Utah Contractor D-Dyer Inc. Trades Chaos for Quality of Life

Devin Dyer, D-Dyer Inc.D-Dyer Inc. in Highland, Utah, was founded in 1996 by Devin Dyer and his wife, Stacey. The company provides excavation, underground utility, grading and land development services to the public, commercial and residential markets.

D-Dyer Inc. has had its share of growth spurts over the years. These days, however, the company has been on a more controlled trajectory. Sales are still up, but so are profits, client satisfaction and employee morale.

“As I’ve gotten older and the business has grown, we’ve worked hard to lean out our company and search for that non-existent sweet spot,” Dyer says. That sweet spot is a combination of the perfect employees doing perfect projects for perfect clients — at a perfect pace that balances financial reward with quality of life.

While Dyer says this utopian sweet spot is non-existent, he is thrilled to have crept so close.

“We are located between Salt Lake City and Provo,” Dyer explains. “We’ve been fortunate that this area has been one of the top housing markets for quite a while. It has also been one of the strongest markets for commercial construction. People call this area Silicon Slopes because we have a lot of technology and computer companies here. We’ve also seen a lot of people moving here from California. The housing market has been through the roof.”

Thanks to those favorable market conditions, Dyer doesn’t have to look for work beyond a 50-mile radius of his house. It was a much different story during the company’s earlier years, however.

utah excavation contractorFrom asphalt to excavating, and jacked-up to lean and mean

“When I first started out, I had an asphalt maintenance company,” Dyer says. “We did work all over the state of Utah. Things were going well and we also started doing excavating work. I decided to put some of my asphalt equipment up for sale. A guy came to look at it. I had no intention of selling my asphalt business, but the guy wanted a price for everything. He came back in a couple days with a check. Soon we started doing nothing but excavation.”

D-Dyer Inc. went on a roller coaster ride for the next several years. “We would overload our company with work until we burst at the seams, and then we would re-evaluate things to try and identify what we wanted to be as a company,” Dyer says. Those periods of re-evaluation have proved pivotal to the company’s success.

In more recent years, Dyer says he has had new employees come to him assuming they’d be working 12-hour days, six days a week. “That’s not what you’re going to get here,” Dyer points out. “To me, the business should be built 100% around the quality of life of the people who work for me.”

In a market with such opportunity for growth, some contractors might be taken aback by such a nonchalant approach. Dyer says he is fortunate to be in a position to have that kind of attitude. “We are working for great clients now, and it’s a volume we know we can handle,” he adds.

Dyer likens the ebbs and flows of business development to a tide coming ashore. When the tide comes in and brings fish, it is time to cast a net. When the tide goes back out, you don’t have to worry because you’ve already gathered all the fish you need. In Silicon Slopes, Dyer has been gathering fish for the past few years — and they just keep coming. He can afford to be a bit pickier about the ones he keeps.

Another analogy for running a business is bodybuilding. “When you want to bulk up, you want to eat everything in sight,” Dyer says. “Not all of those calories are necessarily the best for you. Then when you want to lean down, you start cutting those questionable foods out. Now you focus on the good food and refining everything.

“During those times when our company grew rapidly, we weren’t nearly as profitable as we are today,” Dyer continues. “That is because we were putting everything back into the business to continue feeding it and bulking it up. I remember those days. I was buying equipment like crazy. We had around 27 employees, whereas today it’s more like 20 or so. The really tough thing was that I was having to hire people I’d never met. Some didn’t work out very well. Business just wasn’t as fun then.”

Going for the gold with both employees and clients

D-Dyer Inc. has been going through one of its lean-down cycles. As a result, Dyer says he has not hired a new employee in more than two years. He is fine with that because good help has been nearly impossible to find in a market where unemployment hovers around 3%. Now Dyer is focused on taking care of his loyal, trusted employees who help deliver superior service for superior clients.

Speaking of which, another thing Dyer has been focused on over the past couple of years is evaluating clients.

“I go through my client list every year and identify those that are difficult to work with, don’t pay on time, and so on,” Dyer says. “So in addition to leaning out our employees, we also aren’t afraid to lean out our clients. We rate each client as gold, silver or bronze.”

In booming times like this, Dyer says he isn’t hesitant to purge clients with a bronze rating. “If a company that has been around for 20 years suddenly comes to me with a mountain of jobs, it’s a red flag,” Dyer says. “My first question is, ‘What happened to the excavation company you were using?’ To me, a company that has been around for 20 years should have contractors lined up at the door. Something must be wrong there.

“I’m not saying this is always the best thing for every company to do,” Dyer points out. “I also realize that if you aren’t evolving and growing, you are dying. But you have to be really careful about how you go about growing, because that can kill you, too.”

For D-Dyer Inc., not being overly aggressive has helped breathe a lot of extra life into the company. The majority of clients meet Dyer’s gold standard, meaning they are honest and ethical, pay on time, don’t beat their contractors up on price, own their responsibilities, and don’t create a bunch of added chaos that makes project execution difficult.

Being a bit picky hasn’t resulted in a shortage of work. Dyer says he maintains an 18-month focus to complete projects for his gold clients. In fact, he even leaves a little wiggle room in his schedule so he can react when customers have additional needs. “The only way we can always say ‘yes’ to gold clients is to make sure we aren’t tied up on chaotic projects for bronze clients,” Dyer explains.

Putting yourself in a position to service clients that live up to your gold standard means that you, the contractor, must also live up to a gold standard. At D-Dyer Inc., strong leadership has been a tremendous asset — and it hasn’t developed by accident.

“I like to say that every one of my employees works with me, not for me,” Dyer says. “That is how you build a great team where everyone takes responsibility. Even when my leaders might make a decision I don’t completely agree with, I call them on the back end. I ask them what their thought process was and why they made the decision they made. I want to understand. If their decision wasn’t the best, I might offer some advice on how to approach it differently in the future. But I always make it clear that I support them.”

Utah Construction ContractorGood equipment is key to everything

A lover of heavy iron since he was a teenager, Dyer says equipment continues to play a huge role in helping him achieve the quality of life he desires for himself and his employees.

“We have learned to bite the bullet and spend the money it takes to buy new equipment,” Dyer says. “One of the keys to productive, happy and loyal employees is providing them with modern equipment they enjoy spending the day in. I’m always shocked when I drive by other jobsites and see guys sitting in open-cab dozers and skid steers. We always make sure our equipment has an enclosed cab and climate control.”

Maintaining a fresh fleet also helps with branding and client retention. “If you’re supposed to pour concrete tomorrow, a client does not care that you’re broke down,” Dyer says. “Gold-standard clients will not put up with this. They also will not put up with a dump truck leaking hydraulic fluid all over the road, especially when you’re doing multi-million-dollar homes like we are.”

When it comes to the really big equipment like dump trucks, Dyer says he keeps a close eye on annual repair costs. Once repair costs shoot past the annual total of payments on a new truck, it’s time to replace.

On smaller equipment such as skid-steer loaders and mini-excavators, Dyer likes to turn them over pretty quickly — often within five years. When serving gold-standard customers, the need for uptime is so important that maintaining a fresh fleet is essential.

Along with uptime, fresh equipment gives D-Dyer Inc. another advantage.

“When you’re holding onto older equipment, you’re kind of holding onto the old way of doing things,” Dyer says. “Technology changes all of the time. If you’re running a track hoe that is 10 years old, your competitor who has a new one has an advantage over you. Features like 2D grade control are really important today. For a company like ours that has been around for 25 years, keeping up with technology can mean all the difference in being around for another 25.”

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