Excavating industry, sewage treatment pipe and COVID economy Q&A with Trevor Mann of Don Mann Excavating
Ten on the 10th
Published February 10, 2021
Citified's Ten on the 10th is a monthly question-and-answer segment connecting our readers with the insight and knowledge of Victoria's top real-estate and business professionals.
February's Ten on the 10th features Trevor Mann, CEO of Don Mann Excavating.
Asking the questions is Ross Marshall, Senior Vice President of the Victoria offices of commercial real-estate brokerage CBRE. As a leader in facilitating large-scale commercial real-estate transactions throughout the Capital Region – which include apartment complexes, industrial retail and office properties, and land/development opportunities – Ross and his team are at the forefront of market-leading real-estate transactions on Vancouver Island.
Would you like to be featured as part of a future Ten on the 10th Q&A? We'd love to hear from you.
Can you tell us about Don Mann Excavating Ltd. (DME)?
DME is a third-generation civil contracting company based in Victoria, BC, operating across Vancouver Island and the surrounding Gulf Islands. We are proud to work with homeowners, builders, private development firms, as well as civic and provincial government agencies. With our projects ranging in scope and size, we pride ourselves in providing quality workmanship and excellent service to our customers.
Since our inception over 70-years-ago, we have continued to expand the business from the single tractor my grandfather started it with. We provide services in excavation, demolition, site servicing, pipelines, bridges, road building and civil construction.
As a privately-owned and family-oriented business, we believe that our people are our most important assets. Our priority is the safety of our people and safety is a paramount core value at DME. Giving back to the community we operate in, and our employees reside in, is also very important. Our goal is to support the communities where we live and work, be a good neighbor, and a trusted community partner.
How have the events of the past year affected DME and the market? How has the company adapted?
The Canadian economy changed dramatically in March 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Fortunately, our company was classified as an essential business and never underwent any shutdowns due to the pandemic. In early 2020 we found there to be uncertainty and hesitancy from our clients to start projects, which was understandable with the global economy in crisis. With uncertainty in the market, we experienced a decline in work volume Q2 to Q4 – 2020, in comparison to Q2 to Q4 – 2019. However, after the initial slow down, we experienced the market regain certainty and remain steady through the rest of 2020 and were thankful for that.
With the pandemic came an extremely competitive market. Understandably, our industry seemed nervous and pricing was steadily dropping to ensure work was won to keep staff employed and cashflow coming in. With this competitive market, we knew we had to adapt quickly, so we did a deep dive analysis into our equipment costs, crew compositions, production, and overall company efficiency. Being able to adapt quickly to the change in the market and make internal changes was instrumental to our company winning work and remaining competitive in the market. We have an amazing team of people at DME and were thankful for the effort and willingness to change and adapt to an unprecedented time in history.
DME has a longstanding community reputation and history, how have you balanced this with the desire to grow?
That is a good question Ross, thank you for asking. DME has been growing at a fast rate over the last five years, and with growth comes growing pains. In all situations, we aim to be proactive instead of reactive. To be proactive it takes an excellent management team to stay ahead of the growing pains faced with increased business. Our team consists of a CEO, COO, CFO, BDM, General Manager, Controller, Project Manager, Sales Manager, Safety Manager, HR Manager, Operations Manager, Equipment Manager, and Office Manager. These key managers are the ambassadors of our company’s core values, purpose and culture. They work to keep our reputation and history strong amongst staff, as well as in the community. Their job is to instill our purpose and our core values into all who work at DME. This is the only way to maintain the values Don Mann founded DME on in a growing company. Our staff here at DME are incredible, we are nothing without them, and they are truly the ones who are on the frontlines growing the company and doing an excellent job of maintaining our history and reputation.
We understand there was a change in ownership three-years-ago. Tell us more about that?
On January 1, 2017, Jordan Mann, Colin Mann, and I took over as the owners of DME. Although the three of us had already been running the company for years as employees, it truly was a monumental moment for us to take over as owners. The transition of ownership from Marlene McClure, Ross Mann and Steve Mann went seamlessly. Steve still retains 25% of the company and sits on the board as an advisor and mentor. The mentorship he provides to us is priceless, and I encourage any young business owner taking over a company to retain previous leadership if that person is wise and well respected in the community. Do not let your ego get in the way; listen, and learn from them, and your chances of being successful will grow. Since taking over, we have experienced vast growth in the business, and were thankful for the foundation put in place by the first and second generation before us.
Did you make any changes in how you’ve run the business over the last year due to the Pandemic?
Yes, we made significant changes at DME. This last year has been a whirlwind of change within our organization, and what a journey it has been. Let me explain; in April of 2020, we met with a management consulting firm called Bellrock to see if we wanted to hire them to analyze our company. This was a big step, we wrestled with bringing in an outside consulting firm during a time of such uncertainty, with so many unknowns, but in the end, we decided now is the time to make change and restructure our organization. In short, Bellrock comes into your company (literally moves in) and analyzes your company’s processes and procedures, and helps you implement best management practices for your organization. They warned us it would be a difficult process, and that people may quit, but I never realized just how hard it would be. 10 months later our company has never been running more efficiently and smoothly. All the difficulty was completely worth it. I believe the hard work of going through all the changes has made our group more united and stronger than ever. If you want to take your business from good to great, call Bellrock.
