Contractor of the Year finalist: Richard & Kevin Flack

Construction was always a way of life for Richard Flack and his son Kevin. Kevin even remembers helping his father put in a septic tank at age 12. By the late 1990s, both men were superintendents at the same construction company and came to a mutual decision: It was time to work for themselves.

Their growth path has been a straight line upwards ever since. “They had a good word-of-mouth reputation with how they performed for the other company,” explains Jami, Kevin’s wife and Flack ‘n’ Flack’s office manager. “Everyone knew about how clean they left their jobsites every night.”

The fledgling company started with three rented machines – two skid steers and an excavator – and quickly converted them to purchases. The Flacks also began to build up their fleet with auctions. “You can really get a good deal on machines,” says Kevin, “and if the weather is bad, there’s less people bidding and you can save yourself a good 20 percent.”

EXCELLENT CREWS
From the start, the Flacks admit they’ve had excellent crews. One foreman, Corey Wang, signed on when the Flacks began their firm in 1999, leaving their former construction company when they did. “It’s hard to find someone who knows what you’re thinking, and you know what they’re thinking, especially when you’re in machines,” Kevin says. Also joining them from the same company was their estimator Tim Starns, who handles bids and client public relations. Adds Jami: “We’ve been fortunate because the few bad eggs we’ve had tended to leave on their own.”

Although it started out doing residential site development, the firm is now primarily concentrating on commercial work, including demolition, utility installation, earthmoving and fine grading. Richard and Kevin take a crew each, with Richard’s crew handling utilities and Kevin’s crew doing the earthwork and grading. Both take a hands-on approach to their jobs.

“When I’m on the job,” Richard says, “I’m in a machine and on the phone all the time. The cab’s really my second office.” Adds Kevin: “We’re out in the field with our guys; we don’t sit in an office.” Even though Richard is 64, Kevin laughs when retirement is mentioned. “Not dad,” he says, shaking his head, “and definitely not anytime soon. Even if he eventually slows down, he’ll always want to be helping us out.”

According to the Flacks, most of their employees can do it all, including turning a wrench. “We look for people who have the skills Kevin and I have,” Richard says. Because of this, even the firm’s ‘full-time mechanic’ operates machinery and serves on a crew. “All of our guys are hands on and they maintain their own trucks and equipment,” Kevin says. “They all know how to wrench and that’s a big plus.”

The firm presently uses a three-bay shop to keep its 40-piece fleet productive; a fleet that includes loaders, excavators, graders, skid steers, compaction rollers, Class 8 trucks and side-dump trailers. “We were the first in our area to use side-dump trailers, and now they’re quite popular,” Kevin says. “The trailers give us the ability to do concrete removal for the city, since a belly dump limits you to what can go through the opening in the bottom.”
Even in Billings, work rarely shuts down for the winter. When it does, the crew is in the shop going over each piece of equipment.

The Flacks usually rent 84-inch compaction rollers, which they use to compact dirt and subbase on their larger jobs. One such job is at Pompeys Pillar, a historical Lewis and Clark national monument close to Billings. The contract calls for the firm to build up the site to get it out of a flood plain. The entire project, which includes an interpretive center, will be completed in 2006.

The company also started out renting a variety of light equipment, including rammers and generators, but soon converted them into rental purchase options. “Every one keeps track of small tools because they know what each crew should have,” Kevin says. “When they’re done, they bring it back to the shop and don’t let it slide around in the back of a pickup.”

GROWTH PATTERN
The Flacks plan to build and move into a new office and shop facility this spring, the third in five years and the first facility they’ll own instead of rent. It will be part of a 250-acre site they bought three years ago and have been reclaiming ever since, using a 300-ton-per-hour crusher to process river rock throughout the property.

“The crusher operation helps us compete,” Kevin explains, “since we don’t have to buy rock from other companies.” And about 10 to 20 percent of their crusher’s production is sold to other companies, also helping with the bottom line.

With the new facility, the company will also stop the commute from one side of Billings to the other, since their site is on the opposite side of town from their present office and shop.

This cross beam that will form the great room in Kevin and Jami’s new house was created out of the glue laminated beams at a furniture store they demolished.

USE EVERYTHING
If there’s one motto Flack ‘n’ Flack goes by, it’s “use everything.” This is especially true of their demolition jobs, where they ask for complete salvage rights. Brent Sumner with Fisher Construction, a Flack ‘n’ Flack client, relates how they went about one demolition job: “It was a spectacle to watch. They exercised great care and pulled the building apart a toothpick at a time rather than running it over with their equipment.”

When the company demolished an old grocery store and a furniture store, the stores’ light fixtures, glue laminated beams and shelving all found a second life. The shelving was sold, given away or reserved for the Flacks’ new shop. Some of the glue laminated beams have been resized and planed and are being put in the great room of Kevin and Jami’s new house, an ongoing project. The beams will also be used when the company builds its new office, along with other lumber from their demolition jobs. The piping, bolts and nuts were sent to a recycling plant.

And the asphalt from their demolition jobs will be recycled and placed on the haul roads throughout their property, eliminating the constant need of a water truck for dust control. “Reusing all this stuff is so much better than throwing it in the landfill,” Kevin says.

NO SURPRISES
Were there any surprises along the way? Richard says no. “We’d done this work for so many years,” he explains. “We just took it one day at a time and it worked out. I have to hand Kevin a lot of the credit for our ability to keep schedule. He took over that part of the business and it really helped.”

At the end of 2004, Richard and his wife took a well-earned vacation, their first in six years. “It was hard for me to leave,” he says with a wry laugh, “because I like to be on the job.”

This dedication is well noted by the firms with which the company does business. “Flack ‘n’ Flack Construction exemplifies the best of the industry in mid-size construction companies throughout the area,” says George Fairchild with Pelican Oil. “They will be an asset to their industry for years to come.”