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March 14-18, 2023

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Ep. 132: Setting Your Construction Business Apart from the Rest with Jimmy Starbuck



Jimmy Starbuck Taylor White setting your business apart CONEXPO-CON/AGG

Jimmy Starbuck, Owner of Starbuck Excavation and a familiar face on social media, Jimmy dives right into his work with mass grading and trucking, talking through the services his company offers and the details of running his business. He then shares how he got where he is today, from learning to drive machines in the family company, to going into business for himself at nineteen, to carving out his place as a leader and organizer. He and Taylor also discuss why smart guys don’t always come out on top, the importance of being a hard worker, and why neither of them is an “office guy.”

Jimmy also discusses the chaos that comes with his job, from waiting for 50,000 meters of mud to dry out, to pre-Christmas emergency calls, and the Boxing Day job he’s got lined up this year. Taylor then asks Jimmy about his experiences at CONEXPO-CON/AGG, and Jimmy highlights its importance for keeping up to date with new products and building relationships with brands and colleagues. He then switches gears to discuss the current challenges in doing business and reminds us that people have gone through such crises before and survived and that by doing a good job, spending money wisely, and employing good people, your business can be fairly recession-proof. And finally, he and Taylor discuss the impact of fuel shortages, and Jimmy gives his opinion on why DEF isn’t fit for purpose.


  • Mass grading and trucking
  • Challenges with taking jobs over the holidays
  • Working harder, not smarter
  • Why Jimmy’s not an office guy
  • Relationship-building at CONEXPO-CON/AGG
  • Fuel shortages and why DEF isn’t fit for purpose

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Episode transcript:

CONEXPO E132 Jimmy Starbuck

Jimmy Starbuck: Somewhere, there's got to be some sort of screw loose in any decent business owner's brain, even small business. There has to be a screw loose somewhere, I'm convinced.

Taylor White: Welcome back, everybody, to the CONEXPO-CON/AGG podcast, that is very proudly brought to you by our good friends over at Komatsu. They have been massive supporters of both the podcast and the show, and I cannot wait to see what they have in store for this year's display.

With that being said, I cannot wait to chat to today's guest - he is from the land down under, and no, he doesn't own a coffee brand. Ladies and gents, Mr. Jimmy Starbuck.

Jimmy, how's it going?

Jimmy Starbuck: That's good. You've worked on that, actually.

Taylor White: I've been reciting that for the past 15 minutes.

Jimmy Starbuck: That's very good. I was impressed.

Taylor White: Thanks for being here, man. Obviously, it's Thursday afternoon here, it's Friday morning where you are, so you're just getting your day started. You're getting some coffee into you?

Jimmy Starbuck: Yes, I am. Actually, the second coffee, I believe, because it's eight o'clock, and work's already rocking and rolling.

Taylor White: Yeah, I know. And I understand it being the morning, obviously, having a construction company too, not as large as you obviously, but your mornings are always kind of like a boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And for us, bad stuff normally happens on Friday. So, hopefully, that doesn't happen today.

Jimmy Starbuck: Well, the bad shit usually happens by 10:00 AM, let's be honest.

Taylor White: I totally agree.People that don't know, I mean, obviously I've seen you for years on social media, and, you know, my dad actually was the one-- I think he listened to you on another podcast, and he's like-- like this was a year and a half ago, and he goes, "You got to listen to this Jimmy Starbuck guy. He's from Australia, and he's like you, he's young", and I got onto it, and that's whenever I started getting onto you, and what you have going on.

But for the people at home that don't know, who is Jimmy Starbuck, and what do you do?

Jimmy Starbuck: Well, I'm Jimmy Starbuck, and we dig holes, truck, and that's about it. So, different over here than over there. Like, you guys need to take on a lot of utilities, and a lot of different sort of shoring works in your excavation contracts, but I specifically only deal with dirt, and I specifically only truck dirt, compact it, dig it out of the ground. Just keep it simple, stupid.

Taylor White: So, there's enough work to just dig dirt?

Jimmy Starbuck: Oh yeah. There's plenty of work there - and truck the dirt, like, we probably truck a few hundred thousand cubic yards a month sort of thing, maybe sometimes more, maybe sometimes we're trucking a few hundred thousand cubic yards of mud which is annoying-- Oh wait, you're Canadian, I can speak in meters. We truck a quarter of a million meters - 300,000 meters a month, and then we also take it out to the new subdivisions and that sort of stuff and build up the ground build, and dig it down and change the levels, and stuff like that - mass grading, you call it over there?

Taylor White: Yeah. Mass grading, mass excavation - that's you. Big machinery, now, is it mainly large stuff or small stuff?

Jimmy Starbuck: No, it's not big machinery necessarily, because what we're actually chasing is the trucking. There's not much point in loading on-road trucks with a 90. You don't need it; it's an overkill, you know, whether you load it in one bucket or two buckets, it doesn't really matter. So, we mainly use around the 35-40 ton to load the trucks, but then we run into the other issues of a lot of the jobs that are in the cities, so then you need the permits to get the bigger machines in, but you don't need the permits to take a 20 to 25 ton in, so, we have a lot of them that we use as well. Still can load a truck as quickly as you want, because you only do five loads a day out of the city. You know, how many trucks you possibly line up to get loaded?

