Customers in Action

Nelson Pipeline Constructors

DENVER-AREA RESIDENTIAL UTILITY FIRM SPECIALIZES IN “RELATIONSHIP CONTRACTING”

March 12, 2015

Komatsu equipment - reliability, uptime and longevity

Nelson Pipeline

When it comes to residential utility-contracting work in and around Denver, few firms can match the history and the competence of Nelson Pipeline Constructors. Nelson Pipeline, which has been around since 1977 (a predecessor company, Colorado Pipelines, was founded in 1961), has been involved with many signature subdivisions including Highlands Ranch and Green Valley Ranch in Denver and The Meadows in Castle Rock. Nelson also completed the underground wet utilities for Denver International Airport and has done waterline replacement work at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

“Our specialty is installing storm, water and sewer lines for subdivisions,” said Chairman and General Manager Jon Andrews. “We consider ourselves to be a ‘relationship contractor.’ Our private, residential work is all about relationships. We typically work for the same owners, developers and builders that we’ve worked for on previous projects. They like us, and we like them.”

Andrews, who has been with Nelson Pipeline, and Colorado Pipelines before it, since 1974, says “relationship contracting” works for Nelson and its customers because they share the same goal.

“Our customers want a quality project at a fair price, and that’s what we give them. We’re able to do that consistently because our productivity rate, which is how much ditch we can dig and pipe we can lay in a day, is as good, or better, than any competitor. Another crucial factor is our experience. When we get a set of plans, or sometimes even after we’ve started a job, we’re often able to see things that may improve the project from a constructability standpoint, which ultimately saves the client time and money.”

“What it really boils down to is our people,” added President Phil Scott. “Our guys are talented, and they’ve been doing this for a long time. They’re the reason we’re able to produce the way we do, and they’re the reason we’re sometimes able to find a better way to do a job.”

Most of Nelson Pipeline’s top managers have been with the company a long time and have been promoted to their current positions. That includes Scott (25 years); Superintendents Pat Auker (30 years), Keith Prike and Hector Caraveo; CFO Chris Goodwin; Shop Foreman Dan Feinstein (17 years); and Mechanics Rich Castor and Rich Castor Jr., who are the third and fourth generations of their family to work at Nelson Pipeline. What explains such longevity?

“The culture at Nelson Pipeline is very employee- and customer-oriented. It was that way when I started 25 years ago, and it remains that way today,” said Scott. “It’s a company that does good work, so you’re proud to be part of it,” noted Auker. “I think people tend to stay here because it’s a team atmosphere. Everybody contributes, and everybody gets respect,” added Feinstein.

Heavy compaction pioneers

Nelson Pipeline

Nelson Pipeline has a shop and service division at its headquarters in Fort Lupton that would be the envy of some dealers’ small branches. The company shop employs 15 people, including mechanics, parts personnel and drivers. The shop itself is a four-bay facility with a separate fabrication area. Nelson also has three field mechanics, plus an oiler.

“Because of our staff and facilities, we perform most of our own repairs, including engine and transmission work,” said Feinstein. “Of course, we send warranty work to the dealer. Power Motive is excellent to work with. We can call and ask them for tips, and they’ll help us over the phone. If we need them to come out, they get to us very quickly.”

One reason Nelson Pipeline has such a significant shop presence is to rebuild old, used Rex soil compactors.

“We’re pioneers in heavy compaction,” said Auker. “While many companies use rolling wheels or do relatively light compaction to backfill trenches, we use large, 55,000-pound Rex rollers. Because of the care we take with compaction, our work holds up longer.”

“We’ve used Rex compactors, which we originally purchased from Power Motive, since the early years of Nelson Pipeline,” said Andrews. “After Rex went out of business, we started buying used units – in some cases, almost-ready-to-be-junked units – from all over the country. Today, we have 21 Rexes.”

“We do complete rebuilds where we overhaul the entire machine,” said Feinstein. “We take out all the components and replace any parts that are questionable. Our goal is to get more hours out of the rebuild than when they were brand new.”

Due to the success Nelson has demonstrated with heavy compaction, some municipalities are starting to require similar techniques on all underground utility work to lessen the likelihood of an early failure.

Komatsu productivity and Power Motive support

Nelson Pipeline

While compactors are an important part of Nelson Pipeline’s success, hydraulic excavators are the company’s primary production machines, and Komatsu units are Nelson’s excavator of choice.

“In the mid-1980s, we did a big equipment demo,” Andrews recalled. “We had just about every equipment manufacturer out at our yard, which at the time was near the old Stapleton Airport. We picked the Komatsu PC400 as our primary ditch-digging excavator that day. We were probably the first large contractor in the state to buy a PC400, and we’ve never regretted it. We’ve been loyal Komatsu excavator users ever since. Komatsu excavators are basically all we’ve owned for the last 30 years.”

Today, Nelson has at least two dozen Komatsu excavators ranging from the PC490 to a PC158. The company also owns a number of Komatsu wheel loaders, including six WA380s.

“We’ve stayed with Komatsu all these years because the excavators and wheel loaders give us what we’re looking for in equipment – reliability, uptime and longevity,” said Andrews. “When you’re digging a ditch and laying pipe, it’s all about production – feet per day – and we get great production with our Komatsu excavators and wheel loaders.”

Also important to Andrews is having a dealer he knows he can count on for support.

“Power Motive has been outstanding through the years. Our Sales Rep Jeremy Griebel, and Gary Klipp before him, have been excellent to work with. During the last recession, we didn’t buy any equipment for a number of years, so our fleet got a little old. We’re now trying to catch up, and they’ve been very helpful by coming up with some low-hour units that saved us a lot of money. We also count on Power Motive for parts. They’ve gone so far as taking parts off a new machine, or even providing us with a free rental if for some reason a part is unavailable.

“Power Motive has also shown us they’re willing to take other steps to help ensure that we’re successful using their equipment,” Andrews added. “For example, we’ve been concerned recently that due to all the new technology on equipment today, our operators may not be getting the maximum benefit or maximum efficiency from their machines. So Power Motive and Komatsu are going to provide some special operator training for us to make sure our guys understand the new models and how to get the most out of them. That’s the type of value-added service Power Motive provides for us. Bottom line, they treat us like a valued customer, which we appreciate, because it’s the same way we try to treat our customers.”

Proud past, bright future

Although Nelson Pipeline will go outside of Colorado on occasion, the vast majority of its work is across the Front Range, from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins. Almost 200 people work at the company today, which is up from about 75 two years ago, but still below peak employment of a decade ago.

“Residential construction is booming in this area right now,” said Andrews. “We’re busy, and we could probably get more work if we wanted to hire more people, but I’m not interested in getting a lot bigger. We’re at a size we like, and it’s a size where we’re efficient.”

Andrews says he thinks the Colorado housing market should remain strong for at least another couple of years.

“There are signs that higher prices are already beginning to cause the market to cool a bit, but we’re hopeful that will work itself out. At Nelson Pipeline, we’re proud of our past and optimistic about what lies ahead. As long as we keep good employees who share our vision to be the best, and as long as we continue to offer our customers a high-quality job at a fair price, I think we’re in good shape for the foreseeable future.”