[Customer Story] CLD Civil & Earthmoving in 4 Years

CLD Civil & Earthmoving’s Managing Director, Chris Coxhead is right in the midst of the South East Queensland Construction boom with 5 contracts on the go, managing 40 staff and a young family at home. Chris caught up with us to share how he and his wife’s part-time business idea, to make a bit of extra money so his wife could stay at home with the kids, turned into a full-time job for Chris and his 40 employees.

How did CLD kick off?

We started the business as a sideline business when my wife, Leah, fell pregnant. We were looking for something that could supplement Leah’s wage when she went on maternity leave. We bought a 5 tonne excavator, hiring it out with an operator on an hourly basis. Leah managed it, while I continued to work for another contractor.

From the start?

When I graduated, I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do. My father was working as a foreman on a construction site and got me a foot in as a general labourer. It was meant to just be something to do, make a bit of money until I worked out the “future plan”… Turned out it was the future plan. From day one on the job, I fell in love with machinery! All those years as a young fella in the sandpit must have played a part. I knew I’d have to work hard to get myself in one of the machines on site, which I did. I slowly progressed from a labourer to the grader seat.

The grader allowed me to see every aspect of the job. What was done right and what was done wrong, which gave me the drive to want to become a foreman. I wanted to make sure that the jobs I was on were running correctly. I worked as a foreman on several construction sites and somewhere along the way we took the leap to buying our own excavator and hired it out on the side.

How did CLD Contracting progress from there?

After about a year of having the excavator, we decided I would stop contracting and would drive the digger myself. It wasn’t long after when I was on site driving and I would get frustrated with builders I was sub-contracting to. They had no idea of certain aspects of the job and I was helping them more than I was being paid to. We thought why don’t we give it a crack. I loved civil and knew that’s where my strength was so we started pricing little jobs here and there. We would price up driveways and slowly the work grew. Today we are managing 5 contracts including subdivisions and various civil projects.

You started with one machine, how many do you have now and how did you get there?

Our very first was a second-hand Komatsu 4.5 tonne excavator. We battled away for about 12 months, and it was a battle because we didn’t start off as an owner-operator. We hired an employee straight off the bat and sent it on general hourly hire work. The maintenance and upkeep was something I was doing on the weekend. It was hard to retain a good operator that would look after that machine like I would. After that learning curve and the realisation of having a business was almost a full-time job in itself, I quit my job and we took over the reins full time, driving our digger myself. As we won more contracts we purchased more equipment. Four years down the track, we have 40 pieces of plant and equipment including; 14 excavators, 9 of which are Kobelco.

What hurdles have you been faced with along the way?

Too many to count! Every day is a struggle, a good struggle though. I’m looking after contracts, managing staff and constantly seeking new contracts, pricing and reviewing rates which all come with their ups and downs.

What do you look for in a new machine purchase?

We have preferred brands depending on the machine type. Having purchased a lot of machines, it comes down to backup service and fuel efficiency. To us, they are the biggest contributors to our running costs especially now with the current price of fuel.

If we can keep our running costs down we can compete on a better level against other contractors. So many times, fuel has given us our competitive advantage. It has really paid off for our business running certain machine brands that are known for their low fuel consumption, like Kobelco Excavators. We now run 9 Kobelcos for this reason and are looking at purchasing more.

Where would you like to take your business?

We haven’t really had any goals as such except to make CLD a sustainable company for my kids and to have a stable workplace for our employees. We are always learning, what to do and what not to do. Growth is of course not something we have ruled out but we will ensure it’s a steady growth and always manageable for ourselves being a family business.

What advice do you have for someone starting out in the industry?

The best piece of advice I can give, which was probably not given to me when I started; Always know who you are working for. Research who they are and what reputation they have in the industry. The last thing you want for a growing business is to work for someone who may not be financially stable themselves. Ensure the fundamentals of their business match your own because it isn’t fun when you lose money.

Maybe in a couple of years’ time, I will be able to provide some better answers, when I have more experience and can share my mistakes.

Melbourne Tractors Group works with businesses big and small and hearing how each of our customers started is always a highlight. There is never one story in the same and the skills are always far between, from Learning on the job to Apprenticeships and University qualifications, no matter their experience, it always comes back to one thing; Anything is possible when you put your mind to it and work hard!

For more information and to get in touch with CLD Civil & Earthmoving click here.