Ryan Qualls was barely out of high school when he started his first company in 2004 and it didn’t take him long to figure out the secret to success was to build a company of people who share his same passion for earthwork. Hand-in-hand is giving them the top-of-the-line tools and equipment necessary to do site work for his company’s clients to construct their projects with confidence in his company’s ground work. Qualls is president of Pro Grade, a full-service site development company of 20 employees in Maple Valley, WA, which provides services throughout King County. Pro Grade engages in privately negotiated jobs, with the company’s projects a 50-50 split between site work and utility work. Qualls subs out the landscaping and concrete work.
He favors equipment and tools that give his company a competitive edge. He says he uses InSite SiteWork Earthwork and Estimating Software because not only can he do a site take-off, he can also do a digital terrain model and use GPS modeling. Qualls has favored John Deere machines, indicating the local product support he receives is “bar none.” He also likes Komatsu machines and has added several new ones to his fleet of late.
What Led Him to This Line of Work
Qualls comes from a family that has been involved in the construction industry on the vertical side. “I’m the first generation to do earthwork,” he notes. “I was really passionate about heavy equipment and I’ve always been around construction, so for my high school senior project, I built a simulation company.” In so doing, he met a few local contractors, which paved the way for a job. One contractor had told Qualls to come back to him after he graduated and he’d give him a job. “I graduated on a Tuesday and I went to work on a Thursday and it has been non-stop ever since then,” points out Qualls. At age 20, he started Pro Grade as a sole proprietor grading and utility contractor, working on custom home and small sewer and utility projects. A year later, in late 2005, his company started doing land development projects, which carried it through the recession as other companies in the industry were closing shop. As Pro Grade grew, Qualls added more employees and more equipment. The company now focuses on the privately-negotiated work in large heavy civil projects. “People hire us because of our quality and our ability to deliver on budget and on time,” says Qualls, adding he doesn’t have to do any marketing. “We’re getting into $2 million to $3 million deals negotiated with no bids.”
What He Does Day to Day
Qualls’ time is an indoor/outdoor blend of the field tasks in assuming an active project management/supervisory role onsite and the office tasks of estimating and building the GPS models. “The GPS has been our claim to fame in the last couple of years,” says Qualls.
What He Likes Best About His Work
“I love this work,” points out Qualls. “This is my hobby. This isn’t a job to me. It’s fun. I love the satisfaction of seeing a tangible result every day. It’s that gratification of going in there and seeing these perfectly padded out lots. I love it.”
His Greatest Challenge
As with so many others in the industry, staffing is Qualls’ number one challenge. He is engaged in an ongoing effort to build culture in his company, he adds. As for employees, Qualls now favors the approach that doesn’t focus on finding qualified employees but finding someone who has a “raw passion for the dirt or the equipment” and training them in-house in the skills he needs to maintain the level of service that has been the driving factor in his company’s success, he says. “It’s how I was trained,” adds Qualls. “I didn’t know how to load a grease gun when I started. I’ve got some of these guys in their early 20s who are molding into awesome equipment operators because of my energy. Group that with the tools and resources we have, such as the GPS and the fully-guided dozers, and we’ve had a fully nice run here for the last bit.”