“We trust our Komatsu equipment’”
Miller Contractors has served western Tennessee customers for three generations and more than five decades. While the company has grown and evolved throughout the years, finding and retaining customers is a source of pride for the Miller family, who owns the business.
“My grandfather, Paul Sanders, always said that if you are honest and work hard, you’ll never be looking for a job,” recalled third-generation Co-owner Collin Miller. “Keeping customers happy really isn’t a big secret, because he was right. We have a loyal customer base that we strive to please. We treat people fair and trust in God, and that plan has worked for us.”
Today, the Jackson, Tenn., company employs 14 people and completes site work and utility installations within a 100-mile radius between the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers in the state of Tennessee.
“We can take a project from clearing to soil stabilization,” noted Collin’s dad and Co-owner Harold Miller. “We try to do it all. The more we can take care of ourselves, the greater control we have over a project. Our customers seem to appreciate it, because nearly 90 percent of what we do is repeat business.”
The majority of Miller Contractors’ calendar is filled with commercial grading, soil stabilization and utility installation jobs. It also handles wastewater pump stations, water-treatment plants, sewer-treatment plants and road bores. One area that is becoming more common for the company is residential subdivisions. Miller Contractors and McAlexander Development, which is owned by the family of Collin’s wife, Cindy McAlexander-Miller, have partnered on several endeavors.
“We will do whatever a customer wants,” said Collin. “Most of our time is spent on commercial, although we also do a fair amount of municipal work. The housing market is strong now, so residential is increasing. Our partnership with McAlexander has been great. About 80 percent of the subdivisions we do are in conjunction with them.”
That collaboration was on full display last fall when Miller Contractors broke ground on the first phase of a 134-lot subdivision in Jackson. Miller crews moved more than 42,000 yards of dirt, dug retention ponds and installed 2,500 feet of eight-inch sewer lines, 2,000 feet of water lines and another 2,000 feet of storm drainage.
“This is a typical job for us,” explained Collin. “There will be four phases to this development; however, the first one is always the most expensive and complicated because we’re starting from scratch.”
Integrating the latest technology into daily operations is a practice most companies swear by, including Miller Contractors. However, the firm skipped a generation of technology before adding Komatsu’s intelligent Machine Control dozers with integrated GPS technology and semi-automation to its fleet.
“Until recently, all of our grading was done manually,” said Harold. “We never used aftermarket GPS systems. We had two very experienced operators who didn’t want GPS, so we didn’t think we needed it. When they retired, we developed a new plan.”
“I was the only operator who knew how to keep grade, so I was quite happy to try something new,” laughed Collin. “We went from four-foot levels and string lines to iMC. It was a quantum leap – one we should have taken sooner.”
To accomplish that upgrade, the Millers contacted Power Equipment Company Territory Manager Jimmy Spence in 2016 about a D51PXi dozer. They added a D39PXi dozer eight months later.
“The best way to make money in dirt is to move it once,” shared Collin. “The intelligent Machine Control dozers make that happen. It also expands our operator pool. We now have more people who can jump in the cab and grade a site. Plus, with labor being so hard to find, it makes the hiring process a little easier, too. We no longer need someone with 25 years of experience to make sure that our sites are on-grade; the dozers do that for us.”
In addition to maximizing the efficiency of Miller Contractors’ crews and saving on material costs, the system has other benefits.
“We no longer use surveyors or stakes,” said Collin. “We just completed a floodway project. Before we had the new dozers, we would have used surveyors to stake every 50 feet to make a grid and come back once we had completed the deep fills to re-stake for grading. Then, we’d return when the project was finished to check it all out. Instead, we turned our operators loose on the dozers because the plans were already in there – we never had a surveyor on site. We finished within a hundredth of an inch, and we had the files to prove it. We completed the job faster and without waiting for or paying surveyors.”
The grade-control equipment has exceeded Collin’s expectations.
“I told Jimmy these dozers would never replace an experienced operator, and now I own two of them,” he admitted. “Having the integrated GPS system takes it to another level; I see us continuing to add them to our fleet. All around, intelligent Machine Control is the only way to go.”
The Miller family’s relationship with Power Equipment and Spence dates back more than 20 years.
“We’ve worked with Jimmy for a long time, and we trust that he and everyone at Power Equipment have our best interests in mind,” said Harold. “Anytime we need something, they take care of it. In addition to Jimmy, Ray Ginn in the parts department and Assistant Service Manager James Sparks go above and beyond for us. We ask for them specifically because they are the best in the business. People like that are why we are loyal to Power Equipment.”
Beyond Power Equipment’s staff, the Komatsu brand continues to deliver for Miller Contractors. Including the intelligent Machine Control dozers, its fleet has three WA250PT wheel loaders, four dozers and four excavators.
“Komatsu makes a quality machine,” stated Collin. “Since 1992, we’ve only run Komatsu dozers, and we were one of the first to have a Komatsu excavator, a PC200-3 in 1986.”
“We know exactly what we’re getting with Komatsu,” added Harold. “We have a 20-year-old PC220 excavator that hadn’t been started in two months; when we turned the key, it fired right up. The WA250s are the best machines I’ve ever owned. We trust our Komatsu equipment.”
The Miller family is deeply rooted in the construction industry, and it appears that will remain the status quo for generations to come.
“This has been our family’s way of life for forever it seems,” said Collin. “Our boys, Cash, who is six, and Cade, age seven, are on board, too. One day, Cindy and I were talking about the future, retirement and if that would mean selling the company. One of our boys overheard it and matter-of-factly told us that wasn’t an option, and the business wasn’t going anywhere. So, I think it’s safe to say that our construction legacy will continue.”