Taylor White: Yeah. When you say that, that's actually interesting, so, obviously, when you have off-road trucks, I mean, production, the quicker you can load them, get them out of there, the better. So, explain that. Why doesn't it matter when they're on-road trucks? Why doesn't it matter?

Jimmy Starbuck: If it's a two-hour turnaround, then the first truck takes off at seven. Let's say your workday starts at seven. It takes five minutes per truck to load it, get it in, get it loaded, get it out the gate, start loading the next one. Even if it's four minutes, you can only load 15 per hour. So, if you get 30 there, and you are really pumping, and let's say it takes till 8:30 to load the last one, that guy is missing out on a 10-hour workday. 15% of his work time he's sitting waiting for that first load. Fairly easy maths to break down, fairly simple to understand - you don't want a guy to spend 15% of his time waiting in a line to get a load. You multiply that out over the entire company, and you are going to be losing money, and going backwards.

Taylor White: So, you're in mass excavation, and mass grading; but the trucking part of it, I mean, like how many trucks do you own? Like, do you rent out your trucks?

Jimmy Starbuck: No, I don't own that many. I only own five, but I run an agency company-- we run it, we call it over here, or a brokerage company, I think that you guys call it over there?

Taylor White: Yeah.

Jimmy Starbuck: So, we run on a really busy day, we'll be-- I think our busy day this year has been 150. So, 150 trucks working for us on road, of different sort of combinations - whether they're trucks and dogs, or you call them pumps, or like just single axles or up the sort of 22 ton, or up the 32 ton, 42, 60, we run all sorts of combinations.

Taylor White: So, you own five trucks yourself, and then you rent 140 trucks?

Jimmy Starbuck: Some days, yeah. We average around a hundred a day at work.

Taylor White: That's wild. That's a lot, man. Do you do hourly?

Jimmy Starbuck: We do both - we do either load rate or hourly.

Taylor White: Yeah. We do something here called, ton-mile, we call it. So, if we're hauling from the pits on rental, they'll pay us ton-miles-

Jimmy Starbuck: -10 cents per ton per mile?

Taylor White: Yeah.

Jimmy Starbuck: That’s the sort of rate we run sort of 10 to 20 cents per ton per mile, or per kilometer over here. So, I assume it's somewhere around about that, around the world. You know, same sort of deal. So, instead of doing the ton per mile where you actually set the rate at the per load rate, or per ton rate, or per cubic meter rate at a standardized tonnage in case no weighbridges on site.

Taylor White: Yeah. So, do you do any hourly? Like, do you pay hourly or is it mostly -

Jimmy Starbuck: -Pay hourly? Absolutely. Though everyone knows the issues of paying a subcontractor hourly on a job that's quoted, that's another-

Taylor White: -That's why I'm asking. I mean, it would be more incentive for them to go, you know, ton-mile or by the load.

Jimmy Starbuck: Listen, there's gas stations, service stations, full of truck drivers on hourly hire all around the world. But then at the same time, there's a safety net that you kind of  get the good guys working for you, that is, that hourly hire rate. But then if you've incentivized the job enough so that they can well and truly earn above the hourly hire rate that is the standard in any sort of industry, then that means that any of the good workers, any of the hard workers, really want that - per ton per mile, or per cube per mile, or whatever it might be.

Taylor White: What's it like getting-- I mean, up here, we have a massive shortage of dump trucks. I mean, we had Light Rail come into our city, and big company, Kiewit - they came in, and they're doing light rail, you know, billions and billions of dollar project, and basically, ate up all the trucks. And we've been in a dump truck boom - everybody and their mother is buying dump trucks up here right now because it's just been a shortage for like five years. And it's even the same thing in like Toronto and other cities as well. Do you have that shortage down there? How hard is it to find, if you needed 160 trucks tomorrow, how hard is it for?

Jimmy Starbuck: Well, I've been going on 10 years, and I think on 100 and something plus days, we could have sent out 300. So, it's the same worldwide - there's no availability of parts, there's no availability of drivers, fuel is expensive, Adblue is ridiculous, you know, and then you just run through all of these issues. But it's the same everywhere - you pay the boys well, you pay on time, you give consistent and constant work, slowly but surely, they come. We started off with one truck, and now we're into the hundredth.

Then, I also own a lot of the dirt and own a lot of the places that I'm taking it. So, the mass grading that you guys do is more about leveling sites. If you change that mass grading levels that you are, instead of-- taking a hill out of here, and filling up a load over here, you just filled the load with dirt that you are bringing in with your trucks, and you are the guy who has the ability to fill the load, truck the dirt internally, and dig the hole and get it all to comply with the dirt, proctor, and everything else. That's the key to my business - the whole thing. If I broke it down into brass tacks, it’s, just internalizing that whole process of having the two different job sites; one that's the receiving site, one's that they're generating, and then you put them on, then you run the trucking company in between, and internalize all of that management.

Taylor White: Yeah. There's stuff that runs like that up here. But I I feel like you've really kind of mastered this. I mean, where did Starbuck start? I feel like you went from, "Hey, I'm Jimmy," to, you know, "Some days we have 140 trucks on." That doesn't just happen overnight. How did that happen? How did you get to the point that you're at now?

Jimmy Starbuck: We've got to go back a little bit further than just me, because there's a thing that helps. Right? My grandfather and my great-uncle ran a very large earth-moving company and trucking company, in Melbourne, Australia, in the '60s, '70s, and '80s. Because of that, the name Starbuck was a bit synonymous with moving dirt - they built highways, they built airport links and all sorts of stuff. They did very well, they were very big - they sold out in the '80s.

