“Komatsus are the best”
Girard Jones Jr. took an unusual path to owning a construction company. Many people in this industry were born into a construction family. Others regularly worked construction during summer months while growing up. He did neither.
“I graduated from college in 2002 with a degree in business management and went to work as a sales rep for an oil company,” he recalled. “There was one problem – I didn’t like selling oil. So, after less than a year, I quit and got a $10-an-hour job with an acquaintance who was in the grading business. Although I had spent a little time during my teenage years running machines on a buddy’s farm, I was far from being an experienced operator. I did, however, like the work. I enjoyed being outside and seeing what I had accomplished at the end of the day. Compared to selling oil, I got a lot of satisfaction out of it.”
Jones spent two years as a laborer/operator, learning on the job. In 2005, he decided that he knew enough to go out on his own, so he started Jones Land Developers, LLC in his hometown of Macon.
“I had some friends who helped me get started with some small projects,” he recalled. “My first job was to put up 300 feet of silt fence. It was just me at that time; the idea of having employees was a pipe dream. I couldn’t afford a trencher, so I used a sledgehammer and pickax. I finished the job in a day and was pretty proud of it, until the owner came by. He said, ‘It looks great. Only one problem. It’s backwards.’ I took it all down and built it back so that it was facing the right way.”
Jones says he learned a lesson that day, and it went beyond the proper way to position a silt fence. He learned something about himself and what he wanted his company to be known for.
“I wanted the customer to be happy with his fence, even if it cost me more time and money than I had intended,” he explained. “I call it the ‘give-a-damn’ factor. We all know you need to make money to stay in business, but if money is all you’re concerned about, then you’re focusing on the wrong thing. Care about your product. Care about the service you provide. Care about your customer. If you do those things first – in other words, if you ‘give-a-damn’ – the money will follow. I have customers who only come to me and are willing to pay a premium because they know I care about them and their projects. That’s been my company’s philosophy since that first job, and it’s worked remarkably well.”
Total site-work specialist
Jones remained a one-man operation for nearly a year, during which time he primarily cleared lots. He owned no equipment. He rented machines for specific jobs by the day or week. In time, the company grew. Today, Jones Land Developers has 30 employees and specializes in commercial site work – demolition and clearing, road grading, utilities and concrete projects, including sidewalks and foundations. Jones will consider any assignment, but he prefers jobs in the $500,000 to $1 million range.
“We started in business near the end of the boom and the start of the recession,” said Jones. “Remarkably, we grew throughout the recession, and I believe it’s because of our mentality. Our customers know their jobs are going to be done right, on schedule and on budget. We do what we say. Because we have that reputation, we’re in demand, and we’re able to pick and choose the jobs we want.
“We do total sites, subbing out the utility work, but completing almost everything else in-house,” he noted. “My preference is to focus on clearing and mass earthwork. I’ve actually tried to get out of the foundation business because it’s not that profitable, but my regular customers say, ‘No, we want you to do it all,’ so we’re still doing it.”
Recently, Jones Land Developers took on the largest job in its history – a $2.3 million contract for Kumho Tire, which is constructing a manufacturing plant in Macon.
“It’s our biggest job by a long shot, and it came totally out of the blue,” said Jones. “A guy who was clearing the property for Kumho came into a lawn and garden store that a friend of mine owned and asked if he knew anybody who did erosion-control work. My friend recommended me. I don’t do erosion control myself, but I have a sub who does. I told the guy we’d take care of it, which we did, and that was that.”
Or, so he thought. A few months later, in December 2014, he received a call from the same man.
“The Kumho people wanted him to dig some large pits and do mass earthmoving, and he simply wasn’t equipped for it,” said Jones. “He asked me if I wanted to take over the contract. I met with Kumho, and within 24 hours I had two excavators, two dozers, a motor grader, an off-road truck and three dump trucks moving dirt at the site. We worked 32-straight days – from daylight to dark – and we’re still on the site almost a year and a half later.”
Jones Land Developers has completed almost all of the site work for the Kumho plant. The work included excavating three, 100-foot-wide, 200-foot-long, 26-foot-deep pits to hold cooling water. The company also performed all of the road grading; laid close to 12,000 feet of water main, 2,000 feet of sewer and nearly 6,000 feet of storm drain; and set 42 manholes, seven fire hydrants and nine post-indicator valves.
“It’s been a challenge, but it’s certainly made us who we are,” said Jones. “We nearly doubled our workforce and did more than a year’s work in about seven months. We went hot and heavy for a long time. But, we caught up and were able to slow down a bit, which is good because phase two started this summer.”
Character and attitude
Jones relies on a number of key people, including Truck Foreman Freddie Vickers and Site Foremen Dustin Knowles, Larry Wildes, Victor Flores, Doyle Taylor and Kenneth Chance.
“I have many experienced hands, but I also hire people who have no construction background,” Jones explained. “What I’m really looking for in an employee is the right attitude. We can teach skills. We can’t teach character. If you have the character and are willing to learn, you’ll fit in.”
Jones Land Developers works almost exclusively in Macon. “We’ve been asked to travel, but have plenty of work right here,” he said. “It’s easier to stay in town, so, for the most part, when people ask us to go elsewhere, I usually say no.”
Komatsu and TEC
Jones Land Developers owns numerous Komatsu machines from Tractor & Equipment Company and Sales Rep Kyle McMahon. New Komatsu units include two PC210 excavators, a PC170 excavator, a D39 dozer and an intelligent Machine Control D51PXi dozer. The company also has a PC160, a D31 and a WA250 wheel loader.
“I originally started with another brand of equipment, but I didn’t get the support that I wanted or expected from the dealer,” Jones said. “About three years ago, I called Kyle at TEC and told him my situation. He hooked me up with some pieces I needed, and we’ve been loyal Komatsu users ever since.
“I started with a compact Komatsu excavator,” he added. “I ran it and loved it. Then I got a used PC160 and liked it as well. Now, we have two new PC210s and a PC170. I’ve run just about every excavator out there, and Komatsus are the best, in my opinion. They’re reliable, strong and very fuel-efficient. As for dozers, I had a Komatsu D31, which was good. When one of my other brand dozers broke down, I asked to demo a Komatsu D39. I was blown away by it. It was the best grading machine I’d ever been on. I wasn’t looking to buy at the time – but it was so good, I couldn’t help myself.”
As much as he likes the equipment, Jones says the support and respect he gets from TEC is important to him.
“TEC has the same ‘give-a-damn’ factor that we do. I’m not their biggest customer, but when I call, I am treated with respect. My problem is important to them. Everybody in service and parts does whatever they can to help us – from maintenance to repairs to giving us information over the phone. I trust them.
“I still have some older, non-Komatsu machines,” he added. “When I need work done on those, I also take them to TEC. The extras, such as Komatsu CARE, where they provide complimentary maintenance on our Tier 4 machines – that’s icing on the cake.”
Jones says that at some point he may expand his territory beyond the immediate Macon area. Either way, he expects continued growth for Jones Land Developers.
“We’re not trying to grow, but we’re bursting at the seams, so I think it’s inevitable,” predicted Jones. “I believe one of the reasons we’ve been successful is because I never tried to force anything to happen. Instead, I looked for opportunities. I have to admit, sometimes things just fell into my lap, and I feel very fortunate.
“Of course, when something does fall in your lap, you’ve got to take advantage of it by performing for the customer,” he continued. “Give a fair price. Do a great job. Finish on time. If something’s wrong, make it right. That’s what we’re known for, and as long as we keep doing that and putting our customers’ needs first, I’m very optimistic about what’s coming our way.”