SDT Contractors

COUSINS ACCEPT THEIR GRANDFATHER’S OFFER AND TURN GRAVEL PIT INTO A MULTIFACETED BUSINESS

September 28, 2016

“Komatsu machines proved their dependability”

SDT Contractors

For many years D.A. Scallions ran a gravel pit on his farm near Gates, Tennessee. In the early 1990s he approached his grandsons Bill Scallions and Scott Dyson about taking over the business.

“He had an old trackhoe and bulldozer at the time, and he came to us and said, ‘They aren’t the best machines in the world, but if you want them, they’re yours. So is the pit,’” recalled Dyson. “Neither of us had much experience with equipment, let alone running a gravel pit. I was working in a concrete plant, and Bill was logging, but we decided to give it a go.”

Both kept their day jobs for a few months until they were sure the pit would provide a living. It certainly did, as today Scallions is President and Dyson is Vice President of SDT Contractors. The company relocated to an office on the “main road” – 2nd Street in town, Highway 209 outside of town – running through Gates. Scallions’ wife, Heather, serves as Office Manager and handles accounting duties and their son, Luke, works full time for the company.

“We taught ourselves to operate the machines. Grandpa and our uncle, who worked for him, helped us learn the business end,” said Scallions. “When the county had an equipment sale not long after we started, we bought three, singleaxle dump trucks and added hauling services.”

That was only the beginning of expansion. Within a couple years, Scallions and Dyson began doing clearing and earthwork jobs.

“Grandpa had a small base of customers he provided that type of work to, and they wanted us to continue servicing them,” said Scallions. “We started very small. There was a learning curve, but we managed to meet their needs, gain trust and now still work with many of them on a repeat basis. They referred more customers to us, and we continued to grow.”

The customer list expanded further when Dyson and Scallions teamed up with some friends who ran a trucking company and owned a concrete plant.

“They wanted to build stronger relationships with large general contractors by bidding dirt work, but they didn’t have the equipment,” Dyson explained. “We did several projects together where we loaded dirt, they hauled it and we spread it. That gained us a foothold with those contractors and opened up new markets.”

Utility installation specialty

SDT Contractors

SDT Contractors maintains its roots. It still runs the gravel pit, offering sand and aggregate products such as road stone. Additionally, it sells fill materials for building pads, parking lots and other new construction projects. It continues to provide clearing and grading, but the majority of its projects are now typically much larger and more complex. Nearly five years ago it added concrete flatwork such as driveways and house pads, mainly for residential developers.

“Clearing, earthwork and concrete make up about 15 percent of our portfolio right now,” said Scallions. “The largest portion of our work is utility installation, which is approximately 60 percent. It has become our specialty, especially sewer projects. We install some water and gas lines, too, and we have done all three on one site. We like utility installation because it’s fairly steady. Heavy rain stops dirt work. It’s wet in a trench most of the time anyway, so why not pump the water out and keep working? It’s not how we got started, but we believe we found a sweet spot with utilities.”

Today, the majority of SDT Contractors’ utility projects are new installations for municipalities throughout west Tennessee, which the company considers its territory. SDT serves towns, such as Ripley and Halls, and works as far away as the Memphis and Nashville metro areas.

SDT Contractors recently added railroad service to its résumé, and in the past year, that has accounted for the remaining 25 percent of the company’s work load. A dedicated crew of two operators with backhoes stays in Memphis six days a week to assist with maintenance for a large railway company.

“Whatever they need us to do, we take care of it, whether it’s routine maintenance or an emergency response,” said Dyson. “A while back they called us to place riprap in holes that were washed away from flood waters. Our crew helps the railroad maintain tracks. It’s become a good add-on business.”

Reliable equipment, responsive service

SDT Contractors

Larger sewer projects and its railroad service prompted SDT Contractors to add a larger excavator to a fleet that already included two Komatsu PC200LC-8s, a PC88MR-8 and a PC210LC-10.

“We were considering a bigger machine to handle deeper utility digs,” Dyson pointed out. “A few months ago, we did a railroad project that involved moving some large, heavy panels, and it was all the PC200s could do to handle them. The railroad said it had a lot more of this type of work, so we bought the PC360. It takes care of that and deep digs with no problem. It also gives us better production during mass excavation, speeding up our cycle times when loading trucks.”

“We have varying sizes to match the variety of work we do,” added Scallions. “The PC200s and PC210 are good, all-around machines. The PC88 allows us to work in a right-of-way without worrying about a counterweight swinging into traffic, and, with the rubber pads, we can walk on a roadway without damaging it. The PC88 doesn’t have a large footprint, so it’s great for small residential work. It gets the job done with minimal ground disturbance.”

Scallions also likes the smaller footprint of the D39PX-23 the company recently purchased. “It’s perfect for finish dozing and backfilling trenches down the side of a road where a bigger dozer really isn’t the best option,” Scallions said. “The visibility to the blade is outstanding.”

SDT Contractors began using Komatsu equipment about 12 years ago when Power Equipment Company Territory Manager Jimmy Spence started calling on the company. SDT rents from Spence and Power Equipment as needed.

“Reliability and service play important roles in our equipment-buying decisions,” Dyson noted. “Komatsu machines proved their dependability early on. Power Equipment handles scheduled services on our newer machines through Komatsu CARE, and we do the rest with parts from Power or directly from Komatsu’s main parts warehouse in nearby Ripley. And, we can’t say enough good things about Jimmy. He helped us find our first Komatsu machine and every one since. He’s fair, honest and understands our business so that we get the right equipment to match our needs. We appreciate Customer Support Rep Brock Booker’s help, too.”

Name change better reflects today’s business

SDT Contractors usually has approximately 20 employees on staff at all times, then ramps up to around 35 during peak construction months. Utility Foreman Bryson Mooney is a key employee. The company normally runs three crews and expands to four or five, depending on the number of projects going at one time.

Nearly two years ago the company completed its largest project to date, a $3.5 million site package that saw SDT excavate a 27-foot-deep basement across two acres, as well as construct drainage systems. It also installed utilities and backfilled around the basement walls.

“Originally, we named the company S&D Trucking,” Scallions recalled. “We changed it to SDT Contractors to better reflect what the business has become. In our wildest dreams, we never thought that it would get to the point where we could do those types of jobs, and that we would perform as many services as we do.”

“Our expansion has been fairly substantial, especially the past five years or so,” added Dyson. “That’s really not sustainable over the long run, so we are probably at our maximum level now. We can still be hands-on and get to most projects every day, provide good service and keep customers satisfied. That’s what we have always focused on and will continue to do.”