David Nevrotski spent 10 years working his way up the ladder of a concrete drill and saw company when he decided it was time to strike out on his own.
He started with one truck and a few clients. For the next 10 years, he ran Concrete Cutting Systems out of the basement of his family’s row house in northeast Philadelphia. His wife, Barbara, worked nights at her job with the IRS and raised their newborn son and 9-year-old daughter. David worked 20-hour days.
“It was a struggle,” Barbara recalls.
“Everybody that ever gave me advice in business, they said the first five years are the worst. You make five years, you're going to make it,” David recalls.
“That's not true. I feel it was 10.”
Twenty-seven years later, Concrete Cutting has 50 employees in Philadelphia and has opened a branch in Pittsburgh with an additional 15 employees. The company performs saw cutting and drilling for the major utilities in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas and is one of the largest businesses of its kind on the East Coast. It performs wall sawing, core drilling, flat sawing, robotic demolition, as well as emission-free concrete cutting and slurry removal services.
As the company has grown with its customers, it has also advanced with the technology, transitioning to electric saws and demolition robots and establishing a fleet of vacuum trucks to tackle environmental cleanup. It also won Equipment World’s 2021 Safety Award.
For those reasons and more, Concrete Cutting Systems is one of Equipment World’s finalists for the 2021 Contractor of the Year Award.
Adapting and growing
Part of the struggle in the early days of Concrete Cutting was the result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which brought a halt to a lot of the company’s business for two to three years.
“You went from busy every day, working day and night, to nothing for almost two years,” he says.
The company made it through that recession without defaulting on any loans. It still maintained utility customers that needed its services, which helped the company pull through.
Over time, the gas and utility companies that Concrete Cutting worked for began to grow and have kept growing. He believes the company’s ability to grow with its customers has been a big part of Concrete Cutting’s success.
“We either had to try and grow with them or else they were going to call somebody else,” David says. “So we made an effort to do what we had to do to grow with them.”
“One thing about this business,” he adds. “When somebody else gets in, you're not getting back in.”
Another reason for its success has been the company’s ability to adapt to changes.
Many of its clients began requiring cleanup of slurry on saw-cutting projects. At first, the company rented vacuum trucks to follow behind its saw operators.
Then one of its contractor customers landed a three-year contract with Aqua America Pennsylvania water utility for water main replacements.
“So for us to do the work, we had to do our own slurry containment,” David says. “So we ended up buying a tow-behind vac for potholing, and converted it into being able to pick up the slurry on the roadway. Now we own 20 of them. Every time we send a saw truck out, we send a vac truck out with it.”
Because of its adding the cleanup service, the company has landed more jobs.
“The townships and the other utilities started seeing that as a green effort – it wasn't going into the sewers, it wasn't going into the lakes and streams,” David says. “That's been a major focal point on us being where we are today.”
Along with growing with its customers, it has changed with the ever-evolving concrete saw and drilling industry.
Not long ago, all of the equipment was diesel-powered with a hydraulic pump. But as its customers demanded less emissions and less chance for oil leaks on interior jobs, Concrete Cutting has shifted to electric-powered saws.
An interior demolition job for the University of Pennsylvania hospital led it to take the leap to remote-control robots. The company couldn’t use compact loaders with hydraulic hammers, so it hired a company to bring in demolition robots. The job went so well that Concrete Cutting was offered another similar project.
“If we're going to start getting work like this, we need to go ahead and started looking at doing it ourselves,” David recalls. So the company bought its own Husqvarna DXR robot. It didn’t get much use at first, but then the company started demonstrating the benefits of it to its customers and began to offer an emissions-free package.
“We can go in with an electric saw, saw-cut a plumbing trench, then bring in the DXR, pull the concrete out, break the concrete out, change to the bucket and dig,” he says. “They can lay the pipe in. We can backfill, and everything's done emission-free.
“That's been a huge part of everything that we've been doing.”
The robots were a big help on a demolition of the old Macy’s building in downtown Pittsburgh. The owners wanted an atrium opening through the middle of the building. The perimeter had to be saw-cut and the middle was broken out.
“We had DXRs running around the clock,” he says. “And with the mobility of them, being electric and being inside, they were just great for that type of work.”
Investing in equipment
Another part of the company’s success is its reinvestment in the business.
“Dave never questions the need to have state-of-the-art equipment,” says George Slater, project manager.
David learned about the importance of investing in the business by seeing it done the wrong way. The company he worked for as a saw cutter did not invest back in itself. He remembers going to a job one day when the company’s van broke down. Instead of taking it to be fixed and putting him in another van, he says, “they literally towed my van to the jobsite and left it there, and had me work out of my van for two weeks instead of getting it fixed. They had me drive my own car back and forth to the jobsite.”
He vowed to never do that to his company.
“Our equipment is top of the line,” he says. “Our trucks are no more than five years old when we turn them over. If you're going to come to work for us, you're not going to break down; you're not going to have issues like that.”
Focus on employees
David cites his employees as the top reason for the company’s success. The company has a mix of union field employees and office employees. It stresses the career potential for workers when they join the company.
“When we hire somebody, we're not offering you a job, we're actually offering you a career,” he says. “One of our saw guys or general-building guys that are able to go out and do work on their own, if they want to put in the overtime, and I'm not talking crazy overtime, you have the potential of making $100,000 or more a year. And that's not including your benefits and retirement. So you can make a good career and really support your family in the trades.”
He also believes in treating his employees like family. Slater recalled how David drove three hours to attend his father’s funeral.
“Dave is a good guy to work for and understanding,” says Rich Sicinski, company controller. “He has a good relationship with all his employees, a friendship-type relationship.” Sicinski says 25 or more have been with the company at least 10 years.
Members of the Nevrotski family have also joined the company. After retiring from the IRS, Barbara helps with accounts. And their 25-year-old son David Jr. has come on board as a flat saw operator.
Despite the success, David remains hands-on, coming in at 5 a.m. and closing the gate on the equipment yard at the end of each day. He’s also maintained the same clients he had when he was starting out.
“We're at the point now where we've got a great customer base that we deal with, and they're all repeat customers,” David says.
His customers keep coming back because they like the way he treats them, and he helps them satisfy their own clients.
“In this day and age, it is rare to come across a contractor that is willing and able to make quick changes on the fly to try and help you reach your goals and help satisfy your own clients,” says Mark Bastian, senior vice president, CTX Infrastructure. “There are not too many companies out there that have all the qualities that I have seen and experienced as Concrete Cutting Systems.”