My father was in underground electrical and had a few machines where I learned to drive them, but still hanging around the construction sort of area and that sort of stuff. He had 30, 40 guys on, I think at one stage or something like that. But that gave me the ability-- all through my life, I was driving machines from when I was-- well, when I could reach the pedals. You know, I used to drive a 955 Traxcavator and have to pull on the levers with two hands, because I was that little, and it's just-- I look back on job sites that I've been on when I was sort of 10 and loading trucks that came in and out of the job, in a [10:30 inaudible] what we call them, or a Traxcavator, or whatever, and just think about how ridiculous it is to think that a 10-year-old could be on a job site loading trucks.

Then from that, at 19, got a 3.5-ton excavator, and it was challenging because no one wants to employ a young bloke who's rocked up. So, I had a few bits and pieces of how I got around that sort of thing - went out on labor hire, you know, operator-only to people. Then as more people wanted me to operate, because obviously, I could drive them, I could steer the ship. So, as they figured that out, you know, I got more and more money, and then more and more opportunity of that, and then there was a problem, not a gap in the market. And looking back, I could make it sound like I was real super intelligent. I could make it sound like I was a genius because I saw this great opportunity and stuff like that, but it wasn't like that at all.

So, the brokerage company, mainly employ good salesmen - car salesmen, and they go round and they sell dirt. They don't own the dirt, they don't own the trucks, half of them know nothing about dirt - how to move it, what to do with it. And so, when they price the job, they're pricing it based on something that they have-- not all, some of them are incredibly intelligent people, the sales reps of these brokerage companies in my city - but a lot of them are just-- they see a sheet, you know, yet it's not coming up under a construction job. It's not coming up under that, it's coming up as a sales rep. So, you know, they leave selling computers and then they go sell cars, and then they come and sell dirt, and then they leave selling dirt, and go and sell marketing packages. 

Because of that, they rock up, and they just think that they follow this formula, and anyone who's worked in dirt knows that the formulas don't always work. You price a job one way, and, you know, you end up with seven different outcomes, you know, with all of the different things that you have to do. So, I was getting pricing from these brokerage companies, and they'd come out, they'd give me the price, and let's say it's $10 for yellow dirt. And then they'd come out there and they'd say, "Oh shit, 15. The dirt is too yellow. Ah, 27. You got brown dirt instead of yellow dirt. What are you doing? You got no trucks, you can't move the dirt.” This guy standing in front of you who doesn't know shit from clay. And then he's telling you that now your price, which was 10, and you got a quote before you were doing the job before you were moving the dirt, now he's telling you it's 27. And you've priced it at 15 because you thought you were going to kill it and make 50% on the trucking, and now you're going broke.

So then, I thought that's-- I was probably 22, 23. I thought that’s a joke, so I started organizing the tip sites and running one or two trucks, all my little jobs, you know, grading out a backyard for someone, then when I didn't have the work, I started saying to my mates, "Oh, I've got this good truck driver, I'll charge you $85 an hour, and I'll send you him for 80." And then slowly but surely, one truck turned into two, two to five, five to 10, and then all of a sudden to 20, you put on a couple of office girls, and then you've got invoices coming out your ass, and all of a sudden, you have to start sending them. So, you put on an accounts girl, and then you get a knock on the door from the-- what do you call, we got NHVR over here, which is like a heavy vehicle road compliance-

Taylor White: -Yeah. CVOR.

Jimmy Starbuck: -yeah. And then you get a knock on the door from them and say, "Hi, you run enough trucks that we need to audit your systems, your procedures." So, now you've got a safety girl who works for you, and then the phone rings off at the wall from 4:30 in the morning because truck drivers like to wake up early, bastards sometimes, real early. Then you got to employ people in your office to take the phone calls because then you're trying to drive a digger and you're sitting like this, all wearing headphones with cords, and wrapping it around everything, and coming out of your ears 17 times a day before air pods came out, and then all of a sudden you end up on 100 trucks a day, and everyone thinks you're a genius. Well,I’m not it; but you run 100 trucks, you're definitely not a genius, let me tell you.

Taylor White: Yeah. Like where you've kind of came from, you've carved out your space, and I feel like when you talk, you kind of sound like you don't give yourself enough credit. And obviously, you know, like I have "work harder" tattooed on my arm, and people are always like, "That's dumb. You should work smarter." And I always go, "Well, I'm not smart, you know?" So, I feel like that's kind of your attitude to work too, like ‘work hard’ because I'm not smart.

Jimmy Starbuck: Hard work and loyalty beats "work smarter", and no loyalty every day of the week, mate. The guys who get up early, and stay at work, and keep on going, they're the ones you want. Not necessarily the ones that only do the eight-hour days and are willing to jump ship 50 cents all the time. Those two things together, you know, the hard work over years, and, oh, well, now I'm coming up to, you know, a decade and a half or something - hard work over years, getting out of bed, you know, taking on jobs with a little bit of risk, little bit of that, good money management, and all of those sorts of things come into play.

At the end of the day, if you are not working hard, and you are still lying in bed and watching cartoons on a Saturday morning, the person who might not be as intelligent or might not understand as much, or, you know, might not have the training, or whatever you might say, they're going to overtake you and leave you for dead.

