Komatsu technology saves time and money
Jason and Lee Southard grew up working in their father’s business, Cooper River Construction. After learning the industry and honing their craft, the duo opened their own trucking company – the aptly named Southard Brothers – in 2000. When the siblings wanted to add construction services to their company in 2009, their journey came full circle.
“Dad was getting ready to retire, and the recession had taken its toll on his company, so we bought him out,” said Jason. “We had built a pretty good reputation with our name, so we closed Dad’s business and used what was left to start the construction side of our company.”
Despite the acquisition and name change, Jason and Lee still view Southard Brothers Construction as a continuation of their family’s firm.
“Bryan Ware, Jacob Lopez, Jason Herpolsheimer, Gail Black and William Rogers worked for Cooper River and came with us after we took it over. Jermaine Gadsden joined us when we started Southard Brothers,” noted Jason. “They’re all as much a part of the family business as Lee and I. For some of them, this is the only job they’ve ever had.”
The expanded company’s first large construction job came in 2013 when it began work on an athletic complex for the town of Moncks Corner, S.C., where the firm is headquartered. Southard Brothers Construction built four baseball fields and a 150-spot parking lot during the initial phase. The project is ongoing as the company broke ground on the final phase of the facility last spring.
“The complex was a great job for us,” noted Lee. “Moncks Corner decided to go ahead with it just as the economy was beginning to rebound. We were fortunate enough to land the contract, and it helped get our construction division going.”
Southard Brothers Construction has continued to grow and evolve its construction operation. It focuses on $3 to $8 million site-development projects in and around Moncks Corner and has contracts to work at local landfills as well. No matter the task, the firm brings a dedication to quality work, done fast.
“Everyone in our company does whatever it takes to get the job completed,” said Lee. “There is no specialization, it’s all about doing what needs to be done. Jason and I follow that, too. We aren’t the type of owners who come in at 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. and push a pen. We want to be on machinery. We don’t golf, we don’t fish – we work. That’s what we love doing.”
In 2017, Southard Brothers Construction embarked on its largest endeavor to date, a watershed project at the site of a new 6,500-acre commercial campus in Berkeley County, S.C. The company cleared the land, dug drainage ponds and built embankments.
“We put in nearly 100 acres of ponds and canals,” detailed Lee. “We also created a 750-acre impoundment to help control water levels on the overall site.”
“We started in May of 2017 and will complete it in March of 2018,” added Jason. “We cleared roughly 200 acres of trees, which we logged and grubbed. When that was done, we removed 95 percent of the organics – roots and other material that remained after the logging – from the topsoil. To do that, we brought in clean fill material and mixed it with the existing soil, which was a long process. Fortunately, the weather cooperated with us on this phase.” Lee estimated his crews have moved more than 400,000 yards of material at the development.
Another large project Southard Brothers Construction has been involved with is the Foxbank Plantation, located between Moncks Corner and Goose Creek.
“Our initial focus was on wetland mitigation,” said Lee. “The project was interesting, and a family friend recommended us to the owners, Matt Brunner and Jeff Randolph. They have been really great, and it’s a relationship we value.”
The firm has remained at Foxbank Plantation for the last three years, completing other phases as needed, such as utility-pipe installation and site development.
“This is a large-scale project, and we wouldn’t have been successful without our relationship with Truluck Construction out of Charleston,” said Lee. “They provided us with some needed manpower in the beginning, and we subbed out the finishing work to them. It’s a great partnership. We will return the favor and work with them on utility installation for a few of their projects each year as well.”
Linder comes in first
When Lee and Jason decided to get into the construction business, they needed to upgrade their fleet, so they contacted major distributors for quotes. One local distributor came in well ahead of the competition.
“Within a couple of days, Linder came to us with a clear plan, so we made a deal with them,” explained Lee. “We eventually heard back from the other dealers, but it was weeks later. From that moment, we’ve been loyal to Linder. They treated us like we were their most important customer. That’s why when you come to one of our jobsites it has Linder equipment. Period.”
The relationship has remained strong since that first meeting. The company continually turns to Linder and Sales Rep Brian Chappell for Komatsu and Wirtgen Group equipment.
The firm’s loyalty to Linder has resulted in the operation of what Lee believes is the best equipment in the industry.
“Komatsu dozers are hands-down better than anything else on the market,” he stated. “They are operator-friendly, smooth and we can use them for so many applications. I think the word is getting out, too, because Komatsu is taking over the market here. That’s pretty clear when you drive from Greenville to Charleston.”
The company has seven Komatsu dozers ranging from D39s to D65s as well as several Komatsu excavators, articulated trucks and a Komatsu GD655 motor grader.
“We are big believers in GPS technology – you won’t be successful in this business without it,” said Lee. “Most of our equipment is fitted with aftermarket TOPCON systems, but the intelligent Machine Control pieces are amazing. We added them last year, and the results were immediate. The operators who run the machines are hooked.”
The technology has also saved the company significant time and money by eliminating stakes on their projects. At the 750-acre commercial campus in Berkeley County, Southard Brothers completed the project without using any grading stakes.
“I’m pretty old-school, but the GPS technology is completely worth it,” said Jason. “We still perform spot-checks at the site to make sure everything is right, but we don’t use stakes anymore. It’s much more efficient.”
Southard Brothers Construction also deploys a Wirtgen WR 240 soil stabilizer and Hamm H 11i smooth drum and padfoot rollers for site-development work.
A true team
The brothers know that the best way to achieve continued success is to invest in their employees.
“We can look at our bottom line and bank accounts to see if we’re profitable, but to be successful is different,” said Lee. “We do our best to create an environment where our employees feel appreciated by going above and beyond for them. That’s all that matters to us. Without them we couldn’t do it; we’re a team. As long as we have a solid group of employees who work hard and take pride in this company, we will do well.”