“The Komatsu dozers are the best grading dozers I’ve ever used”
Seth Smith had a feeling he needed to find something to keep his five children busy as they got older, so he started a family business. In 1982, he bought a hay baler and a tractor and employed his children. As the children grew up, the business evolved to accommodate their changing interests.
“Baling hay got old pretty quick, so we decided to get a dump truck,” said Seth’s son Michael, President of S.M. Smith & Sons, Inc. “After a while, we started doing some dirt jobs and kept growing. Eventually, logging came on, then grinding and land clearing, which make up a large part of the business today. Each of us kids took over an area.”
A total of nine first- and second-generation Smiths work for S.M. Smith & Sons, which does residential, commercial and other types of projects, often involving multiple areas of the business. However, the one Smith you won’t find around the business is its creator and namesake.
“Our dad is a pharmacist, and he’s been doing that everyday for more than 40 years,” said Vice President Jeff Smith. “He had no experience in construction, but he thought it would be good for us. None of us wanted to be a pharmacist. We wanted to work outside. He still likes to call and remind us of that when it’s raining.”
The decision Seth Smith made paid off for all parties involved. The Smiths also credit their father with instilling a work ethic that has made the company successful.
“He taught us that a person is only as good as his word,” said Michael. “When we start a job, we finish it, even if there comes a point that we know we are going to lose money. We do what we say we’re going to do.”
S.M. Smith & Sons has roughly 60 employees and works within a 50-mile radius of Charlotte on projects ranging in size from 1 to 100 acres. It also has a recycling plant in Van Wyck, South Carolina, where it hauls material from its land clearing and logging jobs and processes it into landscaping mulch or boiler fuel for paper plants.
Oldest son, Tim, is a mechanic and oversees the shop. Michael takes care of the scheduling and runs equipment as needed. Jeff is VP and also handles the land clearing. Phillip runs the logging, and their sister, Melinda, works in the office. While the company has several divisions, most projects require a total team effort.
“We work together on jobs, and our employees are versatile,” said Michael. “If it’s raining and my crew can’t work, we’ll go help Tim in the shop; Phillip will send trucks to help Jeff if he’s free. We don’t just do one thing.”
Linder’s dedication rings true
Like most companies, S.M. Smith & Sons was affected by the Great Recession. The Smiths had to make some changes to their business approach, but the company was able to keep a majority of its staff through the downturn.
“We had to let a few people go, and in order to get through it, we had to expand our project area to about a 200-mile radius,” said Jeff. “It was tough, but we pulled through.”
The recession also provided an opportunity for the Smiths to see which equipment providers were really dedicated to them.
“Before the downturn, we were doing huge amounts of business with most major brands,” said Jeff. “When times got tough, most of them tightened up and wouldn’t work with us. Linder continued to work with us, and that’s why we deal with them today.”
The Smiths forged a relationship with Linder Sales Rep Bill Cross and Customer Support Rep John Suggs that led to the addition of Komatsu equipment. Recently, the Smiths purchased a D51PX dozer and they are leasing a D61PX dozer. The company also has a D65EX-18 dozer, which is only the second one being used in the Carolinas. The company had it specially fitted with a c-frame and rake attachment from a competitive brand’s next-size-larger dozer, for its many land-clearing jobs.
“The Komatsu dozers are the best grading dozers I’ve ever used,” said Michael. “The visibility on them is unreal. You can see the whole blade, so grading is easier, more efficient and more productive.”
The partnership between S.M. Smith & Sons and Linder goes beyond equipment and service.
“If it wasn’t for Linder, we probably would have had to shut down,” Michael added. “They took care of us, and that’s why we remain loyal to them today. Now that things have bounced back, a lot of those companies want us to work with them again. We tell them, ‘Sorry, but Linder worked with us when times were tough, and you didn’t.’ We consider Bill and John family now.”
S.M. Smith & Sons’ fleet isn’t exclusively Komatsu, but adding the Komatsu dozers to the existing fleet and incorporating the company’s existing GPS technology was a smooth transition.
“We had the Trimble GPS system already, so the fact that the Komatsu dozers can operate that has been great for us,” said Michael. “We can run the system on the D51 and the D61 without skipping a beat. It was a seamless integration.”
Choosing Komatsu also helps the Smiths stay current with the evolving GPS construction landscape.
“GPS is the future,” said Michael. “We figured that out when we started doing roadwork. We had two people holding string and another with a tape measure. We knew there had to be a better way. With GPS, we can have those three workers doing something else while the machine follows the plans. It has increased our efficiency.
“Moving forward, it’s going to get even more important to have GPS, and Komatsu is way ahead of anyone else with its technology,” he continued. “Fortunately, we have great support with Linder. They do a good job of staying up-to-date.”
The Smiths have enjoyed success building their company into what it is today, while keeping an eye on the future.
“We’ve spent a lot of time training our employees, and I believe we have some of the best people we’ve ever had right now,” said Michael. “We’ve also tried to be very diversified with our services. It has served us well up to this point, and we think it’ll help us remain successful in the future.”
Looking ahead, it is likely that family will continue to be involved. Some of the siblings’ families live on the 200-acre farm they purchased several years back. On Sundays, they get together for lunch.
“We’re a family,” said Michael. “We grew up together, we work together, and after a long day of work, we farm together. It’s enjoyable. We don’t know anything different.”