Taylor White: Yeah. I always say that too. I mean, there's people that-- because you need all types, right? I mean, you have A-type, B-type, and C-type people; you need all three different levels, because the C-types, you know, they're working for you, and the A-types are guys like us, you know, that are running the businesses and working 7 days a week.

Jimmy Starbuck: -It might be the other way round though, boss. It might be the A-types are working for someone else, and the C-types are the insane people who put up with the amount of stress and bullshit, and then we're actually C and they’re A, you never know.

Taylor White: I've never thought of it like that. Maybe, yeah, because maybe we are the dumb ones because we're working seven days a week-

Jimmy Starbuck: -I was up at 4:30 this morning. You know, they might have a job 10 minutes from home, and get up at six o'clock and have breakfast with their kids-

Taylor White: -Yeah. Do you have kids?

Jimmy Starbuck: Yeah. I got one little girl.

Taylor White: Nice. Same here. Well, I've got another one on the way, so that's exciting. That's kind of the motivation, for me at least now, it's kind of shifted. I like having family and doing that sort of stuff, but I always say to my wife, "I'm not the best father because I'm not around at all."

Jimmy Starbuck:,It's very challenging because there's two different schools of thought. One is that you can watch cartoons, the other one is, you can provide them with stuff that maybe others can't. And provide them with, I don't know, like there's words that are thrown around often, like legacy, and, you know, but all of that sort of stuff that comes with financial security, backing, whatever you want to say. Like, you are working towards that, and it means that you think that missing out on those cartoons in the morning is possibly worth it, but in saying that, they might not think it's worth it, but they might when they're 30. I don't know the right answer, I don't think there is one and I think you got to want to watch the cartoon, sometimes, you got to get there and watch them, but you also got to get your ass to work.

Taylor White: Yeah. I think a lot of the times too, it's just like how I grew up with my dad. My dad was not super present, he was always working, and that was always just like an argument of the house, right? Just like, you know, "Dad's never really home." And then that turned into dad bringing me to work, and that's why I am the way I am, that's why I love construction.

Jimmy Starbuck: But at 12 years old, I could drive a 955 truck excavator like this with my hands.

Taylor White: Exactly. Yeah. No, I was having a blast. I got to run machinery on the weekends, it was great.

Jimmy Starbuck: My daughter can drive Posi trucks, and move the excavators, and drive dozers, and she's seven-

Taylor White: -That's cool.

Jimmy Starbuck: - because what else is she going to do? You know, you end up not having that many hobbies; you know, it's not like you see anyone saying that they live the best life in construction. When running a growing company, or even an established company that still needs, whether it's the puppet master, or the captain-- I don't know which one you say that you are, but sometimes a bit of both, but if you still needed to be present in that business, then it means that you're not present somewhere else.

Taylor White: Yeah. No, definitely, I feel like I'm not either of those, really. I hire people that are smarter than me.

Jimmy Starbuck: Yeah, that's very good. I'm all on that boat about hiring people who are smarter with different abilities than what I've got - I'm good at moving dirt, digging holes, and talking to people; not so good at computers, I'm good at numbers, but not good at making invoices and stuff like that. So, It's a challenge. 

Taylor White: I relate to that. Yeah. I relate to that a lot. That's definitely me - I'm not an office guy. The joke around the office is like, we just built the whole new office, and I didn't even put an office in there for me. Like, we have 12 offices, and I don't have one in there. And it's the weirdest thing when we explain that to people, but I don't need one. I'm bombing around in my truck, or I'm in a dump truck, or I'm in a piece of machinery. 

But that leads me to-- I wanted to ask you, because when I reached out to you on Instagram, you're like, "Hey, this is Jimmy." And then, I'll see stories-- because you have a bigger operation, and I'll see stories of like an excavator, and so, you're not re-sharing it. It's like, are you actually running machinery? What's your role? Because you mentioned when you were growing, and then you know had to get accounts payable girl, and then, you know, like people in the office. What's your role? Are you moving and grooving, or are you in the office? What's your thing?

Jimmy Starbuck: I'd rather die than be in the office. I'm not an office man. Well, I'm good at moving dirt, why would you change that for something that I genuinely, genuinely, am not that good at? I'm not the best at driving machines anymore; I used to be quite good, but now, I'm not the best at driving them anymore. But yesterday I was in a machine, last day, I spent three days in a machine, I'm good at loading trucks, I'm good at setting up jobs. You know, like some of these deeper holes, if we're 30 feet, 40 feet, and you are trying to get 30 trucks loaded from the bottom of the hole, it can be a challenge. That site’s set up to create those efficiencies can literally be tens of thousands of dollars. And you can change that with one meeting, with one drive past. 

It's more difficult now, we run sort of on an average day, 35, 40, 45 different jobs spread from, let's say the furthest job that we do is 1,000 miles away in a different state. But most of our jobs are concentrated to within, let's say, 50 to 100 miles from the city in sort of the stretch, which makes it challenging because you know, I do 60-something thousand kilometers in my car per year, I go to the site meetings, I do the setup or do the talking, I run the operators, or have an operations manager who also runs the excavation, I have sales reps, I have Chief Operating Officers and all of that sort of stuff. I share my office with one of the operations managers of the trucking company. He's currently waiting outside to come in here, but as far as sending an email from a computer, I might do one a month. We have meetings, I sit into the meetings, I've got the information in my head. We have Skype meetings, contract meeting -- you get into the stage where you have lawyers meetings, accountant meetings, banking meetings, you have all of this sort of stuff; but I'm good at digging holes, so I'll stay at digging holes-

Taylor White: - Yeah. It's refreshing hearing in that.

