Kirby Delauter’s father, Russ, jokingly refers to the firm he and his father, Willie, formed in 1955 as a “one-horse operation.” Change that from one horse to one dozer, which the father-son team used to perform residential and commercial grading.
Now, far from that one-dozer start, the company is run by third-generation Kirby Delauter and his wife, Tina Delauter. The $10 million to $12 million firm does a variety of work — including site development, demolition, utilities, bridges and stormwater management — in three states.
Kirby’s entering the firm wasn’t necessarily a done deal, however. After serving six years in the U.S. Army, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I didn’t think I was college material,” Kirby recalls. He joined the family firm and proved so adept he became president in 1994.
And after working for several years outside the company, Kirby and Tina’s son William has joined the firm and is on his way to becoming the 66-year-old company’s fourth generation. A licensed civil engineer, William has “the education to take this as far as he wants to take it,” Kirby says.
“After being on the design side, now I’m getting more of the construction side,” William says. But keep in mind he did grow up working in the family business before college, and Kirby says he “knows what it’s like getting dirty in the ditches.”
Like many in this industry, the Great Recession hit the company hard. “It’s something I’ve never seen before,” Kirby says. “It took us from around 65 employees down to 16.”
“You just worked through it because that’s all you could do,” he adds. “You learned a lot of things that you’ll never find in a book.”
“That showed me more about what he’s made of than anything because he handled it in a way that I couldn’t have,” says Russ.
The experience has prompted an emphasis on measured, steady growth. “We could be three times the size we are right now,” Kirby says, “but I want to grow the company responsibly.” He expects the business to increase revenues to $13 million to $15 million this fiscal year, which ends in March.
Part of that responsible growth is keeping a sharp eye on equipment needs. “We run a little leaner now,” Kirby says. “If we don’t need something, I may sell it and then think about renting it.”
Kirby frequently uses RPOs and buys used if it’s a machine he expects to put less than 1,000 hours a year on. “Excavators, loaders and dozers are our frontline pieces, so I’m either going to buy them new or low-hour used,” Kirby says. The firm has around 135 major pieces of equipment.
In addition to the heavy machines, W.F. Delauter has seven compact track loaders. “They’re powerful and they get the job done,” Kirby says. “With a blade on them, you can sometimes use them as a default for a D4. It won’t push as much, but it gets around better. And we’ve had zero problems with them.”
Clients notice the appearance of W.F. Delauter machines on their jobsites. “His equipment is always in tip-top shape,” says Vinny Flook, owner of Vinny’s Towing, who has done several projects with the company.
The company has three full time mechanics, including one who specializes in engines. “We do most of our work in-house, such as reinstalling refurbished undercarriages,” Kirby says. A fuel/lube truck services the company’s jobs.
Learning that a local college had a Cat simulator but no instructor, Kirby raised his hand and taught equipment operation evenings and weekends this past semester. He took the students to one of his jobsites where they spent eight weeks operating equipment.
“All of the students passed the class,” Kirby says. He didn’t stop there: he helped them create resumes and gave them contacts. All found employment — at $22 to $24 an hour — within weeks of completing the course.
Tina joined Kirby in the office around eight years ago and handles business development, HR and manages the company’s 60-construction-dumpster roll-off division. The division developed out of W.F. Delauter’s need to haul construction debris off its own sites and now generates about $700,000 a year.
“We’re also looking at marketing recycled construction materials to other contractors,” Tina says.
The company has around 70 employees, including five utility crews, two grading crews and a concrete crew. “I’ve always felt that good people attract good people,” Kirby says.
“We feel that family comes first,” Tina says. “I think that gives them an incentive to stick with us. And once you feel like you’re part of the team, you’re locked in with the group. We always tell them there’s room to grow. You might be a laborer now, but if you can jump on the backhoe and learn, for example, there’s a lot of potential to grow.”
Tina and Kirby also keep an eye on local labor rates, Kirby says. “I ask myself, ‘Are we going to keep good people and do people believe in us enough to sustain that?’” he says.
“It’s really been an honor for us to continue the legacy that Russ and Willie built from the ground up,” Tina says.
You get a sense of both the legacy and the future of W.F. Delauter when you talk to its clients.
“They always stand behind their word,” says client Steve Oder with Cavalier Development. “I could do a handshake contract with them and be perfectly comfortable. There’s not many of those around anymore.”
“Concerns were quickly put to rest after seeing how conscientious, knowledgeable and skilled [their] employees were throughout the duration of the project,” says Gale Engles, bureau chief for the Carroll County, Maryland, Bureau of Resource Management.
“One thing that’s really impressed me, especially considering the size of his business, is how much he’s available and how responsive he is,” Flook says. “If it comes out his mouth, it’s golden.”