Kraig Meyer can remember sitting as a kid beside his grandfather while he operated his dozer. At the age of 14, he was operating a dozer himself in his father’s excavating business. But when it came time for Kraig Meyer, owner of Generation III Excavating, Hamilton, Michigan, to earn a living helping his father, the economy slowed down.
And so he began to work in a series of manufacturing jobs, earning good money but always with the realization the work wasn’t a perfect fit. He got married and had two sons, then found himself fielding 3 a.m. calls as a plant superintendent. Tired of manufacturing, he started to sell welding supplies. Throughout it all, he helped his father, running a dozer whenever he needed an extra hand. Construction was always in the background.
In fact, he was ready to start his own construction firm before he accepted the sales job. He had lined up an excavator and bid a job. Then he met a couple of brick walls. “The guy who had the excavator called and said his son wanted it instead,” Meyer says. When the bids were let, the low bidder had a price of $8,900; Meyer, not the high bidder, had bid the job at $19,000. “Obviously starting in construction at that time was not meant to be,” he says.
A blessing in disguise
A few years later, Meyer faced the fact the company he was working for was on shaky financial ground. Still working his sales job, he borrowed $500 from his life insurance policy to put a down payment on a used dozer from his Caterpillar dealership.
“I’d work sales all day and then change clothes in my pickup truck and go out and do dozer jobs until after dark,” Meyer recalls. “It was no way to live with a young family.”
Meyer persisted with the grueling schedule though, eventually buying a tandem truck and loader and adding snow removal to his services. Then two days after an operation, his ailing company laid him off. “What happened was really a blessing in disguise,” he now says. “We had gotten busy enough that from that point on we’ve never looked back.”
Meyer worked as the sole owner/operator for two years and then hired his only full-time employee, Jim Decker. “Jim is an excellent operator,” Meyer says. “He’s very conscientious and maintains the equipment the way I would.”
Sons Jeremy and Heath help out in the summer. And his wife Cindy has done all the paperwork from the start. “If it doesn’t smell like diesel when you turn it on, I don’t want any part of it,” Meyer says with a laugh, crediting her with keeping Generation III’s business end in tip-top shape. “It’s hard for Cindy to sit on an invoice for 30 days. Once people find out what kind of customer you are – one that pays your bills promptly – they’ll do whatever’s necessary to keep your business.”
Paul Volkers with Brewers City Dock, a local aggregates supplier, can attest to that. He remembers the time the Meyers reminded him when he forgot to send them a bill. “As far as honesty, I think that’s going above all expectations,” he says.
Meyer usually purchases new or used equipment from local dealerships. “We like the support and backing we get from them,” he says. When he rents, it will typically be a compactor or a pump, either on a weekly or monthly basis.
The right size
With an annual volume at around $400,000 a year, Meyer likes the size of his company. “We’ve had lots of opportunities to grow, but I want to maintain our current size because then we can offer first-class customer service,” he says. “I really love working with my customers face-to-face. ”
So instead of taking on jobs that would stretch the capabilities of his present size, Meyer relies on a network of local contractors. “There are a number of good contractors in our area. You can’t stay small without their support,” he says. “Many times you can do a job between the two of you that you couldn’t do individually. You can’t afford to own all that equipment and maintain your current size.
“For instance, we work with a skid-steer owner/operator who could pick a dime off concrete with a bucket, he’s so good. If we need a large amount of sand for a project we call in trucks from another owner/operator. A good subcontractor helps make us look good.”
Since Meyer is a strong believer in diversification, the company keeps a varied list of excavating clients, including a local electric and gas company, home owners, small developers, area drain commissions, small commercial contractors and agricultural customers.
It’s work that keeps him close to home; he rarely goes outside a 10-mile radius from his equipment shop.
Meyer leases his equipment shop from a contractor, Wedeven Brothers Construction, which also uses Generation III as a sub from time to time. He and his employee use the winter months to go over each machine – trucks, a dozer, loader, excavator and tractor with brush equipment – in meticulous detail.
“He’s a good equipment manager,” says Stuart Wedeven with Wedeven Brothers. “Kraig is one of the best subcontractors I’ve worked with. He just goes out of his way to make sure the job is done right.”
“With equipment I believe if you take care of the small stuff, the big stuff will take care of itself,” Meyer says. And since he’s seldom off the seat of his machines, he uses his first-hand operator experience to note when something needs attention. “Let’s say I notice the front idlers on my dozer are starting to get more movement in them than I care to see. I pay attention to it because I know that can affect my gradeability. I’m extremely fussy about my equipment. I can’t afford the downtime.”
Home by 6 p.m.
Meyer tells his clients the best time to reach him is at 9 p.m. “I can’t always hear the phone when I’m running the dozer,” he says.
But don’t take that small detail to mean he’s a workaholic. “I like to be home by 6 p.m.,” he says. “I’m a firm believer in sitting around the dinner table with my family. I didn’t go into business to kill myself. I just want to make a decent living and leave a footprint in the community that lasts a long time.”