From the Ground Up
Starting with a single crew, Tommy Settle and Mike Brown have grown a thriving site-prep business.
Just a short five-minute drive from B&S Site Development’s office in Bristow, Virginia, is Manassas National Battlefield Park, site of the first battle of the Civil War. A massive statue of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson towers over the battlefield. According to legend, Jackson earned his nickname at the battle after holding back a fierce assault. Interestingly, Jackson taught at Virginia Military Institute (VMI), where a century-and-a-half later, B&S Site Development’s founders, Mike Brown and Tommy Settle (hence the company name “B&S”), would both earn degrees in civil engineering.
HITTING THE GROUND RUNNING
After graduation from VMI, Brown and Settle took jobs at residential-site-development companies for a few years before forming their own company in 2003. They started with just a single four-man crew. “We took a lot of small residential jobs that other contractors were too busy to do, including utility tie-ins, water services, sewer work, and water mains,” remembers Brown. “Basically, a lot of odds and ends.”
Today the company runs 10 crews and employs over 100 people. “In the beginning we were having trouble finding subcontractors, so we hired a project manager, bought more machines, and hired more operators,” adds Settle. “From about 2004 to 2006, things really started to take off. We developed a reputation for getting the job done on schedule and under budget.”
B&S Site Development provides complete site-preparation services, including dirt work, concrete, wet utilities, and paving. The company has transitioned from residential to predominantly commercial work, as opportunities are abundant. The area surrounding Bristow has grown dramatically since the 1980s after becoming the home to world headquarters for several high-tech companies. Almost 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic flows through neighboring Loudoun County, where 75 massive data centers have been constructed in the last decade. The data centers store and manage data for internet search, social media, and e-commerce sites, and demand shows no signs of slowing down — another five million sq. ft. are on the drawing boards.* B&S Site Development also does some government work, including parking garages, a municipal government firing range, and a project at Dulles International Airport.
“In the last three years, we’ve really had to scale up our crews to handle bigger and bigger jobs, which are typically 20 to 80 acres,” says Settle. “Many of the projects have very aggressive schedules, and our ability to get it done has established our reputation in the marketplace.”
LEAN AND MEAN
VMI instilled a “can-do” attitude in the two business partners. They work very closely with customers, with Brown supervising field operations and Settle overseeing estimating, project management, and administration. “Even though we’ve grown into a larger company, we’re still very hands-on,” says Settle. “Because we’re lean, we can interact with customers and make timely decisions so we can meet our deadlines.”
“I think that has a lot to do with our success,” says Brown. “If there’s an issue with a schedule or contract, Tommy is just a phone call away. If there’s a problem in the field, I’m there. People like that. They don’t have to deal with echelons of middle management.”
To help make the company more competitive, Brown and Settle opened a full-service construction recycling facility, Commonwealth Recycled Aggregates, in 2008. “We gather waste from our jobs, including concrete and asphalt, then crush it so we can use it as aggregate on our jobs,” says Brown. “This really gives us an edge when we are bidding a project. It’s very cost-effective and good for the environment, too.”
We’ve tried many different manufacturers, but Deere is very productive and reliable
B&S Site Development started out running a variety of construction machines but has used primarily John Deere equipment since 2007. “We’ve tried many different manufacturers, but Deere is very productive and reliable, and we get excellent support from our local dealer, James River Equipment,” says Brown.
At the firing range project in Loudoun County, a John Deere 755K Crawler Loader, 750K Dozers, and 310E Articulated Dump Trucks work in tandem, carving out parking lots and foundations during the initial stages of site preparation. As the crew winds down for the day, a James River service truck pulls in. A service technician from the dealership begins performing scheduled maintenance on the machines. “By scheduling this at the end of the day or on a weekend, James River helps us avoid downtime,” says Settle.
B&S Site Development has a service contract with James River to handle all preventive maintenance and repairs for its large fleet of over 50 John Deere machines. “It’s hard to find good mechanics these days to work on the new machines,” says Settle. “Having James River manage service really helps us focus on what we’re good at.”
Four months ago, B&S Site Development began leasing all its equipment from James River. “It’s been a really good decision for us,” says Brown. “Everything is built into the lease agreement, including service and maintenance, so now everything is a known, fixed cost. Having an engine failure was tough to budget for. Now there are no surprises, which helps our bottom line.”
JDLink™, John Deere’s machine-monitoring system, has also helped minimize surprises. “It’s a great tool,” says Settle. “We can track the hours, location, maintenance schedules, and production of each machine. And if there’s an issue with any machine, both James River and our company get an alert. We can work with our dealer to determine if it is something we can handle, or if they need to send a technician. Because James River can diagnose the machine remotely, the technician can arrive with the right part the first time, without having to make a separate visit to determine the problem. That saves us time and money.”
James River has always had the company’s back. “I’ve known our dealer representative, Clay Campbell, for 20 years,” says Brown. “He’s another VMI guy. Our company has done some pretty unique jobs where I might need eight machines on the job immediately, and Clay will figure out a way to make it happen with just a handshake. We’ve always had a good relationship with them. They’re such good people to deal with.”
“We consider James River and John Deere our partners in what we are trying to accomplish,” adds Settle. “We’ve always had very good luck with the equipment. There have been no major issues, and they are low maintenance. And if an issue does arise, James River is a phone call away.”
The future is looking bright for B&S Site Development. “In 15 years this is the best economy I’ve seen,” says Brown. “It’s pretty steady and there’s no end in sight. We’re in a good spot right now.”
Brown hasn’t lost his passion for the company since it started with a single crew. “I love doing this. I get to come out and play in the dirt and make a living at it. It’s a lot of fun.”
B&S Site Development, Inc. is serviced by James River Equipment, Manassas Park, Virginia.
*Sources: Loudoun County, Virginia, Economic Development; Washington Technology magazine; and datacenterknowledge.com.