Graeme Robertson walked away from contracting once. Although a natural in the seat of a machine, he went searching for a steadier paycheck and found it as a carpenter until injuries from a snowmobile accident left him unable to climb ladders.
“My doctor said, ‘you’re probably better off just opening your own business,’” Robertson says. It was the nudge he needed to launch Manitoba-based GJR Contracting in 2011 – one of his most profitable decisions yet. As an owner, Robertson was determined to go it alone with a small but resourceful fleet of Bobcat equipment. His vision was for a nimble and productive company year-round, and he vowed to do it with a skeleton crew: himself.
Power of one
“I never wanted to manage anyone,” Robertson says, “so, I look for ways to keep the business moving forward with work I can do for customers myself, and making sure they’re happy when I’m done.”
Carving out a successful sole proprietorship in the Winnipeg market meant taking a streamlined approach with a simple, but effective business strategy: start small, stay lean and make your dealership and equipment your business partners. Here are his six tips for keeping his business small yet progressive with advanced compact equipment:
1. Diversify equipment
“I can completely disassemble a building with my clamp, and my breaker is so strong that I can bust the concrete out from underneath it,” Robertson says. “I can load it all up in a bin, leaving the site looking like nothing was ever there. Having diverse equipment can be like having an extra person around.”
2. Consider leasing
Leasing can reduce monthly payments. When weighing his options for upgrading his fleet, leasing was a welcomed option for Robertson who had recently invested in a new home and acreage.
“The lease is a lot more feasible for the business and is a full write-off for me,” Robertson says. “It was a massive drop in my payment and I’ve got the extended warranty, so it’s all right there.”
3. Fill gaps with rental
Rental is still the best solution for short-term needs. When equipment and attachments are needed for specific jobs, rental offers an efficient alternative to supplement his core fleet.
“I’ll rent any piece of equipment I don’t have, because I can get it very quickly and easily to fill that void for the equipment I’m not running every day,” Robertson says.
4. Streamline with technology
Technology lends accuracy to solo excavating and grading projects. The Bobcat depth check guidance system integrated into his R-Series E35 reduces manpower.
“I want to see my depth or grade instead of having somebody hold the laser for me,” Robertson says. “It’s all right there on the monitor in front of me, so I can just keep my eyes on the job.”
5. Find the fit
Size matters to big and tall operators. It’s important to climb into the cab and sit in the operator’s seat to evaluate roominess for your frame.
“I’m 6½ feet tall. My R-Series E35 has more legroom and better visibility than my previous E35. Those are the two major things I like the most about it.”
6. Monitor social media
Bobcat social media connects customers to product advancements, and it’s where Robertson discovered the R-Series excavator.
“I went on the Bobcat Facebook page to see what the company was introducing at the last CONEXPO-CON/AGG trade show,” Robertson says. “They happened to be doing a walk-around of the R-Series. I knew my sales specialist was there, so I called him and eventually ordered one. Social media played a huge role.”
In Robertson’s world, machines and attachments are more than just a fleet – they’re his crew. When keeping it small is the game plan, look for tough, versatile and innovative solutions that streamline your operation.
Watch Graeme Robertson destroy tough demolition jobs with only his R-Series E35 excavator: