If you ask his clients about Ron Hunsche and his company, it’s hard to get a short answer. “They are problem solvers for their customers,” says David Kirchner with Norrenbern’s Truck Company, Nashville, Illinois. “On a job another contractor did for us we had a problem with a site not draining properly. The contractor didn’t know what was wrong and the engineer didn’t know what was wrong. I put in one phone call to Ron and he came out, looked at the site and told us exactly what we needed to do to solve the problem.”
Kirchner takes a breath and continues: “When it comes to putting a building on one of their pads, nobody is better. Their sitework is precise to within a fraction of an inch. When we do our pavement pours we’ve never had any cost overruns on their sites. They stay pretty much at the cutting edge of equipment technology.”
Ahead of the curve
It’s obvious in talking to him that Hunsche takes pride in that last statement. “We like to be the first in trying out things,” he says. “We feel it’s one of the ways we can be smarter than our competitors.”
For example, Hunsche says, “We were one of the first companies in the area to have lasers on our dozers. We’ve had them since 1981.” And although he’s keeping his eye on GPS systems, he’s not convinced they can give him the 200th of an inch tolerances required on the massive building pads his company prepares the ground for around the St. Louis area.
This accuracy is essential to the concrete contractors who follow him on the jobsite. “If there’s a 1/4-inch off on a 30-acre pad, that adds up to a major amount of concrete,” Hunsche says.
He also advocates the use of International quad-track tractors with Reynolds pull-behind 14- and 17-cubic-yard scrapers. “They just do a fantastic job,” says Hunsche, who has used the tractor/pull-behind scraper combination since the early 1990s. “The tractor’s articulated, which is better for this work, and the combination is more economical than renting a big scraper. They’ll travel through wet conditions so much easier because they’ve got more flotation.”
Hunsche’s interest in equipment is evident from the start. When asked when he began his business, he quotes the delivery date of his first machine, a Cat high-lift dozer: August 21, 1976. “I’d been running a dozer for a company that cleaned up after train wrecks,” he recalls, “but I was on call 24/7. I thought, ‘I’ve got to get out and do something different.'”
For two years, Hunsche did land improvement work and then he eventually worked his way up to commercial building site preparation. One of the general contractors he worked for was Korte Construction. In 1981, Korte Construction owners Ralph and Larry Korte came to Hunsche with a business proposition: Would he be interested in taking over their road and bridge division?
“They told me they thought I could be more cost efficient than them and they would continue to use me as a subcontractor,” Hunsche says.
With Hunsche’s affirmative answer, he inherited the division’s equipment fleet, including a concrete pump that Korte had bought in 1978. “When we bought the firm, that pump was the only one in the area,” he says. Although Hunsche wasn’t familiar with concrete pumps, the deal included the operator, Kenny Schuepbach. “Kenny knew everyone in the business and we just went along with the flow,” he says.
Some flow. The firm now has four concrete pumps, and its pump rental operation comprises 40 percent of its annual revenues. The pumps are rented with an operator and dispatched by Hunche’s administrative assistant Jeane Von Hatten, who’s been with the firm for 22 years.
“Ninety-nine percent of the phone calls that come into the office are to schedule a concrete pump,” Hunsche says. “Jeane’s both my right and left arm.”
After polling his customers, Hunsche bought two 42-meter concrete pumps, one of which is shown here on the $330 million Page Avenue Extension job in St. Louis.
Keep it in the family
Hunsche’s brother Gene serves as the company’s equipment manager and son Brent, who started with the firm immediately after high school, is a field superintendent. Hunsche grins and says: “I answer to him when I come on his job.”
The company is signatory to both the operating engineers and laborers unions, and has 10 full-time, year-around employees. “Some contractors might try to find shortcuts around the unions, but Ron takes a lot of pride in the skill of his employees and is loyal to the union,” says Tom O’Malley with Schwing Concrete Pumps. “As a result, he gets a lot of respect from them.”
When it comes time to buy equipment, Hunsche researches equipment brands with his operators. “We’ll also talk to our clients and ask them what they’re looking for,” Hunsche says. “Our contractor customers wanted us to get bigger booms, so in 1999, we bought two 42-meter Schwing concrete pumps. We buy something because the industry needs it.” Twenty-four hour parts availability is also an essential.
The $3 million company rents primarily as a temporary fleet expansion tactic, and spends about $350,000 a year on rental equipment. For example, recently the firm did site work for the 1.2 million-square-foot ProLogis distribution center in nearby Pontoon Beach, Illinois. There they rented scrapers, rollers, dozers and excavators.
“It’s typical for a job to need two or three more scrapers, an excavator and a soil stabilizer, which we use to incorporate lime in the soil,” Hunsche says. In fact, lime soil stabilization has become a specialty for the firm – last year it used 12,000 tons of lime on its jobs. Excavators get on the rental list because each job requires a different lifting capacity. “You can’t own every size,” he sums up.
Ron and his brother are meticulous about their equipment maintenance. “We have full records from day one on each machine and we oil sample everything, including our pickup trucks,” Hunsche says.
What’s ahead? “Instead of getting a lot bigger,” Hunsche replies, “I’d rather see us get smarter and more efficient. There’s no sense in doing more work for less profit. I’d rather see us keep that profitability up to where everyone can run good equipment. Our company is known for running good equipment, and that makes our operators and jobs more cost effective.”
But, he warns those who would like to copy him, “there’s no such thing as an eight-hour day. Sometimes there’s no such thing as a 12-hour day.”