Jimmy Starbuck: -and these machines, they get in your blood. You spend so much time and so many hours of your life in the good times, in the bad times, in the stress, you know, production is the answer to all those questions. So, when you're stressed out, if your brain, you'd work more hours in the machine, and it would literally fix the problem that you had. You know, if you could complete a job or you know, going through a shit time of your life, you can't not go to work. So, you're having a shit time in the cab, and so then, it starts to feel like home. So, go drive a machine, and it's like cathartic. It's literally like meditation, on the right job. Don't get me wrong. If you've got an asshole builder that's up your ass about doing something, that's not good, because you want to throw a spanner at him. 

But if you're on the right job, there's no better place to be than driving some of these things. It's a very rewarding space to be - incredibly productive, immediately efficient, you know, it hits all the right spots, rather than having, you know, a tenth email backwards and forwards with a contracts administrator that's trying not to pay you 50,000 because they want to get a gold star from their boss, but not knowing that you know, that's the money you got to pay your bills with. You know, because they're big multi, we work for big multinational companies that, you know, have headquarters around the world, and you're sitting there arguing with them, you know, on some of these big, big infrastructure projects that we're on, and they're trying to take the money, you know, but it's literally the money that you're going to pay school fees with, or something like that, or pay for bills, or whatever, or pay someone's mortgage who works for you. They're just arguing for the sake of arguing. And that's not good for your head if you're like me, I suppose.

Taylor White: Yeah, but that's what makes it not easy. And I guess that's why not everybody does it, right? Like, that's what I tell myself when the shit hits the fan, or shit's going south, or it just feels like everything's kind of just like you get that one bad client that's just non-stop, and I'm like, you know what? This sucks, but, I hate it, but I love it. You understand what I'm saying? I love the chaos and the madness of it.

Jimmy Starbuck: So, we just had the wettest spring that-- I don't know what they say, you know, like the wettest spring in 176 years, but not as wet daily and whatever. So, I have-- and this is no word of a lie, and this is measured, I have 50,000 meters of mud. Not like joke mud. I'm talking mud mud. I got 50,000 meters of mud that I produced by trying to keep jobs working. It's scattered around my city on different job sites on different spots in different piles. You know, whether it's 10,000, 20,000, 5,000, I got 50,000 meters of mud that I'm praying that it turns to be 40 degrees Celsius soon so that I can start processing it, and drying it, and picking it up.

If this was easy and you made a heap of money all the time, literally, every single person would do it. But then in saying that, I must be insane for some of the problems that you've dealt with and some of the stresses, and the, you know, ridiculousness of saying ‘yes’ to jobs that shouldn't happen, and meet timeframes that shouldn't be there. You know, I have one job that the guy came to me on a Thursday evening about three or four years ago before Christmas, and he said, the bank has its quantity surveyor, which is where they've released, let's say the mortgage over the property or the construction loan on the property. That they got a quantity surveyor coming Monday morning, two basement side by side; one was about an acre, one was about three-quarters of an acre, going down about 15 feet. He said “We haven't started dropping the three-quarters of an acre. You drop that on Monday, I'll pay you all of it on Tuesday.” Because the construction loan hadn't been activated yet because you got to get to certain stages of the build, you know, slab, and then frame, and then fit out, and then you got to get to all of these different milestones to get the money. The milestone that he had to reach was that the basements were empty. He'd already paid for the concrete, for the shoring, he'd already paid for all the site establishment, he'd already paid for all of this, and it was going to be Christmas time, and then he couldn't get this guy out to pick and flick it, but the problem was, I had 20,000 cubic meters to move from Thursday evening till Monday morning at 9:00 AM.

It was actually pretty fun; we ended up moving 14,000 on a Saturday of a job, we did an aggregate, I think it was 25,000 kilometers, we ended up doing with the trucking company in one day. I distributed the traffic. I think we had 70 trucks there, five machines all loading; started at 6:00 AM, permit time says you're allowed to start at 9. And then that creates a whole ‘nother issue, which we won't say that we like to break any, you know, Council fine laws because-, but you know, why do that? “Yes.. Great. No problem. Come back Monday, this will be, empty. Leave me alone.” But there's a special sort of something wrong up there to sit there and go, “20,000 meters, mate. Got you covered, let's get it done.”

Taylor White: Yeah. It's a thrill. It’s like a high.

Jimmy Starbuck: It must be, it can't be for the money. Well, maybe this much for the money, and it can't be for anything else. Maybe you just chase the success or bigger and better,or the loyalty that you have to the people to keep progressing so that you can give them more that work for you, because that comes into it as well. Somewhere, there's got to be some sort of screw loose in any decent business owner's brain, even small business. There has to be a screw loose somewhere, I'm convinced.

Taylor White: Yeah. Well, especially working those kind of hours too, as well. And you know, like, you think,Boxing Day and stuff, but I just saw a post on your Instagram, and you made a story, I think it was like an hour ago, asking, "Hey, who wants to work midnight Boxing Day this year?" Did I read that right?

Jimmy Starbuck: Yeah.

Taylor White: So, what's with you, and working Boxing Day?

