Saying it wasn’t the best of beginnings would be an understatement. In October 2001 after working for seven years in his wife’s construction company, newly divorced Kevin (please just call him “Bo”) Carter found himself without a job.
And so he started over again, reactivating a firm he’d started in 1999 that had been essentially dormant up until then, and sleeping on a couch in his office. In addition to the monumental stress generated by a start-up, Kevin then broke the tibia and fibula on his right leg at his daughter’s roller-skating party.
“When I looked down, I had twisted my foot around backwards,” Carter says. “I was on crutches for six months. A.J. would come and pick me up off my couch and we would ride jobs. At one point, they even stuck me on a four-wheeler.”
“A.J.” is A.J. Musgrove, whom Carter coaxed out of retirement to serve as general superintendent for his fledgling company. “He’s one heck of a guy and a great friend,” Carter says. “He’s taught me a lot.” (Musgrove has since returned to retirement.)
Carter must have been a convincing talker because he also landed Tony Mah as vice president and Bill Huffman as construction manager, persuading them to leave solid jobs for a tempting but still less-than-certain future. “It’s unusual in today’s time to collect such great people,” Carter says. “I targeted some people with solid backgrounds and work ethics. I couldn’t have done a tenth of what we did by myself.”
Also unusual is the growth spurt the company has seen after such a trouble-plagued start. Carter and crew immediately embarked on what he calls a “three-month bidding frenzy,” and landed some significant jobs, most notably the site prep work for a new Home Depot in Jacksonville.
“That was our coming-out job,” Carter relates. “We literally had to turn a swamp into a site for a Home Depot. And the GC credited us with bumping up the schedule by two months. He gave us a real chance and we ran with it.” This opportunity to strut its stuff was critical since the firm had just gone through a series of three jobs where it had submitted the low bid and yet wasn’t awarded the work. But after the Home Depot job, “the doors swung wide open,” he says.
K.T. Carter Excavating has focused on utility, site prep and road grading jobs.
Since then, to call the company’s growth phenomenal would be shortchanging it.
The growth was so rapid that when Carter filled out his application form for Contractor of the Year in the summer of 2002, his revenues were at $4.5 million, which put him under the $5 million limit of the program. By the end of the year though, the final tally was closer to $6 million. This even exceeded the company’s ambitious first-year goal of $3 million to $5 million and prompted a move to a renovated office in the fall of last year.
It doesn’t hurt that Jacksonville is in the middle of a huge capital improvements campaign called The Better Jacksonville Plan, an initiative to fix road and drainage problems, preserve land, encourage economic development and build public facilities. Many of the projects called for by the plan are right up K. T. Carter Contracting’s alley. From the start, the firm has concentrated on utility work, site prep and road grading.
It also doesn’t hurt that the city has been sprucing up for the 2005 Superbowl, or that the company office is just a few blocks away from the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium and near the location where the city plans to build a new cruise terminal.
Primarily because of the experience of Carter and his crew, the company did well even though it was new to the Jacksonville construction scene. “We’re like a seasoned football team with new jerseys,” he says. “I let them do what they do best and then keyed in on what I do best. I’m the glue. My job is to keep everything together.”
It’s a job he does well, according to at least one client. “At our first meeting I had a great feeling about the guy,” says Whit Ticknor, project manager with T.D. Farrell Construction, Atlanta. “I took a chance on him and he delivered. Anytime I’m in Jacksonville I’m interested in working with him.”
Carter is careful of the relationship his company has with the owners it works with. “We want them to say, ‘you can count on these people. They’re going to come through,'” Carter says.
A new shop for a new company
K.T. Carter Contracting now has 68 employees, including three utility crews, two grading crews and one dirt crew. Each crew has its own tools and equipment. “I don’t like them to swap these things around,” Carter says.
Carter says he’s a firm believer in buying new equipment and mixes the brands he buys depending on the type of machine. He also likes rental purchase options. “If we keep a piece for six months, then we buy,” he says.
Last year Carter promoted one of his service people, Scott Norman, to serve as his equipment manager. The department is busy: Norman has five people working under him and the company has two field service trucks and two lube-and-fuel trucks. “I want to see hours when they fuel up, when the machine starts in the morning, when it’s turned off at the end of the day and every time it is moved to another jobsite,” Carter says. “We track everything by hours.”
Part of his new office facility includes a large area that Carter plans to convert into a three-bay equipment shop. He anticipates the company will do most of its everyday mechanical work and give any major work to its equipment dealers.
All the credit
When you talk to him, Carter will time and again credit his staff with his success.
And because he believes you get what you work hard for, he would like to reach a point where his company can offer some type of profit-sharing program. “Everyone here had a part in this growth,” he states emphatically. “One person can’t make this kind of stuff happen. And I always want this to be a place where it’s exciting and interesting to work.”