New Owners Dig Molon Excavating
From their Central High School days as best friends, Mark Steckley and Scott Porter have come a long way.
“If I’d go in a restaurant without Mark, people would say, “‘Hey, where’s your brother?’” said Porter, the new co-owner of Molon Excavating with Steckly. “Even now, my kids call him Uncle Mark.”
After years of working in different industries, the two friends came together in 2017 to buy a mainstay of the Northern Michigan construction scene.
Steckly is no stranger to the industry. He owns K-Wall Poured Walls Inc., which builds foundations for residential and light commercial projects. Involvement in the two companies means relying on “good people,” he said.
“That’s the beauty of K-Wall and Molon,” he said. “At both places, a lot of business comes from word of mouth, and that comes from quality work and meeting deadlines.”
Porter’s journey to Molon Excavating was less straightforward: His globe-trotting career in logistics and corporate acquisitions and mergers – “from Singapore to San Diego,” he said – sent him away from home for long stretches of time.
“When my little daughter would cry her eyes out because I had to be gone, say, to Australia for two weeks, I started thinking it was time to buy or start a company here and stay closer to home,” he said.
Construction was not something he’d considered.
“If you had told me a year ago that I would buy an excavating company, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he said.
It was Steckly who presented the idea last year over lunch. He’d been fishing with one of the longtime owners of Molon, Kent Walton.
“Kent was trying to come up with an exit strategy,” Steckley said. “He wanted someone who would continue the company brand.”
From the start, the friends found the idea appealing, but nonetheless conducted due diligence in researching Molon, which employs 60.
“When we started looking at Molon, there were things that intrigued us – especially the staff and the reputation,” said Porter. “But we also paid attention to what customers said, and we interviewed several of them. It’s a strong brand.”
The two partners also assessed their combined strengths and weaknesses.
“Mark and I come from different backgrounds,” Porter said. “All of his work experience is applicable to what Molon does, and some of mine is.”
For now, Steckly deals primarily with site management and Porter concentrates mostly on the business management side, with the option to role-share in the future.
“We’re still learning how it’s been done for years by Kent Walton and [co-owner] Mike Walton. They did a great job,” Mark said. “I think at some point, Scott will also be managing projects.”
The Goal: Controlled Growth
It’s early in the transition process, but the two new owners already know they want to grow the company in a deliberate manner that builds upon what’s gone before.
“Kent and Mike have worked hard to make Molon what it is,” Porter said. “We don’t want to make the mistake of thinking we can just come in and automatically do it all better, faster, stronger.”
Both say they believe Molon’s cadre of experienced superintendents, equipment operators and laborers can help the company capitalize on Grand Traverse region’s robust construction trend.
“Some of them have been with the Waltons since the beginning,” Steckly said. “They’ve done a great job and good people are a hot commodity.”
Reasons for Optimism
The friends say they are upbeat about the company’s future.
Kent Walton and his cousin Mike Walton, who ran Molon together for nearly 20 years and who have some 80 years of combined experience in the excavation business, have agreed to continue their roles as president and vice president, respectively.
Another reason for optimism: Molon already has plenty of work.
It has nearly completed its part in phase one of the multi-phase The Moorings and Leelanau Flats project on the hillside above Tom’s Food Market on West Bay Shore Drive. Legal issues between the project’s principal investors have apparently been settled, so Molon can now complete a few unfinished construction details.
Porter said 2018 is shaping up to be a “very busy year overall,” with more than 20 projects on the books.
There’s the new music building at Interlochen Center for the Arts (Molon’s sub-contracting work there is well underway), excavation for a large parking deck at Munson Medical Center and extensive prep work for the Vineyard Ridge 47-home subdivision located on Center Road on Old Mission Peninsula.
Some other projects include a basement addition to Pangea’s Pizza Pub in downtown Traverse City, a new Rite Aid at the intersection of Garfield and Munson avenues, Serra Traverse City’s new Toyota facility and a new Pepsi plant near Chum’s Corner.
This summer, Molon will start work on the next two phases of Ridge45 project, an 232-unit apartment development off Lafranier Road.
“We also have commitments for several other good projects coming to town in 2018,” Porter said.
Recruit, Train and Retain Employees
Like many in the industry, Molon is hiring in what’s become a tight labor skilled trades market. Porter said the goal at Molon is to create a place where potential hires see a “stable future.”
“That’s a strategic focus of the company,” he said. “We’re putting together a lot of organizational elements to make that happen. Recruitment techniques, onboarding policies and retention efforts are all part of it.”
Extending the Construction Season
To reduce winter layoffs, the company provides snow removal services to large, commercial parking customers. One way to create more stability in Molon’s workforce, said Porter, is to expand the building season. He said changing weather patterns could help.
“If the mild weather of these past few winters becomes the new norm, I think we need to adapt,” he said.
“You can construct in winter. It’s a little more cumbersome, but I think we’ll see more and more winter construction.”
No matter what the weather brings, Porter said he and Steckly “feel good” about the transition.
“All the fundamental elements are here. The former owners are still part of the management team. We want to experience controlled growth,” he said. “And the [construction] economy around here has definitely taken off.”