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Following a Winning Formula

Features - Scrap Industry News

D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. is preparing to deploy its successful methods in several segments of the C&D Recyclign arena.

Brian Taylor August 13, 2001

There is no question that, as it enters its fifth decade, the D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. has come a long way. It is equally clear, however, that the company’s leaders are implementing a strategy that has the company on a path to continue its amazing growth pattern into the next century.

Although demolition remains the single largest segment of the family business, the integrated recycling operations and, more recently, the construction contracting division, are generating new streams of revenue for the Greensboro, N.C., company.

At the same time D.H. Griffin is expanding its well-established demolition and scrap metal processing operations, the company is also overseeing the growth of a commercial general contracting division and is making plans to greatly expand its presence in the C&D debris recycling industry.

HUMBLE ORIGINS, FOLLOWED BY GROWTH AND DIVERSIFICATION

Demolition work, even with heavy equipment, can be a rugged and dangerous job. David Griffin Sr. started his own demolition firm in 1959, specializing primarily in smaller structures and tearing out and dismantling as much salvageable material as possible.

"We started with a couple of men doing things by hand, just tearing down houses and small buildings," says the elder Griffin, who is currently president of the firm. "We did a lot of dismantling and tearing down by hand, trying to salvage lumber to resell."

Following a philosophy of "treating people the way they want to be treated" and not shying away from hard work, the D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. grew to become one of the southeast’s leading demolition contracting firms.

By the late 1960s, the company owned its own airplane so that Griffin Sr. and other project supervisors could fly to job sites in other states and meet with customers and field managers.

While the demolition business was growing at a healthy pace, the company also expanded into related businesses.

"In 1973, we opened up our scrap yard and went into the scrap metal and recycling business," says David Griffin Jr., who is a current vice president with the company. "And in 1984, we established an environmental arm, which specializes in the removal of asbestos and hazardous waste from structures in conjunction with demolition or as a stand-alone project," he adds.

The 1990s brought further extensions into related businesses, including the starting of an industrial leak repair business in 1995. The next year marked one of the most ambitious forays, when D.H. Griffin Construction Co. LLC was founded, with its main office in Raleigh, N.C.

The construction division has successfully bid on commercial and institutional projects in North Carolina and Florida, drawing on the reputation of the D.H. Griffin name as well as on the talents of several key people who came to D.H. Griffin from Centex Rooney Construction Co., a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based contractor that is part of one of the nation’s five largest general contracting companies.

The growth experienced by the company has led not only to annual increases in revenues, but also to a sense of security that can be enjoyed when a company has diverse operations. "Usually, we’ve got one division that is going strong, even if something else is down," says David Sr.

EYEING THE C&D OPTIONS

Throughout its first 40 years of existence, D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. has had recycling as a core business opportunity. Initially focusing on the salvage and re-sale of items, the company quickly began realizing the opportunities in the scrap metal market.

Now, David Sr., David Jr. and other corporate officers see the recycling of concrete and waste wood as the next logical business to pursue. Concrete crushing will not be entirely new for the company, which has had a part in recycling from 300,000 to 500,000 tons of concrete annually in recent years. Much of that work, however, has been performed on job sites by subcontractors, which will continue to be a method employed by D.H. Griffin.

In addition to on-site concrete crushing, however, the company is also preparing to locate up to three concrete and/or waste wood processing facilities in North Carolina. "We’d like to have three concrete operations in the Carolinas, in the Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte markets," says David Jr.

The likeliest site to go online first will be in Greensboro, where concrete crushing may take place at a C&D landfill operated by D.H. Griffin there. "I think, processed properly, there are a lot of markets for the materials produced by crushing in roads and as base material," says David Jr.

David Jr. and other officers of the company believe the waste wood stream can also be tapped for marketable materials. "Another thing we’re looking into is a venture that would involve the recycling of C&D wood waste," says David Jr. "It presents a large challenge, but we’re working on some projects right now that could open up some new technology for C&D wood. It’s in the early development stages, but it has a very promising future. That would keep it out of the landfills."

The company may best be able to ensure that recycled aggregates and waste wood products become a steady component of the aggregates industry in the Carolinas by retaining D.H. Griffin’s presence in the C&D landfill market. "We’re trying to grow our presence in the C&D landfill industry," says David Jr. "We see our future as having some C&D landfills, but our goal would be to recover 60% of the flow of waste, through metals recovery, concrete recovery and wood recovery. There will always be some waste, but our goal is to minimize."

Norbert Hector, president of D.H. Griffin Construction Co. LLC, has also been involved in setting up the C&D recycling operations. "In C&D recycling, there is easily 50% that you can recover by weight for recycling," he states. "There is a definite market for the concrete and steel, and for some of the wood there is a market as boiler fuel. We’d also like to pull some other material, such as cardboard and some plastics," he adds.

CONTROLLING THE TIMETABLE

Synergy is a concept that can be tough to define at some corporations, but management at D.H. Griffin can spell out examples of how it sees cooperation between its various operating units both helping the company and promoting the concept of recycling.

As both a general construction contractor and demolition contractor, D.H. Griffin can offer "turn-key" service from the demolition of existing structures to the construction of a new one. According to David Jr., when the company can manage a project over the entire spectrum, it can establish a more flexible timetable to recover and recycle materials than it might be able to when demolishing on behalf of another contractor.

"Today, so many construction projects are fast track that the general contractor wants the demolition contractor off the site so fast that there may not be time to crush concrete," he explains. "Time can be a barrier if a project is on a fast track."

"I think our new capabilities as a general contractor can help that," David Jr. adds. "If we’re the general contractor, we can change some critical path areas to allow for concrete crushing to be performed on-site and still meet the deadlines. By being in the construction business, we can offer a turnkey package to a developer and still accomplish the goals of recycling. It gives D.H. Griffin a unique niche in the industry—three entities—in construction, demolition and scrap metal—working together."