Jimmy Starbuck: We got a job. So, on top of the big bridge in my city, they take off one lane of asphalt and re-asphalt part of it. I've had the job about 10 years- It's a real time-sensitive job, and you go up there with mini excavators, and you hammer it off. So, it's actually really interesting. It's actually a Spring Bridge. It's a kilometer long, well, it's 898 meters long from this spring where it starts, and they can't mill it off because it's only an inch and a quarter steel plate. And so, when they scratch it, they actually have to fix this high-tensile steel. When if you lay the hammer down across, you peel the asphalt off because you hit the glue. And because it's the main bridge in the city, they close it down at the quietest time, which is Boxing Day, and then they resheet one lane every year, and then they put these timeframes on, and they get - every time I reach a milestone. So, it started off 48 hours, and now it's down to 12 hours.

Taylor White: You just throw more machinery and men on it?

Jimmy Starbuck: More machines, more men, more trucks, walk up and down the bridge, see if you can get in your 25,000 steps in one night. You know, it's $5,000 an hour, if you don't make it, got to be finished by 7:00 AM or something like that, and they don't let you on until this year's going to be 10, the first things go on, and we'll be rocking and rolling by midnight, hence the post, and then you got to be off in the morning. One year, I was sprinting down the bridge because it's not like, “You are only three minutes over.” Like, you’re working with big companies. It's like you are meant to be off at-- that year, it was 7. “You were meant to be off at 7, you were off at 7:04. We weren't able to open up all of the lanes, Fine, great.” And then they give it to someone else. One guy was like 15, he was over. And so, in the last 10, 12 years, I've done it oh probably, let's say 90% of the time, and every time they've taken it to someone else two times; the one guy went over by five or six hours, and another guy went over 15 hours, to the point where they had to be nice and not charging the hours. I'd never gone over-

Taylor White: - So they just give it to you now?

Jimmy Starbuck: Yeah, pretty close. Closest I've got is having to run, which I'm not a runner, I've got short legs. It's no good


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Taylor White: So, finding the people then, that's the conversation. Like, how many people work for you? How many employees do you have?

Jimmy Starbuck: 50 something.

Taylor White: Okay. So, is that more of a like, "Hey, the 50 people that work for me, who wants to work?" Or you're just like, "Anybody that can run an excavator?"

Jimmy Starbuck: No. You got to be up there before, but I've had a lot of people come through my doors over the years. And so, the more people, throw them up there, we'll put another machine up there, instead of each machine having to do 150 meters, each machine will have to do 100 meters. We'll finish early, binga badda boom, go off of the bridge, and go and have some beers at the beach. So, it was more of putting it out there for anyone who has work. We've already spoken to all of the boys and seen who's wanting to work, but we got another big job that's looking like it's going to start on 22nd, have the main days off, and then back on 2nd, I think it is. We got till the end of January to move 100,000. Yeah, we need a lot of boys available.

Taylor White: So, will you be there on Boxing Day?

Jimmy Starbuck: Bloody yeah. Why wouldn't you be there on Boxing Day? We're going to make some money.

Taylor White: Good. I like hearing that.

Jimmy Starbuck: Yeah. I'll drive the machine. I'll tell the boys it's a race, man. If they can win and get more meters done, then I'll give them some money. Ain't no one got the money.

Taylor White: It’s incentive, I like it .

Jimmy Starbuck: Not yet. Maybe this year, I'm getting a bit rusty.

Taylor White: That's good. I wanted to ask you kind of an offshoot - last year, you were at-- you were actually just recently in Vegas, but you were at the last CONEXPO in 2020, correct?

Jimmy Starbuck: Yeah, I've been last few times before-.

Taylor White: You like the show?

Jimmy Starbuck: It's amazing. And not only-- like it changes what is actually important as your company changes. You know, like if you are running a few guys, like, I probably only had 10, 15 guys out on site when I first went, you know, you're noticing new things, and, you know, like you would've if you've gone, seen the emergence of the new EnCons], and you've seen the new technologies that have been you know, brought about in construction. You need to know about those things. There's something that you can sell, and when you come down to building your company, eventually, it comes down to selling; you got to sell it. Because before you get to a niche market, or, well, some guys are in the niche market from the beginning, but for most of us, we're digging holes. Like, that's what we are doing - you have to provide the same scope of works as your competitor. If he's pricing to connect the water utility, guess what? You are pricing to connect the water utility too. And how are you going to set yourself apart? What new is coming out there? What's the best use of your capital? What's going to give you the best return on investment? Why wouldn't you go somewhere, you know, once every three years, in a fun place to be most of the time, unless it's four o'clock in the morning, and you're not having as much fun as you walk your way back to a hotel room? But why wouldn't you go somewhere where you can see all of that, and hear all of that, and listen to people who may or may not be in the exact same thing that have found a slightly different way to attack it?

Taylor White: Yeah. No, for sure.

Jimmy Starbuck: And then as you move on, you start to build relationships. You know, I've built some great relationship with some brands over there and met some great people that, you know, look after machinery and stuff like that from around the world, that have actually ended up helping me in procurement, and all of those sorts of buzzwords that people use. But really at the end of the day, I'm buying machines and they're selling them. And they want to sell them, and I need to buy him. So, you know, that's a relationship built in heaven if I've ever heard one.

Taylor White: One last thing I wanted to touch on was-- I just want to know, like everywhere in the world right now, everyone is tossing around the word "recession" and slow down, and this and that. I always like asking other business owners in different countries to hear their outputs on like, what's the workload like? You sound like you're super busy. And what's your outlook on that topic?

