When a company with four employees goes from bidding $50,000 jobs in 2010 to bidding $750,000 jobs in 2015 and $1,000,000 jobs in 2017, while only increasing its employment to anywhere from seven to ten people, it draws attention.
Key to their overall growth strategy, Saltmarsh Industries has focused on their fleet acquisition strategy. Each year, they’ve set a goal of adding at least two pieces of equipment to their fleet, while still keeping the company staff at around seven to ten people. While they’ve been winning exponentially larger jobs each year, keeping the team lean has meant they’ve had the growing pains that often accompany a rapidly growing business, and each team member has had to take a hard look at how to be more efficient with their individual job responsibilities—all while being taken seriously as a group of young men in an industry that favors years of experience.
The Saltmarsh Industries team has proven they are up to that challenge and have used a combination of business savvy, persistence, and resources such as telematics and a strong relationship with their equipment dealer to get them where they are—and to continue growing their business and outbid much larger companies.
Jesse Saltmarsh founded Southwick, MA-based Saltmarsh Industries in 2005 doing small line striping, paving, and asphalt maintenance projects, while gradually growing the company, becoming incorporated in 2009, and hiring three employees by 2010—his brothers, Alex and Nick Saltmarsh, and friend, Tony Brignoli.
Each member of the Saltmarsh industries team brought something different to the table, including construction, truck driving, and site work experience. In 2009, the Saltmarsh team started off doing primarily municipal and state work because, according to Jesse Saltmarsh, the private sector market was not thriving. Despite the floundering private sector, the company began to flourish. In the past two and a half years, they have been able to concentrate on private sector projects and have tripled their fleet size.
Until 2015, the largest job Saltmarsh Industries would bid was $400,000. In 2015, they felt comfortable bidding a $750,000 job. A milestone that made the team comfortable bidding jobs of that size or larger was the completion of the site work for a pharmacy in Southwick and the acquisition of the Volvo Construction Equipment ECR305C short swing excavator.
“The Volvo ECR305C was our first brand-new, zero-hour piece of mobile equipment,” says Tony Brignoli, vice president, foreman, and equipment manager at Saltmarsh Industries. “We bid for work on a Rite Aid Pharmacy in our hometown of Southwick. We got the job, but then we needed to be able to do the work.”
The job presented new challenges since there were 27-foot tall retaining walls required to hold up the property.
“Having that zero-swing excavator really opened up our eyes to what we could do with Volvo equipment,” says Brignoli. “That job was a major one for us and led us to switch from being a road construction company to a total site development company.”
With the right equipment, Saltmarsh Industries was able to complete the job a month ahead of their projected schedule.
“There is also an underlying bonus. By completing the job that much faster, we were able to fit another job into the year that improved our numbers and made us a higher dollar business,” says Brignoli.
Proving themselves as quick and reliable on jobs has helped them beat out some much larger competition on bids, even though they remain a small team.
“We beat union companies with 30 to 40 employees on jobs because there’s an initial cost difference with us being a private company,” says Brignoli. “But people repeatedly ask us, ‘Are you sure you can complete this job? Will you be holding us up?’ And every time, we’ve been able to deliver on time or ahead of the schedule.”
Winning big jobs over the years has turned some heads.
“There are a lot of big companies in this area, and they know who we are,” says Brignoli.
With bigger jobs came the need for more equipment, and the need to manage a larger fleet. To manage their growing fleet more effectively, in 2015 Brignoli turned to his dealer, Peter Gaj from Tyler Equipment, a Volvo Construction Equipment dealer based in East Longmeadow, MA. Gaj suggested using CareTrack, the Volvo telematics system, with the purchase of their new ECR305C excavator to monitor the growing fleet of machines.
“Tony uses CareTrack to monitor the machines—he checks what they have for hours and makes sure they aren’t being moved,” says Gaj. “He wasn’t sure about using telematics to begin with, but it wasn’t long before he started to see the benefits.”
Brignoli uses CareTrack not only to monitor hours, but also to make sure the machines are in proper working condition and respond to machine alerts. Determining how to respond to those machine alerts has been one of the major efficiency gains for Saltmarsh Industries.
“Tony is a younger guy; he’s into technology,” says Gaj. “Once we got him into CareTrack and using telematics, he’s been able to cut down on travel time. If a code comes up, he can call our service department and talk to the service manager and determine whether they need to send a tech or if he can fix it himself. Remote diagnostics have been a huge time saver for them.”
