A love for the land can be powerful.
For one Iowa contractor, his passion was strong enough to motivate him and his wife to start a business largely focused on timber and prairie preservation. And even though K&D Land Improvement provides a broad range of services, it is the conservation-focused work that co-founder Dan Hansen enjoys most.
“I literally grew up in the woods, not far from here,” Dan says, working on a timber improvement job in his hometown of Lehigh, Iowa, where the business is based. “Running Bobcat® equipment out here keeps me attached to the land … I know that sounds funny, but it’s true.”
Built on versatility and rooted in passion
Dan and his wife, Karen (the “K” in K&D Land Improvement), started the business in 2003. Karen is a conservationist for Webster County, Iowa, and as Dan puts it, when they were married 35 years ago, “She was big into the prairies, and I was big into timbers.” Early in their relationship, Dan held a management position with an area manufacturing company. He left that for a two-year job in waste collection before following what Dan and Karen shared an interest in and love for: working outdoors.
Over the next 18 years, K&D’s services expanded to land preservation and restoration, including tree and brush clearing for private landowners and the Department of Natural Resources; field tile repair; implementing water and soil conservation practices, such as saturated buffers and bioreactors; septic tank installation; demolition; street sweeping and sewer work. Although they are committed to any project they take on, the conservation work strikes a different chord.
“We’ve found a niche being versatile, and services like sewer work are a necessity,” Dan says, “but I’d much rather be working in the timber. It’s who I am.”
“And now,” he adds, “my worst day doing this is like my best day working in a factory.”
Extended family helps business grow
K&D Land Improvement is a family operation through and through. Dan and Karen have three children — two daughters who aren’t with the business and son Zach, who has been completing jobs with his dad full-time since graduating college 18 months ago. “It’s just my wife and me and our son … you don’t get much smaller than that,” he says. “But we have nice equipment that truly is our livelihood. It’s my business; it’s my desk.”
Dan credits Bobcat® equipment and his dealer with their success. To him, they are more than an equipment provider — they are an extension of the business. “Everyone there is like family to me,” he says. “That’s not a stretch.”
Dan started out using a competitor’s skid-steer loader before developing a relationship with Capital City Equipment Co. He rented, then leased, and eventually purchased a Bobcat 773 skid-steer loader. Now, they have a Bobcat T770 compact track loader, which is their 10th Bobcat loader, as well as an E63 compact excavator and MT50 mini track loader. While the equipment itself may be his livelihood, dealer service definitely seals the deal for Dan.
“I wouldn’t still be in this business if it weren’t for Bobcat,” he says. “My dealers have gone above and beyond to help me out and keep us going … I can call them all fired up about something silly; they are calm, they help me think through it, and they make things work for me.”
Toughness not taken for granted
K&D’s services run the gamut of what Bobcat machines and their attachments can support, resulting in a whopping 20 Bobcat attachments for their three machines. Dan and his son, Zach, believe their root grapples are the most versatile attachments because they can be used for so many types of work. In timber restoration and land clearing, their Bobcat forestry cutter and applications kit for the T770 compact track loader is extremely efficient. And, Dan calls the package a key example of Bobcat toughness and innovation.
“The forestry cutter is perfect for this type of work,” he says. “Safety- and protection-wise, you get the cab with the special door and windows, and different guards … This is a really tough attachment doing work that can be brutal on a machine.”
Specific to the T770 loader’s size and strength, he adds, “We cannot have a big, heavy footprint on most of our sites, and for this class of machine, Bobcat is definitely the toughest.”
Dan’s enthusiasm doesn’t stop there. He calls Bobcat engineers and dealer salespeople “understanding,” when it comes to machine and attachment innovation, especially for his primary types of work. “They are continually updating and getting better,” he says, “but they ‘get’ my business and get what I need.”
Another example of this, Dan says, is the roller suspension system Bobcat has been using on compact track loaders for more than a decade, which leads to a more comfortable ride while also providing greater durability.
Dan realizes that getting the most out of any machine requires a commitment from its owner and operator. He is adamant about preventive maintenance on equipment. “Considering the investment and how important they are to the business, you’ve got to take good care of them,” he says.
Preserving the future
K&D Land Improvement has earned a strong reputation in the area without formally advertising. In fact, they have a lot of repeat business particularly related to timber improvement and restoration. One landowner near the Brushy Creek State Recreation area in Lehigh has been hiring Dan to help clear and maintain his land for 15 of K&D’s 18 years in business.
In that case, the customer marks trees and brush to be removed; but as a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) commissioner, Dan can help select trees and brush to remove or keep based on state forester standards. Karen, as a county conservationist, can help as well.
Dan is pleased with the fact many of his neighbors and customers care as much about the land as he and Karen do.
“I’m not a political guy, but conservation is important,” Dan says. “We’ve got to pay attention to our natural resources, and protect and preserve what we have. We can all do this together, but everyone needs to do their thing.”