Jimmy Starbuck: There's so many different factors. I talk about it a lot. There's a lot of-- well, we'd say legacy companies around, that have been through the Great Depression and were busy as- like flat out. The Great Depression 100 years ago when they were pumping, they went through World War, they went through, you name it, they've gone through the wettest springtime, the summertime, whatever. There's been floods and blizzards around the world. Good companies are good companies, and they'll make money. They'll keep employing people, they'll keep digging. I don't care if they're selling ice cream, a good company is selling ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s are delicious, and they kept going through everything. I don't know how long they've been around, but you get the point. The point says that: do a good job, spend your money wisely, employ good people, and your company is fairly recession-proof in the way. You might have to pivot, you might have to move, you might have to take on different scopes. You know, the housing market crash, those companies that built them are still mostly around. And the people have found new jobs working for companies that survived the housing crash, survived the stock market, survived COVID, survived this, that.

So, I suppose my answer is, we'll keep digging, and we'll let the world do its thing. And hopefully, there's enough holes to dig, and if the holes aren't in my state, we're moving to another one. And the holes aren't there, I'm sure I can come to America and dig a hole over there somehow - you dig them ass backward sometimes I see. That's North America-

Taylor White: - Come to Canada.That's good, though.

Jimmy Starbuck: I don't think that he saw his thing. Well, like we're playing in a room financially with elephants, you know, and we're running around, and, you know, doing well, or not doing well, or whatever it might be, but at the end of the day, inflation, recession, price changing, material shortages, you name it, people have dealt with it in one way or another for the entire time the businesses have been around. There was a banker with his head in his hands 1,000 years ago saying, "The crusades are screwing up my accounting." You know, and then you're going to sit here, and we're dealing with different sorts of stuff, and we'll keep dealing with it. And if you focus on that part, and don't focus on what you are trying to do, or what you are doing well-- you'd never buy anything if you read the newspaper every day. You'd never buy-

Taylor White: -No. Or going on Twitter or anything. You kind of have to block that out.

Jimmy Starbuck: Yeah. You are not buying shit. You are not buying a house because the housing markets are, you know, a bubble. You know, cars are too expensive, you can't buy fuel, that's through the roof. Outrageous. At the end of the day, you pivot, you know, change your pricing structure, have a meeting, sit down with people who know better than you do, you know, like they sit down with a banker and say, "Can I borrow some more money?" And they might say, "yes." They might say, "Hell, no. You've borrowed shit loads already, Jimmy, calm down" and in which case just keep trucking, you know, keep digging your hole. I think anyone who reads too much into it would just very much stagnate in saying that inflation is absolutely ridiculous. Some of my pricing structures have gone from-- let's say, for round figures, 30; you know, they've gone from $30 a yard to $50 a yard. If you don't like it, I'm not doing it.

Taylor White: Yeah, it's crazy.

Jimmy Starbuck: Fuel here is by the equivalent of 8, $9 a gallon.

Taylor White: No, we're per liter too. I'm paying $2.20 for dyed.

Jimmy Starbuck: Yeah. We don't even have dyed..

Taylor White: Oh, really?

Jimmy Starbuck: Yeah. There's no dyed. You-

Taylor White: -For off-road vehicles?

Jimmy Starbuck: No, nothing. So, I got a big tank, so I get it delivered in a tanker straight from the refinery. But that doesn't save shit anyway, because all of it-- it's mainly made up of government taxes so that they can fly around the world in their private jets. But that's okay too because the world's always been what it'll be. Just keep going around in a circle. We don't have dyed I think we've gone up to $2.40-something here a litre. You know, you got machines that use 500 liters a day, some of them, and then the trucks, and then, you know, I get fuel for some of the brokerage trucks, and all of that sort of stuff, and it feels like you couldn't-- I'd be a rich man if I didn't have to put fuel.

Taylor White: I know. That's how I felt at the beginning of the year when everything started kind of going up and it was like, I've never seen our fuel bills that high. And it was actually like-- you know, you'd come home at night and my wife is like, "What's wrong?" And I'm like, "Man, I just can't believe these numbers that I'm seeing coming in." Our invoices for fuel, and DEF!

Jimmy Starbuck: Oh no, and DEF, and then the DEF shortage. I rang up my fuel guy, and I said, "Listen, I need you to sell me"-- I think it was 5,000. I think I got 5,000 or 7,000 liters. And I said, "There's a shortage coming, it's all over the news, and although I don't listen to that sort of stuff, only an idiot wouldn't do something about it anyway." And he said, "Jimmy, I can't.", I think I asked him for 10,000 liters and ended up getting 5,000 or 7,000. And I said, "I need 10,000 liters of DEF now." Like, I'm going to say the overheads-- you got to think the overheads, I've got 15 people who work in my office running a brokerage company. If those trucks can't get DEF or Adblue, and they don't go to work, my overheads remain, I have to fire them, or I have to get DEF. The jobs are still there. We're not here, but if no trucks are going to work because of it-- so, I rang up and they said “No, we can't do it.” And I'll say, "Well fine. I'm going to go and offer my however many tens and tens and tens of thousands of liters a month of fuel diesel that I buy, which you just come past the tank and send me an invoice like this. We don't even know when you're– You know it's linked up and this and that, and blah, blah blah, and you just come and fire off an invoice, it's expensive.” I said,”I'm going to offer that to all of the other fuel companies, and one of them is going to say, "Okay, I'll take that, and I'll give you 10,000 liters." And I know we've had a good relationship, and you've done good by me, and I've done good by you, but now I've got to be an asshole and I've got to take my own business somewhere else.” And they said, "Funny that I just found six or 7,000 letters of DEF. You want that?" And I said, "Absolutely that. I'll take that." And then it never actually went sky high, really. And it never actually ran out-

Taylor White: -They never disappeared like they said it was.