Along with helping determine if a machine needs attention, Saltmarsh Industries has been able to better allocate machines to jobs, moving them from one site to another if they could be better put to use elsewhere.
“I can move machines to fill a void for a couple of days if they aren’t being utilized,” says Brignoli. “It was easier when we had three or four machines. Now we have 12 of them, and it can be easy to forget. Telematics helps me keep track of everything.”
Brignoli has traditionally worn a lot of hats—from the operator’s seat to the daily equipment maintenance. Although Brignoli has used telematics for some time, as their fleet has grown, so too has the sheer amount of data provided by telematics. That’s why he’s now looking to Volvo and Tyler Equipment to start to manage some of that data for him—so he can focus on continuing to grow the company while delivering above and beyond on his client’s expectations.
In 2017, Saltmarsh Industries purchased an EC380E crawler excavator with Volvo ActiveCare Direct, the active machine monitoring and reporting service offered directly from Volvo, to help remove some of the work that comes with sorting through telematics data.
“Volvo and Tyler Equipment get the alerts before the customer, so Tony doesn’t have to log into the computer as much—we simply let him know when he needs to take action and what specific action he should take,” says Gaj.
With ActiveCare Direct, Brignoli receives more proactive assistance from Tyler Equipment and Volvo and can free up even more time than with CareTrack alone.
“If I have to spend two days out of a five-day week checking on equipment, filters, and hours versus having ActiveCare Direct tell me that the air filter is clogged on my EC380E when it’s a problem, I can save time and know exactly what needs to be fixed instead of chasing a whole bunch of machines around,” says Brignoli.
Growing the Fleet
The approach to growing their fleet has historically been to purchase one to two new machines a year.
“We wanted to fleet up to two or two and a half sets, so we can have a set of equipment at two different jobs but still have pieces that can float around,” says Brignoli. “We can spend a good amount of time on one job and not have to worry about moving everything.”
Not only do they have the fleet to do the jobs, but they are also willing to put in the time to make it work, sometimes putting in 16-hour days on one job.
Because of all their hard work, in 2017 alone, the company has purchased six new machines, bringing their machine count up to 16—of which 12 are Volvo machines.
“We put a lot of hours in to get what we need to be done. But that also goes to our equipment—it has to be able to handle the amount of work and allow us to work efficiently and without downtime,” says Brignoli. “The Volvo equipment speaks for itself in that regard.”
While Saltmarsh Industries has experienced rapid growth, the success they have seen has not come without its challenges. Being a group of young men who range from 33 to 37 years old, they have had to overcome apprehension from more seasoned professionals.
Gaj has seen the challenges Saltmarsh Industries has faced since 2010 when he started working with them.
“They were so young coming in, and most people would’ve just brushed them off,” says Gaj. “But I treated them just like anyone else. Most salespeople looking at guys their age walking in to buy a quarter-of-a-million-dollar piece of equipment are just going to laugh, but I don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Because Gaj and Tyler Equipment took Saltmarsh Industries seriously before they had major success and growth, they have developed a strong partnership.
“The customer support from Tyler Equipment and Volvo is phenomenal,” says Brignoli. “I’ve had issues in the middle of the night and can call my dealer or Volvo directly and can get an answer. That’s important to me as a small business owner who doesn’t have a lot of time.”
Previously, the challenge may have been proving themselves to get big jobs; now, Brignoli and the rest of the Saltmarsh Industries team have to shed some responsibilities to allow further growth. While CareTrack and ActiveCare Direct have helped relieve some of the burdens, bigger jobs come with more responsibility—and the desire to do more.
“I plan on stepping back from an operator role in 2018, and by 2019 I hope to be out of the operating foreman position,” says Brignoli. “We’re not going to get bigger; we’re going to get wider, ultimately switching to more of a general contracting role. The possibilities are endless.”
While Brignoli and the rest of the Saltmarsh Industries team have had some help, much of their success can be attributed to an unwavering work ethic and passion for their jobs and putting all the right tools to work.
“I couldn’t ask for better business partners. We bring a family atmosphere,” says Brignoli. “Everybody’s equal. Everybody has the drive, and we’re there to get the job done.”