Contractor Brings Needed Services Back Home

After returning home, Wisconsin contractor launches his own company and brings needed services to keep it growing.

Contractor Brings Needed Services Back Home

Foreman Josh Rollo grabs the next rod to place in the directional drill (Ditch Witch).

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As a youngster, Jeff Seidl says he practically lived in a sandbox.

“I always was interested in moving dirt around,” says the owner of Elexco, a multi-service excavation company based near Green Bay, Wisconsin. “But now I’ve moved into much bigger sandboxes.”

These days, those “sandboxes” include the telecommunication, utility, wireless phone, power and civil-infrastructure sectors, plus niche specialty projects. The company’s crews do everything from excavating/trenching for telecommunication fiber optic lines and digging foundations for and constructing cellphone towers to drilling bores for utility pipelines, laying municipal water and sewer pipes and working on specialty civil engineering projects.

To handle this array of services, Seidl, 52, maintains a fleet of equipment worth more than $6 million. The fleet includes hydroexcavation and air-excavation vacuum trucks, dump trucks, vertical drills, trenchers, horizontal directional drills, plows, excavators, backhoes, skid-steer loaders, track loaders and mini-skid loaders.

The company, which is based in Seymour, about 20 miles west of Green Bay, has grown considerably since Seidl established it in 1996. In 2020, the business racked up another strong year of growth. While some of the growth was planned, much of it was organic, he says.

“I’ve always been open-minded to new opportunities,” he says. “I take our experience and apply it to new opportunities and see if it fits. Or determine whether or not we can acquire the skills and knowledge to do high-quality work profitably.

“That’s been my basic business philosophy from the start — even years ago when I had a paper route as a kid,” he adds. “Back then, my goal was to be resourceful and expand my services to give more value. I knew if I could do this, I could make more money to buy more toys for the sandbox. Now it’s more ‘toys’ for the business.”

SOLID WORK ETHIC

Seidl is no stranger to hard work. As a young teenager, he worked for area farmers and construction companies and at a local hardware store. “I was always welding and building things,” he recalls. “I just figured out how to do a lot of things at a young age.”

After graduating from high school in 1987, he took a job doing maintenance, construction and mechanical work at a Vermont ski resort. He moved back to Seymour two years later to help his stepfather, Randy Schneider, who was restarting an electrical contracting business, Schneider Electric.

After serving an apprenticeship, Seidl became a journeyman electrician and then a master electrician. In 1996, he approached Schneider about buying a stake in the company and expanding its services — in particular, breaking into excavation markets. But Schneider was content with what he was doing and encouraged Seidl to strike off on his own.

So Seidl formed Elexco, a name inspired by the three main services he wanted to provide: electrical, excavation and construction.

FAST GROWTH

With part-time help from friends, Seidl initially built the business by doing underground utility work at prisons with deteriorating electrical lines, trenching projects for plumbers and concrete work for electricians. Within a year, he had built up enough business to move from his home base — his garage — into rented office space, as well as hire two full-time employees.

“Having worked in the electrical contracting business, I knew a lot of people that were looking for a competent support for installing the underground portions of their projects,” he says. “I basically took the plans I had for expanding Schneider Electric and some other ideas from observing construction processes and applied them to Elexco.”

In 1998, he bought a building, which he has added on to multiple times. He also kept buying adjoining land; the company now stands on a 10-acre parcel that hosts a 6,800-

square-foot office, a 9,400-square-foot shop and a 2,800-square-foot warehouse.

The keys to growth? Taking care of customers. A can-do attitude. And finding the best and most cost-effective solutions for customers, Seidl says.

LESS IS MORE

Today, the company’s gross revenue is about 100 times greater than it was in his first year in business. But at one point in the late 2000s, the business was generating significantly higher revenue. The reason why it produces less revenue today offers a lesson in the perils of rapid growth, he notes.

“We just grew too fast,” he says. “It caused a lot of stress because it was too hard to manage things. When you grow too fast, it’s harder to get the right leaders in place.

“And without that, you have safety issues, attitude issues, quality control issues and equipment issues because things just aren’t being taken care of at all levels,” he continues. “It’s just a total snowball effect. And even though we still were capturing work and making money, it made me very uncomfortable, especially after we had a couple of on-the-job injuries.”

Seidl then proceeded to dig deeper into company operations — and didn’t like what he found. “I peeled back the layers of the onion and found some rotten spots,” as he puts it.

So from 2009 to around 2012, he sold off two segments of the business to two former business partners and jettisoned less profitable services in favor of concentrating on specialty projects and telecommunications work.

“It definitely was a painful reckoning,” he says. “I outgrew my boots a little. But it also gave me a little bit of a reality check and made me a better businessperson and a better manager.”

For a while, the company was down to 30 employees, down from around 140. But that was fine with Seidl, who says he realized he wanted to run a company small enough to feel like a family — where he knows the names of all employees’ children and spouses.

INVESTMENTS IN TECHNOLOGY

Investing in new, technologically advanced equipment has been essential to the company by providing better productivity, profitability and customer service. It also plays a key role in retaining employees, he says.

“Good equipment is a huge aspect,” Seidl says. “We feature our equipment prominently on our website, which we use as a recruiting tool.

“And when people come in for interviews, we make sure we have equipment out in the yard to show them,” he continues. “We keep machines in great shape. Even our older equipment is painted and in good condition.”

