In the Spotlight
Cragco, Inc.: Taking Pride in What They Do
Specializing in construction waste, Cragco has grown from a one man operation to a full service company that has low turnover, practices money-saving strategies and is always looking for opportunities to grow.
Crago, Inc. (Ransomville, NY) has a unique beginning. After five years of working as a Cattle Manager at Martha’s Vineyard (MA), owner Tod Craggs decided to make the journey back to his hometown in Ransomville, NY to be closer to his family. Taking a job at a local lumberyard, Craggs was delivering building material when he started to see the need for additional trash pickups. At the time, the local contractors were grumbling about the high prices and poor customer with regards to trash pickup, so he decided to start hauling trash part-time after work with a dump trailer. “After about two years, in 2000, a storm chaser came in and we had quite a hailstorm here in Niagara Falls—a lot of roofing and siding was damaged so I bought four dump trailers to help clean up the damage,” says Craggs. “After the storm, I had made enough money to buy a new ampliroll hook lift system for my used roll-off truck and 3 dumpsters, and the rest is history.” Borrowing money against his family farm to get a full-time business started, he bought his first containers and started to establish his company.
Now, all of Craggs’ energy is in Cragco, which has turned into a full-service construction hauling company specializing in residential construction debris removal, serving Niagara County, Orleans County, Erie County and part of Cattaraugus County. Cragco has grown from one truck to nine trucks and around 250 boxes in the last 12 years. “We do everything from small hauling jobs to large commercial work. We did most of the demolition in Buffalo for all of the schools and handled the total demolition of a 15-story old federal building,” says Craggs. Although Cragco covers mostly construction waste, they also have dealt with industrial, non-hazardous waste. In addition, as the need arises, they haul recyclable materials to the appropriate facilities. “Although we don’t have the permit to separate the recyclables out ourselves, if someone has a dumpster full of just wood, concrete, etc., we can take the waste to the designated recycling center. We are definitely into recycling and trying to save our landfills for the real trash. If it’s possible, we do it,” stresses Craggs.
Weathering the Economical Storm
Despite the economy’s uncertainty, Cragco has been able to weather the storm by practicing some saavy money-saving strategies and, as a result, the business has grown 10 to 30 percent every year. “We had to think out of the box in order to save money. I’ve got really good people. Although we weren’t able to give out much overtime, we did make it through hard times with no layoffs,” says Craggs. Some of the huge cost-savings that the company does is to perform their own in-house repair and preventative maintenance and tire service. In addition, Craggs points out that he has recently purchased a tire called Duraseal from Goodyear that has save him $50,000 per year on tires. “I was spending quite a bit annually on tires because I ruined them in the landfills. This Duraseal tire is almost puncture resistant. It will take a puncture from a nail and keep on going. I was getting 14 flat tires per week, now I get maybe one per month out of the whole fleet,” says Craggs. Averaging between 150 to 200 spotted containers on jobs per week in our busy season, the company also has a walking floor with a tractor and they offer mulch hauling for the local landscapers, as well as picking recyclable material and reselling it, and they pickup trash for people that don’t have the ability to do it themselves. For example, if there is a customer that needs a basement, attic or garage cleaned out, Cragco will come out and do it.
Because Cragco has been able to maintain and keep growing, the company doesn’t have a large turnover. “I’ve worked for a lot of companies and I know how I was treated. I try to think of it as a family here. I look out for these guys and they look out for me,” says Craggs.” “They saw the worst-case scenario when the economy was crashing in 2009 and they wondered if they were going to have a job. I told them ‘Just keep doing your job and I’ll keep doing mine and we’ll get through this.’ It did get hairy there for a while but we made it through the hard part. When the chips are down for these guys, we look out for them; we provide medical and retirement.” Craggs also doesn’t hesitate to jump in the trenches with his employees, whether it is driving a truck to a job or going under one for maintenance. “I’m no better than they are. We are all a team here and we all respect each other. It’s a very unique little deal we have and I am very blessed for it.”
Craggs is quick to also make mention of his General Manager, Darla Zelakiewicz, who has helped Craggs run the business for the last several years. “My drivers make the money and Darla takes the pressure of off me. She manages this company like it’s her own.” He stresses that she is an important asset and key player in the company. Not only does she manage the day-to-day operations of Cragco, she also dispatches every truck that goes out, does bookkeeping and accounting, and takes care of customer service issues. Says Craggs, “She does it all. Without her here, it would be brutal.”