Tell us about the CRD Residual Solids Force Main and Centrate Return Line Project your company recently completed?
Let me give you a little background on our scope of work for the project: This project included the installation of approximately 18.2km of 250 diameter Residual Solids Forcemain (also referred to as the poop shoot in the papers) and Line Valves, Low Point Drain Valves, and Air Valves between the Mcloughlin Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Residual Treatment Facility at Hartland Landfill. As well as the installation of approximately 11.9km of 300 diameter Centrate Return Line pipe, generally twinned alongside the Residual Solids Forcemain alignment, conveying liquids removed at the Residual Treatment Facility and landfill leachate back to the Marigold Pump Station.
This may sound like a straightforward pipe project, but it was much more complex than one might think. This project, while a smaller capital component of the overall Wastewater Treatment Program, was a high-profile project, as it resides within three municipal boundaries, traverses numerous communities (urban and rural), and was a concern to several special interest/stakeholder groups. The project was completed in full view of the public and attracted attention from adjacent residents, commuters, politicians, and the media, who I must say were good to work with and were understanding. The project was more than a simple piece of conveyance infrastructure; it posed several technical, environmental, archaeological, geotechnical and traffic management challenges that had to be addressed during construction. The pipeline we installed is a critical link that is required to maintain the treatment process.
This project was DME’s largest project to date, and we were proud to have worked with the Capital Regional District to deliver a quality project.
Can you tell us about any exciting projects you have coming up?
Yes, I noticed you interviewed Ed Geric (Mike Geric Construction) last month and you discussed his mass timber-designed condominium development, Tresah. We are excited to be performing the excavation, backfill and civil works for the Tresah development. We feel privileged to work with Ed and his team on this exciting mass timber project, as it is a first in the Capital Region. I cannot think of a better company and leader than Ed and Mike Geric Construction to be performing this project.
How do you stay competitive in the current market?
I think it is important to know that we have two divisions here at DME. We provide hourly equipment rental services to our clients, and we perform contract work for our clients. At DME, we look at several ways of staying competitive, and relative in the market. We apply the following general strategies to both divisions in the organization.
Looking to the future: We believe businesses that plan for growth are usually more successful than those that do not. Having a strategic plan on where you want to be in one, five- and 10-years’ time is important.
Knowing our competitors: You need to know who your competitors are, and what they offer. What are their weaknesses and what are their strengths? Understanding this will help you to compete and differentiate yourself.
Being a good employer: Attracting and retaining skilled, motivated people is key to our competitive edge, and growing business. Generally, people are more excited about working at a company with a good atmosphere, where they are given (AMP) autonomy, mastery and purpose in their jobs. We want to nurture our employees and see them grow to their full potential, because their success is our success.
Taking care of our customers: We recently just added three members to our sales team to better service our customers, we want to be more responsive to their needs and expectations. If we do not take care of them, one of our competitors will, and we do not want that to happen. Customer care is a high priority here at DME.
Knowing our customers: Customers’ expectations can change. By knowing what matters to them and what they need, and staying connected, we make this a priority.
Updated brand and office: We recently rebranded and updated our logo to look more current, and to better reflect our company, giving it a fresh new look. We also updated our office and mechanics bays giving us a modern space. Our facility provides our employees an enjoyable and comfortable place to work, where they can perform to their highest level.
Competitive pricing: This one is obvious and is an unbeatable way to eliminate competition. However, just lowering your price is not smart, and your business will not last. Business operations need to be efficient enough to even be able to offer competitive pricing, which we can do for our customers at DME, due to our efficient business operation.
Internal business Operations: We continually strive to refine and better our business operations. There are too many things to list here, but one successful internal operation we apply is to resolve all customer issues faster than our competitors. The faster we are, the higher our customer satisfaction, which creates loyalty, and gets passed by word of mouth in the industry.
We apply this methodology, and a lot more, within our daily operations of the company. By doing so, we stay competitive in the current market.
We see technology disrupting many industries, how do you see technology disrupting the future of the excavating industry?
Technology has changed a lot in our industry over the past 70 years. Our newest excavators are smaller than the older ones, and yet can lift heavier, and dig faster, all while burning less fuel. A year ago, we attended a convention where they showcased an all-electric backhoe. It will only be a matter of time before they will be able to make heavy equipment powered by electricity strong enough to compete with those currently running off diesel, although we are not quite there yet.
We also have new pieces of equipment that have allowed us to become more efficient at certain repetitive tasks. Take slingers for example, slingers are basically a dump truck with a conveyor belt that allows us to throw material. This has allowed us to place material in hard to access locations with less disturbance. Another piece of relatively recent technology that we are contemplating purchasing are hydrovacs. Hydrovacs are like a shop vacuum on wheels. They have a large hose that allows you to literally suck up dirt like a vacuum. It is safer to use this method where existing utilities are, as the hydrovac will not break the pipes in the ground but only remove the dirt.
Technology is not limited to just our equipment, we are in the process of implementing new software programs for our dispatch, estimating and sales teams which will allow us to have better insight into our company and ultimately allow us to provide better customer service.
What is next for DME?
We plan to continue providing our customers with great service and our employees with a fantastic place to work. We have big plans for DME in the coming years, so stay tuned! C
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- Would you like to be featured as part of a future Ten on the 10th Q&A? We'd love to hear from you
- View CBRE Victoria's website here
- View Don Mann Excavating's website here
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