When Seidl founded the company, all he owned was a 1989 Ford F-450 service truck and a Gehl skid-loader with several attachments. (Gehl now is a brand owned by the Manitou Group.)

Today the company owns a Rival T7 hydroexcavation truck and a T10 dry-suction excavating truck, featuring chassis made by Western Star. The tandem-axle T7 features an 800-gallon water tank, a 7-cubic-yard debris tank and a blower manufactured by Robuschi-Gardner Denver (2,650 cfm). The quintuple-axle T10 features a 1,200-gallon water tank, a 10-cubic-yard debris tank and a Robuschi blower (3,850 cfm).

In December, Seidl expects to take delivery of a new custom RAMVAC C HX-12 quintuple-axle hydroexcavating truck, built on a Western Star 4700 chassis and featuring a 1,300-gallon water tank, a 12-cubic-yard debris tank and a Robuschi blower (4,400 cfm). The quintuple-axle configuration will enable crews to drive with full loads without violating federal highway “bridge” laws.

MORE SERVICE, MORE MACHINES

The company also invested in a 4800TS Dino 8M3 dry-suction excavation truck, built by MTS GmbH on a Western Star chassis. Sold by Ox Equipment, the North American distributor for MTS, the truck features a 10.5-cubic-yard debris tank, dual rotary-vane air compressors (320 cfm) built by Mattei and proprietary twin fans that produce 24,000 cfm of suction power.

The company also owns JT10 (1,100 ft-lbs of rotational torque), JT25 (4,000 ft-lbs of rotational torque) and JT40 (5,500 ft-lbs of rotational torque) directional drills, built by Ditch Witch; and trenchers made by Case and Trencor (a Charles Machine Works company).

The company also owns a bulldozer, tractor/dozer and backhoe loaders made by Caterpillar; a Western Star dump truck with a dump body built by DuraClass (a subsidiary of Federal Signal Corp.); excavators built by Kobelco, Kubota, Volvo, Komatsu and Caterpillar: skid loaders made by Caterpillar, Kubota, Gehl and Ditch Witch (a brand owned by The Toro Company); a drum roller manufactured by BOMAG; (part of the Fayat Group); skid-steers from Caterpillar; and a Turbo Turf hydroseeder from Turbo Technologies, mounted on a Sterling truck chassis.

Rounding out the fleet is a Ditch Witch 420SX cable plow; CASE cable plows; a DigiTrak locator (Digital Control Inc.); a Vermeer wood chipper; a Frost Buster LD5030 ground heater built by Thor Mfg.; and two pre-fabricated, enclosed mud-mixing units built by AT-Boretec and distributed in North America by Prime Direct.

EMPLOYEE RETENTION IS KEY

To attract and retain quality employees, Seidl strives to create a company culture that features a family-like environment. And in an unusual move for the construction field, the company offers structured promotional paths for field employees interested in fashioning careers in the industry, he says.

To find quality employees — including some that can eventually assume leadership roles — Seidl has developed relationships with a few colleges that offer degrees in construction management and engineering. His efforts include making presentations at those colleges.

“In addition to finding great home-grown talent, we’ve started targeting people that graduate from college with construction management and mechanical, civil and agricultural engineering degrees,” he notes. “They’re typically more well-rounded and can think critically — troubleshoot things and think outside the box. And they have good work ethics.

“Good leadership out in the field is critical to any construction company,” Seidl continues. “And if you can find someone with critical thinking skills, it’s much easier to transition them into leadership and project management roles. So far, we’ve hired two graduates and it’s working out well.”

How does Seidl entice them to consider a construction career?

“I show them how much money they can make, plus a full benefits package, a performance-based bonus program and, for some positions, a company truck,” he says. “That’s a real good starting point. When you show them the pay scale, it starts some serous conversations in a hurry.

“I also tell them they can make a six-figure salary fairly quickly,” he adds.

The company also uses its website to attract employees. The company has increased its recruiting-related blogs and stories about projects by more than 500%.

“We’ve hired some to get this messaging out — promote our jobs and culture,” he says.

SUCCESSION PLAN

How did Seidl excel at growing a business without a college degree? He says he’s a fast learner — and not afraid to take on new challenges.

“I’m self-taught, always studying to learn more both in the field and from books,” he says. “I love being a sponge around other successful people. I’m a lifelong learner.”

As for what he sees ahead for Elexco, Seidl believes that a strong succession plan takes years of careful planning to train and mentor high-quality employees. He says he has a great core group of employees in place and anticipates a bright future for them. In addition, Seidl’s two children, who’ve worked at Elexco since they were youngsters and currently are employees, have expressed interest in assuming larger roles in the company.

“They’re both interested at this point, but I’m not a big believer in just giving things away — they have to earn it,” he says.

As such, Seidl has worked out a 6-year plan that will teach them what they need to know to run the business and get them more involved in managing day-to-day operations.

“Then we’ll see where we are at that point,” Seidl says. “They both have the right drive and work ethic. I’m very proud of them.”

As for continued growth, Seidl envisions it occurring organically as opportunities emerge, as long as it doesn’t come too fast and require sacrifices in quality, company culture, safety and customer service.

“As long as I can find enough customers with a need and provide good service for them — and feel appreciated and valued for providing those services — the growth will come along with that,” he says. “If that supports 50 employees, we’ll do that. And if it supports 75 or 80 employees, we’ll do that.” 



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