Project Profile: Machine Cost Management

Jan. 3, 2014

When Joe Strack’s father, Alfred, began his pipeline and site development business in Fairburn, GA, 65 years ago, he probably never dreamed his company would be working on projects 500 miles from his Fulton County base. But today, Strack Inc. is considered a major player in the trending pipeline business across the southeastern corner of the United States. Similarly, Cat dealer Yancey Bros. is encroaching on its 100-year anniversary serving customers and is amongst Caterpillar’s most established dealers. Needless to say, there is shared interest between manufacturer, dealer, and customer to assist progress.

After successfully leading the company’s growth over almost 40 years, Joe Strack, has now handed off the title of president to his son Jonathan. While Joe remains active with the company as chairman, he has asked Jonathan to oversee the day-to-day operations and planning for the future of the company.

“What I’m most proud of,” says Jonathan, “is our employees. Dad and I have a group of employees that have been with us anywhere from 10 to 40 years. We have very low turnover, and they are by far our company’s biggest asset. When we have a job out of town, we always take our crews with us. We don’t typically hire locally where the jobs are because we need people that will do it right and perform good quality work. We depend on the trust we’ve developed with each other over the years.”

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“We were a much larger company five or six years ago, before the downturn hit everyone in the industry”, says Jonathan. “We had to scale back every aspect of our operations and learned to diversify a bit more than we had in the past. I think the economy turned the corner in 2011, but we just didn’t realize it at the time,” says Jonathan. “We’re now purchasing new equipment to carry us through the next few years.”

Strack Depends on Cat Excavators
Strack Inc. depends on Cat excavators to serve its pipeline industry needs. As part of its fleet replenishment/expansion initiatives, Strack determined the 336E and 374D excavators could provide the best return on investment for his business demands.

“I like the size, mobility, and performance of the 374D,” says Jonathan. “We wanted the fastest, best, and quickest machine, and the 374D gives us excellent cycle times for a machine its size. We can move the same amount of material per hour with the 374D than with other manufacturers’ larger machines.”

Jonathan adds, “A huge difference we’re seeing already is the fuel costs for the 374D. We’re burning around 220 gallons keeping it busy, whereas before we were using 350 gallons a day with another manufacturer’s larger excavator. We’re getting the same results and moving the same amount of material with the 374D as with the other machine, and it’s saving us 130 gallons of diesel a day. If we were to take that out over the course of a year, we would see a potential savings of $91,000 in fuel cost on this single machine.”

“We are working on building our company through controlled, managed growth,” says Jonathan. “We don’t want to be as large as we once were. Our plans are to provide outstanding work for good customers, pay our employees well, replenish our fleet a little at a time, and the growth will take care of itself.”

As part of its fleet replenishment initiatives, Strack Inc. also took delivery of a Cat 336E excavator and a pair of 345D excavators.

“The 336E is very quick,” says Jonathan. “We are very pleased with its speed and power. I like the camera as it gives us an extra level of safety on all our job sites. The 345s provide us with speed, power and a good fuel burn-all things that benefit our being able to do our jobs more efficiently.”

Choosing an Equipment Dealer for the Company
Strack Inc.’s decision to purchase its new Caterpillar excavators had to do with more than just the performance of the equipment during a demo. Having a local dealer with the necessary tools and resources was a major factor in turning its fleet towards Cat. From meeting efficient/effective order-to-delivery expectations (i.e., less than six-week machine availability), to ensuring uptime to allow their customer to finish their projects on time and under budget, Caterpillar & Yancey can be depended upon to deliver expectations.

“Caterpillar does the best job as a manufacturer as anyone, and Yancey Bros. Co. does the best job of a dealer as anyone,” says Jonathan. “When we do work outside of Georgia we have found that going straight to the local Caterpillar

dealer is an easy process. No mountains of paperwork, no credit checks, no hassles. We use our Cat AccessAccount that Yancey set up for us and every Cat dealer in the country becomes our local dealer.”’

According to Jonathan, “No one has been able to help us manage our costs over time the way Yancey does. Reman components are available from Yancey, complete with warranties, and we aren’t able to get these options from other manufacturer’s dealers. We’ve also been able to purchase low-hour used machines out of The Cat Rental Store fleet that have given us a long life. Other dealers can’t find the low-hour machines that are in as good of shape as Yancey’s rental machines. Yancey is a good partner for us.”

“We buy our bulk oil from Yancey, and their S-O-S [scheduled oil sampling] testing is part of the purchase price,” says Strack Inc.’s equipment manager, Jeff Anderson. “They have saved us lots of money by finding problems during the lab testing and alerting us before they became catastrophic and caused major damage. The oil analysis has allowed us to cut back on major repairs, and also added a lot of value to our trade-ins. Yancey runs fluid tests and analysis on every machine we own.”

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“We have found that Cat parts are less expensive than the same parts from other manufacturers’ dealers,” says Jonathan. “Not only are the cheaper, but they’re easier to get because of Yancey’s huge inventory on the shelf. Our mechanics say the Cat machines are easier to service, they stay cooler, and the components are located where they should be for easy access.”

What Makes for a Good Partnership?
When it comes to establishing a genuine partnership, Jeff Anderson, Strack Inc.’s chief mechanic, has a few things to say. “Our Yancey product support representative, Paul Holloway, talks with me every day. His knowledge of equipment is pretty extensive, but if he doesn’t have an immediate answer he knows who to call and where to get it. I like that.”

Jonathan adds, “We had Bob Peck as our Yancey machine representative for what seemed like forever. But when he retired last year, Jamie Thompson started calling on us. Jamie is very responsive and takes care of us. He does his research and presents reasons we should purchase Caterpillar equipment. But most importantly, he is honest and responsive…and that is important to us.”

What does the future hold for Strack Inc.? “Well, I plan on being here for a long time,” says Jonathan. “My dad is still highly involved every single day in the business, and together we are rebuilding our company into what will be the best pipeline contractor in the southeast. Our employees are good and loyal; we have been fortunate to work with good customers; and we feel that our partnership with Yancey and Caterpillar will help us reach all our goals.”