Jimmy Starbuck: -and the subcontractors didn't really want it. I've probably only got 1,000 or 2,000 liters left. But it's taken a long time, mate. But I don't buy Adblue machines at all, I do not want Adblue. I think that -  “Don't isolate it when it's purging, make sure the tank is full, don't use it the old drum, only buy new drums. Make sure you clean the dirt out. Again, make sure the wind is blowing from the west and there's a rainbow, and then a unicorn runs past, and then you can shill it.’ It's too much of a sensitive product to be used in the environment that we have. It's not fit for purpose.

I understand in trucks, they can go to a cleaner environment than what they're working in and drive to a bowser and shill it up with a clean nozzle, and they can have the tank and it's not as dirty as where we are. We're on job, so if a guy needs DEF, and there's 10 other machines working around just the particles in the air, you've got to drive through 10 acres of site to get there with a drum bouncing around in the back. It's not fit for purpose. DEF is not fit for purpose. And these guys, I understand it's huge, I understand what we're trying to do with that, and will completely and wholeheartedly agree working and running a construction company, which is fairly environmentally damaging, needs to be looked at, and monitored, and tried to change, but however, limiting carbon production out of an exhaust with a product that we need to make and then blah, blah, blah, and all of that. I don't think necessarily that they've got the right mixture, the right recipe for that. Because I'm sure that you've had Adblue issues too.

Taylor White: Oh, I mean, I lost three pickup on-road trucks, three pickup Duramax diesels last year for eight months, I had to get rid of two triaxle dump trucks last year due to DEF issues-

Jimmy Starbuck: - The injectors, the lines, the tanks, you know, you name it. It's all wrong. It's not fit for purpose. It'd be easier for them to say, "Listen, we're going to sell you electric diggers for half price." I’d probably have a couple-- Like, I reckon, you know, only the random Tesla catches on fire I believe, from what I've seen on the internet, you know. But it seems like everything that you put DEF in, everything has, you know, a conniption at some point in its life and you can't fix it. I have one job, we're, working on one of those high-profile, big, timeframe, heavy, jobs, and we had a pallet, and one of my guys drove it in, we filled up five machines and all five of the machines went down on a job two o'clock in the morning, and I can't clear the code, so I'm calling up my dealer. I ended up having to get the GM out of bed, to get him to break-- I said that I was going to break into the dealership and steal a laptop to take it and that he was going to fix it with the cops tomorrow. And he goes, "No, you can't do that." And I said, "It's two o'clock on a Saturday morning. By the time people come in into the office, you know it's going to be Monday. I'm going to be however much money in the hole, plus, I look like a flaming idiot, with five machines that have broken down because I've filled them up with Adblue that I have no idea why it's wrong." “Was it crystallized?” “I don't know. I'm not a chemist, you know. What do you want from me? The drum says Adblue, I put Adblue in, and it made it stop, and it made that one stop, and that one stop, and that one.” And so, they ended up coming to help, and they did very well, and I was very happy with it. But any product that you have to take to the machine that has to be, you know, brought to it in like a cryovac chamber, and like you have to keep it away from the elements, no.

Taylor White: Yeah. Conversations like this are stuff that I can sit and have multiple beers and chat with people like you about because we share the same issue and same love for DEF and tilt rotators. I'm excited to extend this conversation to CONEXPO in March this year, and I'm super pumped to see you there, and we definitely have to continue this conversation.

Thanks for coming on, Jimmy. I'm going to end it there. I mean, we've been good, and I want to hold off on some so that we can continue this conversation at the actual show.

Jimmy Starbuck: I think you're on the panel with me, aren't you? Or running the panel, like you're higher up the food chain than I am.

Taylor White: No, you're above me, my friend. We are - we're actually on the-- if you're listening, we're on a panel together, me and Jimmy. Even though your thing says, James Starbuck, and I've been calling you Jimmy, you said Jimmy was fine.

Jimmy Starbuck: Oh yeah, absolutely. Only my mom and the bank call me James, mostly, when I'm in trouble.

Taylor White: Okay, James.

Well, me and James will be there at the- We'll be on a panel together at CONEXPO. Thank you for being on, Jimmy, a.k.a. James. I appreciate it, and we'll catch you at the show.

Thank you, everybody, for listening to the CONEXPO-CON/AGG podcast, that is brought to you by our good friends over at Komatsu.

We'll catch you on the next one.


We are less than 100 days from the 2023 show. That's right. We are coming up on the largest construction family reunion in North America. CONEXPO-CON/AGG is going to be here before we know it. If you have not registered yet, there's still time to secure your tickets. Visit:, and use a promo code: podcast20, to get 20% off. That's right, 20% off with promo code: podcast20.

If you already have your tickets to the show, join us in the countdown to the show, and comment below to let us know you're going to be there, and what you're most excited to see.

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