Bud Fultz, Ole South Excavating — Murfreesboro, Tennessee

When he was 22, Bud Fultz took stock of his life. He was working at a grocery store – exactly where he didn’t want to be the rest of his life. And so he bought a backhoe and every morning after getting off his night shift he’d go out to his property and practice digging. “I dug holes and filled them back in all over that property, learning how to run a backhoe,” he says.

Soon Fultz was running his own excavating company, subcontracting for several contractors in the area. One of the contractors he worked for was another excavating contractor by the name of Charles Duggin. “Ole South Excavating was actually started out of tragedy, when Charles and two others lost their lives in a trench cave-in,” Fultz says. “He was a good friend; in fact, my youngest child is named after him.”

A developer who had used Duggin’s company approached Fultz. “John Floyd asked me to take over Charles’ jobs, and Charles had around 18 workers who needed work, so we teamed up. We acquired quite a bit of debt off the bat, since we paid Charles’ widow for his equipment.”

So Fultz and Floyd joined to form Ole South Excavating in 1995, with Fultz eventually buying out his partner. “I got a golden opportunity, and the years of experience in the business I already had behind me let me grow the company,” he says. Even though he’s a totally separate entity now, Fultz still keeps his offices in Floyd’s Ole South Properties building in Murfreesboro, Tennesee.

Near-vertical growth
Ole South also has benefited from an area that’s seen a near-vertical growth rate. Located just southeast of Nashville, Murfreesboro has benefited from that proximity and from the Nissan truck manufacturing plant in nearby Smyrna. “The growth has amazed me,” he says. “I grew up here, and where we were living at the time used to be out of town. No longer.”

Housing development shows no sign of slowing down. His crews have been working on one entry-level housing development, Evergreen Farms, for seven years now, and more than half the property remains to be developed. “It will probably be around 2,000 single-family homes by the time it’s through,” Fultz says. “That’s our bread and butter.”

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Fultz says he’s learned to understand the objectives of his clients. “For them,” he says, “it’s how many lots do they have available for sale. I can’t look at it as just putting in hours. My job is not to let them run out of lots.”
This attitude is noticed by his clients. “Bud’s reputation is excellent,” says Mike Lilly with Cason Lane Developments. “He’s got a loyal crew; some have been with him for years.”

Curbing profits
While the lion’s share of Ole South’s work remains in housing site development, the company also does commercial development and municipal utility work. Last year, Fultz gained a new market when he bought a refurbished curb-and-gutter machine in May.

“I love curb-and-gutter work and a lot of it is because of the foreman I’ve got, Joe Hartman,” Fultz says. Hartman had been doing concrete work for another contractor and called Fultz for a job. As soon as he was hired, contractors started asking Fultz when he was going to start doing curb and gutter work. He now has a concrete crew of 12.

Fultz had made careful calculations about how much footage he would have to pour to pay for the machine. “I exceeded my first-year expectations by 80 percent,” he says. “It’s not me; it’s Joe. He tells me where the machine needs to go next and I send out the lowboy.”

Although Fultz has a mixed fleet of brands, he typically uses one brand for one type of machine, such as Cat dozers.

No junk
“We have to run at such a pace now that we can’t afford to run junk,” Fultz says. “If I have a piece down, it’s a double whammy. I’m losing time and I’m also paying a repair bill.” With about 38 major pieces of equipment, including excavators, dozers and scrapers, Fultz realizes he can’t afford to run all new equipment. “But you have to find the balance point of being in debt versus breakdowns and lost time,” he says.

“We make the majority of our money with our dozers and excavators,” Fultz says, “so we keep those up to date and in as good of shape as we can.” This doesn’t mean he doesn’t buy used machines in this category, but they have to be premium machines.

Fultz says he’s bought across the entire spectrum of purchase possibilities, including buying at auction and using rental purchase options. For the majority of his work, which includes installing water and sewer lines, he prefers to use 20-metric-ton-class excavators. “I’ve also got a 30-metric-ton excavator for our deep-cut sewer work or for carrying a big bucket to top load articulated trucks,” he says.

Fultz uses rental as a tool to investigate purchase possibilities. “Very seldom do I just rent anything on a straight rent,” Fultz says. “You can RPO a piece for about $500 more than a straight rent, and that’s worth it to me to take the chance I’ll keep it. We’ll rent a machine for a couple of months and if it’s being used on a constant basis and the need is still there, then we’ll generally convert. I’m always looking for the most bang for
my buck.”

Crusher cuts costs
There’s so much limestone in his area that the third piece of equipment Fultz bought when starting up was an air compressor with a rock drill. “You learn quick,” he says.

After renting a mobile jaw crusher for three months, Fultz recently bought a horizontal impact crusher to take care of the rock his crews dig up. “We don’t have to run it as many hours as the jaw crusher,” he says. “And when you add the cost of an operator and a loader, the time we save adds up.”

Ole South uses the crusher to recycle materials on the job. “We’ve been able to reduce the cost of stone by 10 to 15 percent on our jobs, which we can then pass on to the developer,” Fultz says.

A form of therapy
“I do more office work in my pickup truck than I do in my office because I’d rather be out seeing what’s happening. Anytime I try to operate a machine, the Nextel goes off, and I’ve got to go do something else.”

But he does admit to occasionally operating a machine as a form of therapy. “I came home late one night and when I told my wife I’d been running an excavator, she said, ‘Bad day, huh?'” he laughs. “She sure knows me.”