March 29, 2014

Demolition Man: D.W. Zinser Co.

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DemolitionOfWestdaleMallFifteen years ago, Dave Zinser decided to start his own business.

Having worked for some of the industry’s best, he learned the demolition trade from the ground up. Lacking both money and machines, Zinser was driven by an intense desire to succeed.

Today, D.W. Zinser Co. is the leading demolition contractor in eastern Iowa with 40 employees, five demo crews, three grading crews and a fleet of more than 60 machines. “You have to be relentless in this business to make it work,” says Zinser, who has been known to begin his workday at 3:00 a.m. “You’ve got to put the work first and yourself second. You need to live and breathe it.”

Zinser’s fleet is comprised of 15 Cat® excavators, plus track loaders, track-type tractors, wheel loaders, skid steer loaders, backhoe loaders  and hammers, pulverizer jaws, processors, grapples and numerous  other attachments. In addition, Zinser owns three new Cat CT660 trucks—one serves as his heavy haul truck with a 60-ton lowboy, while the two others pull 30 cu.yd. end dumps that haul debris from the demo jobsites.

Early lesson

When Zinser first started out, Altorfer was the only dealer willing to talk with him. So he approached their used equipment manager who trusted Zinser to make the payments. Altorfer located a used 320B excavator with a thumb and rented it to him. He struggled at first, with wife Christine even working as a laborer, but they made it. And Zinser never forgot how Altorfer trusted him back in 1998.

Zinser’s father, who formerly ran a small demolition business, gave his son some advice when he started his own business, “Always stick with Cat equipment because of the Caterpillar and Cat Dealer people,” his dad told him. It has proven to be sound advice.

Altorfer is considered a true business partner that provides “probably 98%” of the machines, parts and service support, and consumables, and a level of overall service that others can’t match.

“I can walk into Altorfer and on just a handshake with the owner or anyone there, they will accept my commitment on half a million dollars, and we’re good to go,” Zinser says. “That’s the kind of people who still exist in the world. They do things the old fashioned way, and that works for me.”

Based in Walford, Iowa, Zinser performs demolition, excavation and utility work and opened a new scrap/recycling yard in October 2013.

Primary demo tool

The company’s Cat 345C L Ultra High Demolition machine equipped with an MP20 processor is the primary demolition tool. As the centerpiece of Zinser’s Cat equipment fleet, its precision performance provides a distinct advantage.

“The 345C L enables us to win demo jobs because of what it can do,” Zinser says. “For example, we just won a bid in Des Moines on a partial demo job, because the work was only about 20 feet from a hospital’s emergency entrance. They required a precise machine that could work safely and selectively with finesse, rather than a dangerous swinging crane and wrecking ball throwing debris all over. So because of the 345C L’s precision control and safer, more selective operation, we won the job.”

Safety Paramount

Mandatory weekly toolbox meetings are conducted to review jobsite safety procedures. Crews discuss operational safety every morning on each of their jobsites.

“Safety is an important part of our company culture,” Zinser says. “We never do anything that’s marginal. If someone is uncomfortable with doing something, then we just don’t do it. Everyone on the team knows that. We just don’t mess with safety, and our strong safety record over the years is evidence of that. Sure we have some small cuts and bruises and maybe an occasional sprain, but nothing serious. Our crews are highly skilled, and we have some very talented people.”

22,000-hour excavators

Despite the fact that Zinser’s primary application is the very abrasive demolition industry, they take meticulous care of the equipment fleet, as demonstrated by the fact that the company still operates a Cat 235C and a Cat 235D, each having logged an amazing 22,000 hours of service life. Zinser’s brother, Andy, a skilled and well-trained technician, oversees the service operation. “You take care of these machines and they last forever. These Cat Excavators, they’re the heartbeat of Caterpillar,” claims Dave Zinser.

Strict maintenance practices

Most of their service work is performed in house. ”My strategy is to run new enough equipment so that we don’t have service problems,” Zinser says. “We try to keep most everything in a warranty situation. There are a few exceptions because you can’t do that with every piece of equipment, but we try to keep our fleet updated enough so that we have a five-year power train warranty on everything. Then at the end of five years, we evaluate each machine and decide whether to keep it or trade up again.”

The Zinser brothers are particularly diligent when it comes to servicing their fleet and performing oil changes at the prescribed service intervals. They also take oil samples for testing on all of their newer machines at each change and randomly sample oil on their older units.

Hands-on trade-in philosophy

Zinser takes a unique approach to trading machines. “I don’t trade in a machine because of the hours on its service meter,” he says. “I trade in a machine because maybe it doesn’t fit the needs of a certain job or because we need some tax depreciation, or maybe an upcoming job’s specs just require some newer excavators. Point is, we don’t just run out and dump machines. We have a 1973 D6C that is still as strong as ever and looks as good as anything, because we take good care of our equipment.”

Zinser is a savvy manager with a strong command of the day-to-day status of his fleet. “I have a good feel for the fleet and what we need to do machine-wise,” he says. “Our machine inventory is driven by job requirements and market conditions. If the economy turns bad, maybe we’re down to only one or two machines, and I’ll open a hot dog stand in Miami.”

A glance at the busy work schedule posted on Zinser’s office wall suggests that scenario is unlikely to happen.