Contractor of the Year Finalist
| December 08, 2011
Terry and David Quam
It will take more than snow and the recession to slow these contractors down.
Year started: 1956
Number of employees: 44
Annual volume: $14 million
Markets served: Sewer, water, excavation, snow removal and demolition
When natural disasters force everyone else indoors, Terry and David Quam gear up and head out to repair pipes, remove snow, demolish buildings and diminish the effects of Mother Nature.
“When emergency work comes around, we’re ready for it,” Terry says. “We can’t hope for it, but we’re there when it happens.”
Their quick and dependable response has helped them continue the 55-year-old, family-owned Quam Construction during the struggling economy.
Keeping it in the family
With a population of a little more than 18,000, Willmar, Minnesota, has been home to Terry and David most of their lives.
Their father, John, started the company in 1956 with just a trailer and a truck, driving from job to job, and their mom, Irene, helped manage the books. John and Irene’s first two projects were in Iowa, but they eventually set up shop in Willmar in the early 1960s.
“The construction industry was in my blood.”
David wasted no time getting in the business and started working for his father when he was 15 years old, operating different pieces of equipment and learning the bidding and estimating processes.
Terry, on the other hand, went off to college to study psychology. But when he began visiting jobsites with his family back at home, he discovered “the construction industry was in my blood. Seeing the jobsites thrilled me.”
After years of training his sons, John, now 79, officially handed down the business to Terry and David in 1996 – but he still comes by occasionally to check on things. Terry, 45, manages the hiring and banking, and David, 56, deals with the estimating and bidding processes.
“We play off of each other’s strengths and complement each other well,” David says.
With no children interested in taking over the family business, Terry and David hope to find an employee who wants to continue their work after they retire. “We know our day is coming,” Terry says.
Weathering the storm
Because of their northern location, the Quams’ work season, except for snow removal, is limited to April through about Thanksgiving. “We cross our fingers each year and hope the freeze doesn’t come earlier than the previous year,” Terry says.
During the winter, they focus on paper work and ideas for growing the business in the coming year. When the ground starts to unfreeze and dry up, they hire about eight additional temporary workers – bringing their staff to 44 – to help with the flood of new projects, which include excavating, sewer, water, demolition and snow removal work.
Expanding to survive
When their father established the business in Willmar, he mainly focused on local jobs. Since then, the sons have expanded their project radius to include four states: North and South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota. Iowa has especially proved to be a good state for steady jobs during the recession.
“We had to expand our locations to survive,” says Scott Olson, estimator and project manager. “It’s been hard to bid closer to home. We are trying to sustain, instead of grow.”
The Quams also buy equipment and work-related supplies in those states, helping them to become a part of each community: “If we work in Iowa, for example, we should do business in Iowa,” David says.
Cutting downtime, costs
They buy all of their equipment, which includes crawler dozers, generator sets, wheel loaders, excavators, skid steers, backhoes and drum vibratory compactors. “When you own a piece of equipment, you can afford to let it sit there when you aren’t using it,” Terry says. “It also gives you the pride of ownership.”
To get the most from their equipment and cut back on downtime, they keep their equipment up-to-date. “If it gets up in hours, it can cause downtime,” Olson says. “And if we aren’t putting pipe in the ground, we aren’t making money.”
Their fleet is not the brothers only concern. “We try to create a fun, enjoyable workplace so employees like what they do,” Terry says. “Contractors need to maintain good pay and benefits through good economic times and bad so employees know they can count on their employer. In return, we’ll have loyal employees.”
“Keep your nose to the grind stone. Even during bad times, there are opportunities to work.”
Clients have noticed this employee care. “They’ve had a lot of people with them for a long time – so they must take care of people – or else they wouldn’t stay,” says client Roger Fenstad with civil engineer and consultant Moore Engineering, West Fargo, North Dakota. “Terry and David Quam are just wonderful people to deal with. I speak highly of them because they earned their reputation.”
The Quams’ work ethic has also grabbed the attention of others in the industry. “We consider it certainly a feather in our cap to have them as clients. The Quams are tremendous leaders – the way they work with people, vendors, creditors and customers,” says Josh Loftis, with Cobb Strecker Dunphy & Zimmermann, a construction insurance and surety agency. “They are extremely responsive, good to work with and take a lot of pride in what they do.”
Looking to the future
The brothers attribute their success to its almost-all Caterpillar fleet, hard work, determination, employees and strong emphasis on safety. But, they aren’t content with staying where they are today. “We want to continue to learn,” Terry says. “Learning is a lifelong experience, and we don’t ever want to become complacent.”
Their advice for other contractors boils down to one word: persistence. “Keep your nose to the grind stone,” Terry says. “Even during bad times, there are opportunities to work.”
Go to www.equipmentworld.com/digital or use your smartphone to scan this tag to view a video of some of Terry and David Quam’s views on survival and success. (Download a free app from
http://www.gettag.mobi and point your phone at the square to scan the tag.)