In addition to the potential hurdles caused by tight deadlines, familiarity with the concrete recycling process can be a barrier to on-site concrete crushing. "Often, we do have to explain the concept of crushing on-site to developers or land owners, but it is becoming more widely understood," David Jr. notes. "Recycling of concrete is, I think, still in its infancy stages, compared to the recycling of metals."

But the company’s leaders believe the signs pointing to increased concrete crushing are clear. Although low-cost land-filling of C&D debris is still available in the Carolinas, there may be factors beyond tipping fees to push C&D recycling in the Southeast.

"All projects are price-driven, but if you’re a Fortune 500 company that is publicly committed to a recycling program, you may be willing to pay a little extra to see the recycling carried out to its fullest capabilities," notes David Jr.

"In a downtown or central city location, your transportation costs can be a lot less if you use recycled aggregate instead of shipping material in from a quarry," he adds. "And it’s the same with hauling rubble to a landfill; it might be easier and less expensive to find a nearby construction site to take your material to be processed."

Landfill prices will remain a key issue, however, and D.H. Griffin is already running into higher landfill prices in Florida and other states where it has a significant market presence. "I think the main thing driving change toward C&D recycling is that landfill prices have increased," says David Jr.

"We’re hoping to get in to C&D recycling in a larger way, and it’s what we’re going to have to do," remarks David Sr. "And it’s because of higher landfill prices. A lot of our land-filling takes place at landfills we don’t own," he adds.

"We believe that the market for processed C&D materials is expanding," says Norbert Hector. "We may be a little ahead of our time, but in another ten years, we think it will be very prevalent in the Southeast."

ADHERING TO THE PHILOSOPHY

As with any other company, D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. is in business to be profitable and remain viable. But the company’s founder and his son have also quite clearly staked their names and reputations on a company that is known for adhering to certain philosophies.

Some of those philosophies can be found in David Sr.’s earlier remarks about treating people the way they should be treated and in the merits of hard work. Treating people well at D.H. Griffin has meant not only treating customers well, but also employees. "We’re committed to our people. We have over 100 employees who have been with us 20 years or longer," says David Jr. "I’m a firm believer that we have accomplished what we have because of the hard work of our employees."

Both David Sr. and David Jr. speak highly of long-term employees such as Larry Fields, Robert Fields, David Sr.’s wife Marylene Griffin, Jimmy Griffin, Bobby Griffin, Kenny Bates, J.C. Blanton, and the recently deceased Lawrence Fields Sr. and Albert Bivins Sr. The company has also presented opportunities to family members such as David Sr.’s two daughters Benita and Melody. Son-in-law Lee London also heads D.H. Griffin’s environmental subsidiary while son-in-law Johnny Mitchell is the head of purchasing and warehousing.

The company safety record is also a reflection of the value it places on its 700 employees, corporate officers note.

And as might befit a company that has its origins in trying to salvage timber beams and pieces of lumber for resale, another core philosophy is to recycle and reuse whatever can be salvaged from a structure.

"The idea to save things and to salvage is still present," says David Sr. "I get on them every day about throwing things out," he quips in regard to younger employees.

While dismantling is viewed by some as increasingly archaic in the world of fast-track construction and demolition, David Jr. sees it as still pertinent. "It’s still a worthwhile effort," he remarks. "It’s a commitment we have to recycling as a company. We hate to see things destroyed. It’s a company policy—if we think we can sell it, we try to save it."

The firm enters its fifth decade having exceeded the expectations of its founder, and is poised to continue growing beyond the parameters of today’s company.

A RECYCLING PLAY AT TURNER FIELD

If demolition and construction clients of D.H. Griffin have questions about the viability of on-site concrete crushing, the company can simply urge them to tune into an Atlanta Braves baseball game.

D.H. Griffin, along with subcontractor Dykes Paving of Atlanta, was able to turn the demolition of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and the adjacent construction of Turner Field in 1997 and 1998 into a case study of on-site concrete crushing.

"We recycled 100,000 tons of concrete," David Griffin Jr. says of the efforts of his company and Dykes Paving at the Atlanta sites, where D.H. Griffin Wrecking had the demolition contract for the old stadium and D.H. Griffin Construction had the contract to make the parking lots for Turner Field. "We were able to utilize the whole 100,000 tons as base material for the new parking lots," says David Jr. "So not only did we recycle it, we used it right on site."

D.H. Griffin’s scrap metal arm also got into the action, recovering 10,000 tons of steel from the demolished Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Still Mindful of Metal

D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. has seen for some time the wisdom of running a scrap metal processing operation in tandem with its demolition business.

The company opened its first scrap facility in 1973, and currently operates a 37-acre facility in Greensboro, with 30 acres of land owned across the street for future expansion. A scrap shear and a nonferrous baler are operated at the Greensboro site, while auto salvage and recycling operations are also conducted.

The company has recently expanded its presence in the scrap metal industry by becoming a 50% partner at a new greenfield scrap facility in Knoxville, Tenn. According to David Griffin Jr., the new operation, known as Tennessee Metals, is accepting both ferrous and nonferrous metals for processing.

The new site has both a rail spur and access to the inland waterway system via the Tennessee River. "We see in the future that the more means you have of moving the scrap, the more aggressive you can be in the industry," says David Jr. "The yard has room to grow," he adds.

D.H. Griffin is working with five Tennessee scrap metal partners who own the other 50% stake in the venture. "We’re very happy to be partnered with David Davis, Sheila Davis, Harry Brown, Eddie Parton II and William Randolph. We see this as a great opportunity to make gains in that market," says David Jr.

The author is the editor of C&D Recycler.

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