships we’ve built with general contractors,” said Stutz. “The reason we’ve been able to build good relationships is because of our on-the-job attitude, where we try to be an extension of the GC. In fact, when we’re doing the site-prep portion of what’s going to be a significant structure, we try to work as though we ARE the GC. We’re that invested. We feel as though we have an ownership stake, and we want it to be perfect – just like we would if it was our own.”

Do jobs right, fast and cost-effectively

GTH Excavating

GTH Excavating works almost exclusively in the Denver Metro area – often near downtown.

“There are challenges working in the city,” said Stutz. “Space is always at a premium, so we tend to run out of room quickly, and it’s tough getting in and out of sites with large pieces of equipment. If we have to haul dirt or material in or out, we’re basically an hour from anywhere. Of course, parking is always a problem. As a result of all those issues, costs are higher when we’re working in the city, and especially downtown, but we’re accustomed to it.”

Stutz says GTH’s calling card is a combination of quality and speed.

“We like to hit a job hard, knock it out as quickly as possible and then move on,” said Stutz. “We’ll put multiple crews on a job, if necessary. We do whatever makes the most sense to maximize efficiency. I’ve seen companies that keep one or two guys on a job at all times, thinking that’s what an owner or general contractor wants. But one or two guys often make little to no actual progress. I like to see production – jobs moving forward every day – and our GC clients share that philosophy of doing it right, doing it fast and being cost-effective.”

Helping Stutz do that are a trusted team of professionals, including General Superintendent George Karn. He also relies heavily on his Foremen.

“George was the first guy who came with me and is my right-hand man,” said Stutz. “We’re also close friends, and we think alike. When he’s on a job, I know he’s doing it the same way I’d do it. Our foremen are also invaluable. In fact, all of our guys, including the 20 or so operators and laborers, are crucial to our success. We don’t have much turnover, which is good because the labor market is tight. It’s tough to find good guys. When we get them, we do our best to keep them.”

Stutz’s attitude toward his employees is shaped largely by his own experience.

“I have 25 families that depend on me. I think about that every day. I was an operator for many years. I remember looking forward to Thanksgiving, but at the same time, worrying about the smaller paycheck resulting from the three-day work week. Benefits are important. If my company does well, my employees do well. We offer health, life and disability insurance. We provide paid vacation and bonuses. I’m not greedy. I want to take care of my guys who take care of me.”

Komatsu quality and Power Motive support

Another way Stutz takes care of his guys is by providing them with good equipment to do their jobs. For the last few years, that’s meant primarily Komatsu equipment from Power Motive Corp. and Sales Rep Donnie Book. GTH has six Komatsu wheel loaders (four new WA380-7s and two WA320-7s); three Komatsu excavators (a PC200 and two PC88s); and a GD655 motor grader.

“We’ve been very pleased with Komatsu wheel loaders and just added four new ones to our fleet,” said Stutz. “We had a couple of Dash-7s and the guys really like them. They are quiet, comfortable and have great visibility. The older models still worked fine, but Komatsu offered some very attractive lease terms, so we decided to upgrade. We think the fuel efficiency and productivity will benefit our operation.

“Komatsu makes good machines across-the-board,” said Stutz. “The excavators are phenomenal. They’re quick and powerful. Although Komatsu classifies the PC88 as a “compact” excavator, it’s 18,000-pounds, so it’s not small. It’s the size of a backhoe, but you can dig much more efficiently with it. It’s also easy to transport and highly versatile. It works well on a site where space is at a premium, which describes most of our jobs. We’ve also been very impressed with our Komatsu blade – a GD655. It’s smooth, provides excellent visibility and is comfortable. It’s also a great value.”

For the most part, Stutz says he tries to keep the same operator on the same machine every day. “That way it becomes his machine. He gets the benefits of keeping it clean and making sure it’s running properly. When he’s responsible for it, he treats the machine better and takes more pride in it, which I think carries over to the work itself. “

In addition to liking Komatsu equipment, Stutz says the support he gets from Power Motive is very important to him.

“Virtually every Komatsu machine we own is on a RAMP (repair and maintenance program) from Power Motive, which basically eliminates downtime for us. They do the maintenance at night. Everything is budgeted, so we don’t have any big, surprise bills. In the rare instance that we have an issue with a machine, Power Motive gets to us right away – it makes the repair immediately or gives us a loaner machine. I make one call to my Sales Rep Donnie Book, and that’s it. I know he and Power Motive are going to take care of my problem.

“Power Motive treats me like a valued customer, and I can tell you from firsthand experience, that doesn’t happen with every dealer. There are trying times in every business relationship, but Power Motive has always stepped up and, in my opinion, done the right thing by GTH.”

Still growing

GTH Excavating

GTH Excavating has grown a lot since Stutz started it in 1996, and he says additional growth is possible.

“I never want to get to a point where we’re so big that I don’t know what’s going on or don’t know my employees. That said, I wouldn’t mind adding another eight or 10 guys and getting up to 35 to 40 people. I think at this point, our reputation among GCs is such that I’m fairly confident we could get enough work to support that level of employment. But I’m really picky. I only want good guys – guys who fit in, share our work ethic and will help us maintain or improve efficiency. If they aren’t that good or if they’re just space-fillers, we’re better off staying where we are.

“Even at our present size, there’s not much we can’t do,” he added. “Our sweet spot for a job is $100,000 to $1 million or so. We’ve done smaller jobs, and we can do larger ones, but that’s probably where we’re most efficient, and it’s a niche where I don’t think any competitor can beat us in terms of delivering a top-quality project at a fair price. As long as we continue to deliver the service and results our customers are looking for, I think we’ll have plenty of work to keep us busy for the foreseeable future.”