Mike Brown has never had a job that wasn’t in construction. For 17 years, he worked as a general contractor superintendent for a large construction company before venturing out on his own. He started in 1992 with just one backhoe. Now that backhoe – and the desire to make a mark his own way – has resulted in a nearly $5 million a year company with 17 employees.
Those employees, he says, have been the main reason for his success and his steady flow of business.
“I have the best there is in this area,” he says. “All are long-term employees. They’ve been with me for lots of years. The only turnover I have at all is the occasional dump truck driver.”
Turnover is a big problem for most contractors, and Brown is fortunate to only face it in one aspect of his business. The reason for this is a simple game plan. “I pay my guys well, I treat them well and they perform well. In this area, we’re known as a company who can get the job done and that’s simply because we have the best employees.”
Having the best employees begins with due diligence on his part, as Brown says he thoroughly vets potential crewmembers prior to hiring them.
“I’m very selective of the people I hire because that person I hire, he represents me, whether I’m there or not,” he says. “And we’ve got good guys – we’ve got a good selection of people.”
“He’s had a lot of employees for a long time,” says Greg Alderson of Boone Quarries. Alderson has known Brown for several years, both as a customer of his current company’s locations in Columbia and Sedalia, and in the “contracting world” as he describes it, when he was in the crushing business.
“I’ve known of B&P Excavation for probably 10 years,” he says. “People have been with him for a while. He’s got a talented and diverse group of people working their heavy haul, excavation, concrete demo recycling business, and then obviously the dirt work side.”
“He’s a very reputable contractor,” Alderson adds.
That local reputation, Brown says, is built on the quality of work he gets from his employees. “I’m always getting compliments on my guys, and some customers even ask for certain operators,” he says. And as a result of that, Brown says if there are any problems in Sedalia requiring excavation expertise, he’s usually the one to get the call.
Part of that demand comes from Brown’s attention to detail when it comes to safety, which he views as both a positive attribute of the company and essential to maintaining his employees’ wellbeing.
“We have a safety meeting every morning,” he explains. “We call it our roundtable meeting. That’s something we’ve done ever since we started.”
Alderson’s experience echoes the prowess of Brown’s safety efforts.
“They’re very clean and safe on the jobsite,” he adds, “especially in the business we’re in, where it can be so dangerous. They really promote safety practices and they’re not going to cut any corners.”
Being good at what you do, and doing it as safely as possible, will only get you so far, a point that isn’t lost on Brown. His success is also dependent on his business acumen, which relies heavily on his company’s diversified skill set.
“I think diversification is what a lot of people don’t do enough,” says Alderson. “Everyone specializes when things are really great because you need somebody just to do that side of the job. But when it’s tougher, you’ve got to be able to do other things. Mike’s obviously been able to do that for years.”
That aspect provides a valuable example for other contractors, Alderson adds. “Mike’s business plan and model seems to work. He knows how to expand and then also to pull back when times are tough, in order to get through the harder times.”
Brown believes his company’s diversification contributed greatly to their success throughout the Great Recession. “We weren’t affected too much in 2008 through 2012,” he explains. “We had a large project going on that we started in 2007, and I was there for five and a half years, which were some of our best years. We had a lot of work going on, and we stayed busy year-round.”
The concrete and asphalt recycling side of Brown’s business is a prime example of this diversification. “I’ve been in the recycling business since about 1999,” Brown says. “We bring concrete in from various jobs, and contractors bring me concrete.”
This side of his business, in a sense, began as a result of Brown’s attention to detail, and is a testament to his business savvy foresight.
“At one time, it was common practice for people to dump old concrete in ditches here and there,” he says. “I didn’t want to be retired and have to clean up something that I’d done during my working career. So, I bought a crusher and it really improved our work.”
“It’s such a large investment too, buying a crusher,” Brown adds. “It’s a million-dollar investment just setting up, but it has been very profitable.”
“With environmental issues and air quality, it has become more than it was when I started,” he says. “Of course, everything has. But we adhere to every rule and regulation. We’re a DNR-approved recycling center.”
He sells the crushed material, or uses it on his own projects. “It fills in a real void when the weather’s bad and we can’t work out on the job somewhere,” he explains.
Brown’s demolition work has kept him busy as well. At the end of 2015, he took on the largest demolition contract of his career – a 200,000-square-foot manufacturing plant.
“We had it down in 10 days. We didn’t think we could do the job because of how tight the deadlines were, as it had to be done by Dec. 31 for accounting reasons,” he says. “Plus, they wouldn’t let me start until Dec. 14. But on Christmas Eve, we walked out of there at noon. I’ve done lots of demolition work, but not of that magnitude.”
The size and deadline weren’t the only factors worrying Brown about that job. His reputation was on the line as well.
“I was afraid of not being able to do it in the timeframe that we were allowed. I came so close to not taking it, because I felt that if I told them I could do it and I couldn’t, it would be a big problem for me. And I don’t take a job that I can’t do what I say I can do.”
“But, we excel in fast-track work, and that was a perfect example,” he adds. “Nobody else in this area could have handled that job, and nobody else had the equipment or the manpower.”
His word is his bond
Beyond his quality work, Brown has earned the trust of his community in Sedalia. Perhaps his greatest attribute is his word, according to Ron Ditzfield, one of B&P’s clients. “If Mike told you the sun was coming up in the west tomorrow, you probably better look west,” Ditzfield says.
“Mike is a handshake kind of guy,” says Wendy Faulconer, executive director of the Missouri State Fair Foundation. “If he shakes your hand and looks you in the eye and says, ‘this is what’s going to happen,’ that’s what’s going to happen.”
Faulconer has used B&P for multiple projects at the Missouri State Fair Grounds over the past five years, and has nothing but high praise for Brown’s work and character.
“He’s just a straightforward, straight shooter kind of guy,” she says. “And that’s what he expects from those that work for him. So if you’re an employee that wouldn’t meet the same standards for integrity and ethics, you might not have a job too long.”
This standard, Faulconer says, has rubbed off on other fair grounds contractors.
“We have vendors who do other types of work, where he might be an outside contractor, depending on the contract. These vendors only want to do the work if he’s also working on the projects…because the quality of their work is dependent on the quality of his.”