However, if the need does arise to hire new employees, Craggs ensures that they receive hands-on training by having them ride for two weeks with two or three of the company’s leads in order to learn the etiquette and safety of Cragco, as well as what quality Craggs expects. In addition, all of the trucks are chipped with a GPS unit so Craggs knows exactly where they are, what their speed is, how long they’ve been sitting and what their miles were for the day. Serious about safety, he makes sure that it is discussed every morning and that a couple of times per week everyone talks about things they have learned or are learning, something they’ve seen on the road and what needs to be improved. Says Craggs, “We have actually saved 14,000 dollars on our insurance by having the GPS system when we showed them on the tapes how our drivers are being safe. There’s no way I could function in this company without the GPS. It has been a huge help. This year we shopped our insurance just a bit and we save an additional 6,500 dollars. Not only that, but our insurance company also put us in the safety pool which means that they are going to pay us to be safe up to 10 years. I am proud to say we have been accident free for the last 12 years—no major accidents or fender benders. When we receive bonuses from the insurance company, I am going to give it to the guys as a bonus.”
Everyday has its certain challenges says Craggs, but one ongoing problem they have dealt with has been the rising cost of diesel fuel. “The fuel has been a huge issue; it is volatile. When I started this business, we were paying $0.89 per gallon and now its $4.40. We only get six mile to the gallon, so when you think about going 12 miles and it costs you 10 dollars, its crazy. You really start planning your moves,” says Craggs. “That’s where the GPS comes in. Every truck has to have a purpose, you drop your container off, you have a container in the area that needs to be picked up, you know the exact mileage its going to take you from the system. When you can learn how to do that effectively in this business, you are way ahead of the curve.” Although this has been Cragco’s greatest challenge, Craggs is not quite ready to make the switch to natural gas since he doesn’t have the room on his trucks for the tanks that are required for the alternative fuel. “We are in the market for two new trucks this year and a local company has switched over to natural gas. The fueling station that was put in reached out and said if I bought a natural gas truck, I could fuel there but I don’t think the technology is there yet. Our little trucks really don’t have the large capacity for the natural gas tanks unless we go to a larger truck. I want to do it; I just want to make sure that it works for me.”
Craggs take special care to have pride in what his company does and he translates that to not only his employees, but his equipment and trucks as well. “We haul trash; we don’t want to look like trash. Sometimes we roll into a jobsite and the homeowner thinks will be their worst nightmare because their driveway is going to be in ruins when we’re done,” says Craggs. “But we’ll show up in a shiny truck with a nice looking dumpster that has no holes, no rust, doesn’t smell and is pleasant to look at (for being a roll-off container) and it speaks volumes about your company taking the time to keep your equipment maintained.” Not only that, but the company will make it a point when the job is done to sweep underneath the dumpster when everything has been removed and the job is done. That kind of care is also stressed back at the shop as well. All of the trucks are washed at the end of the week, everything is checked out thoroughly, and the containers are washed and maintained. They even do their own own painting. Craggs laughs that all the maintenance makes his guys crazy, but the shop is as clean as the trucks. As a result, Cragco was nominated for the Small Business of the Year Award in 2002 and in 2009 by HSBC and First Niagara banks, “They really liked what I was doing. You have to understand, I wasn’t born into this business, I learned it through the school of hard knocks, on my own through trial and error. I was always taught pay your bills, don’t overextend.”
Craggs like to give back to his own community as well. Raising cattle as a hobby, he owns a little farm in the area and donates beef to local food pantries when the need arises. Another charity he likes to donate to is Catch-A-Dream (out of Mississippi), an organization that helps terminally ill children whose wish it is to hunt or go on a fishing trip make it possible. “It is a great organization and we pay for a child to hunt or fish every year, about a $3,500. It is near and dear to me and I’m glad I provide for it,” says Craggs. In addition, when the church calls him and says someone in the community can’t afford a roof, Cragco will donate the containers for the job. The company just donated containers to a woman whose husband was killed in Iraq. She could not afford a new roof so some local contractors got together and put the roof on, the supplier donated the materials and Cragco donated the dumpsters. “We all took care of her,” he says. “We also do that for veterans and for those that just have been on hard times. We all pitch in. Many of the local businesses will do whatever we can do to help out. If everyone does a little bit, it doesn’t hurt one person a lot.”
For now, Craggs says although they are always looking for opportunity, the company’s niche is what has made them so successful. Currently, he is looking to get his container count up to 300. “We can handle it with our truck fleet the way it is now. However, We don’t want to get too much larger; I don’t want to lose quality control on my service—everything is doing well. I have been blessed. I have the very best and safest drivers and I have a lot of people who want to work for me. I covet who I have and I don’t want these people going anywhere.”
For more information on Cragco, Inc., e-mail[email protected] or visit www.cragcoinc.com.
The whole fleet of Cragco.
Owner, Tod Craggs, in front of a Western Star 60-yard roll-off truck.
Typical 15 yard container. One of the most popular sizes for cleanup.
Kenworth truck with a double trailer. Cragco runs these “pup trailers” when the jobs are farther out in order to save fuel.
Cragco washes it Kenworth trucks every Saturday in order to maintain a clean appearance.
Photos courtesy of Tod Craggs.