The Great Recession hit Whaley & Sons hard. Between 2008 and 2010, projects in the heavy civil construction contractor’s homebase of east Tennessee dried up, and the company’s workforce dwindled from 150 employees to just 15. But Matt Whaley, whose father started the business in 1972, wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. Instead, he asked his dad for the chance to take over the reins.
“At that point, I didn’t have anything to lose. We didn’t have any contracts,” says Whaley, who now serves as the company’s president. “He gave me the opportunity, and I took it from there.”
“Taking it from there” is an understatement. Whaley embarked on what his team describes as a completely new way of doing business — one that’s involved a gradual, but total culture change over the past eight years.
The results have been dramatic. Employment is back up to nearly 150 workers, and fleet size has doubled. All that led to Equipment World naming Whaley & Sons its “Contractor of the Year” runner-up for 2017.
“Matt Whaley grew up in this business. He can see the future. He can see the direction,” says Greg Dyer, vice president of operations for Whaley & Sons. “He’s the next generation of leaders in this industry.”
A key piece of Whaley’s business philosophy is choosing partners who are as committed to Whaley & Sons’ success as he is. Local Cat® dealer Stowers Machinery is one example. Whaley inherited a mixed fleet of machines when he took over the company, but since 2010 has shifted almost exclusively to Cat equipment.
“It doesn't matter whether it’s a small machine or a large machine, I know that they can support it and that they will 100 percent back it up,” Whaley says of his dealer team. “If we bought on price and price alone, then our machines would probably be down more than anybody else’s.”
Whaley & Sons relies on Stowers Machinery not just for new equipment purchases, but for rentals, field service and parts as well. Going forward, Sales Manager Ed Rottmann sees technology playing a bigger role in the relationship, too.
“We want to be a one-stop shop for Whaley,” he says. “What I see as the biggest opportunity for us is integrating technology even more into their fleet.”
Whaley & Sons has already jumped on the technology train, operating several Cat D6K Dozers equipped with GPS grade control with great success. Dyer reports that production rates have increased “tenfold” as a result of the technology. Just as important, he says, it’s cut training time for new employees down from years to just weeks. That’s a huge time- and money-saver for the company, which like most contractors has trouble finding skilled operators.
Cat Grade is also reducing the time it takes Whaley & Sons to complete its site prep, bridge, hauling and grinding projects — another big contributor to profitability.
“We don’t have to have layout crews on every job. We don’t have to worry about undercutting or overcutting a slope or a pad,” Whaley says. “That’s changed everything for us. It's faster, more efficient and more productive, and actually being able to measure that in dollars and cents has been hugely beneficial.”
In addition to onboard technology like Cat Grade, Whaley & Sons has also begun experimenting with remote machine monitoring. Data from the company’s recently purchased D6T Dozer is being tracked and analyzed by experts in Stowers Machinery’s “war room.”
“We get all live information through VisionLink®. Anytime there’s any type of fault code, we’ll notify them immediately if it’s high urgency, or we’ll let them know at the end of the day if it’s not,” Rottmann says. “They can rest assured their investment in the D6T is going to be well taken care of because we have our people watching it for them.”
Thanks to these two successful forays into technology, Whaley has no doubt he’ll continue to evolve his equipment fleet more in that direction.
“Once we got into the technology, we realized its potential,” he says. “We know that it’s the future.”
Speaking of the future, you might expect Whaley to be satisfied with his company’s remarkable turnaround. But he’s not — he wants to continue diversifying into new areas, like asphalt paving. With partners like Caterpillar and Stowers Machinery at his side, he’s confident he’ll be able to keep Whaley & Sons growing.
“Where I don’t have that knowledge, Stowers is willing to go get that knowledge and bring that knowledge to us,” he says. “Being willing to do things like that is how you earn customer loyalty.”