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Demolishing and Recycling

By Anne Claire Broughton
taken from Recycling Today, January 1994


Launched with little fanfare, D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. has evolved into a large, vertically-integrated scrap recovery and demolition operation.

When David Griffin Sr. began dismantling his first building in 1959, he didn't realize the extent to which his business would develop. Today, D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co., Greensboro, N.C., offers turnkey service for scrap-intensive demolition projects, from the planning stages through the final documentation and close-out.

"We perform the asbestos survey, remove asbestos-containing materials and provide any other necessary environmental cleanup - such as lead abatement or PCB removal - prior to demolition. We do the actual demolition, recover any scrap materials or equipment that may be in the facility and handle environmental remediation of the site if it's required. All of that is done under one contract," explains David Griffin Jr., estimator and project manager for D.H. Griffin.

In addition, says the younger Griffin, the company's experience in the scrap industry has an advantage. D.H. Griffin has operated its own 15-acre scrap yard since 1973.

"Many demolition contractors are just demolition contractors, and they are going to sell to a local scrap yard," he says. "We, on the other hand, can usually prepare the steel ourselves and go directly to a steel mill for a better price. This is reflected in our bid. In a lot of cases, we have saved owners in the hundreds of thousands of dollars on large projects...and they have the comfort of dealing with one company instead of five."

D.H. Griffin is one of the rare companies in the U.S. which offers turnkey service in the demolition and scrap industries and operates on a more than local level, says Griffin.

"There are a selected few in the industry that offer a real turnkey service, that can truly perform everything in-house," he says. "There are a lot of people who advertise turnkey service, but just turn around and subcontract. Maybe 100 companies nationally are turnkey, but most operate locally. Only about 10 work on a national and international level."

Internationally, D.H. Griffin was awarded the contract several years ago for an explosive demolition job in Paris involving the removal of a large power plant.

This was one of the largest industrial demolition projects in the world, says Griffin, and it took the company about three months of engineering, planning and preparing the building.

"The total project involved 30,000 tons of steel and more than four million pounds of nonferrous," he adds. "People from all over the world were bidding on it. We'll certainly do more projects like that if the opportunity arises."

Another notable project, this one domestic, was the dismantling of an 80-acre Phillips 66 oil refinery in Kansas City, Kansas.

"That project involved about 2.5 million pounds of nonferrous and 24,000 of ferrous," says Griffin. "It took about 80 people 16 months to complete. That was a major dismantlement job. Most jobs are smaller. Right now we have 20 projects going in various parts of the country, with approximately 75 percent of them in the Southeastern U.S."

The company does some projects that are solely scrap, demolition or environmental remediation, but D.H. Griffin has its best competitive advantage when a project involves all three elements, says Griffin, and requires tight deadlines.

"We have a better opportunity when it's a large project that's fast track, and time is of the essence. We feel we can move as fast as any contractor in the U.S. when time is short. That's when we feel we are at our peak. Our people are trained this way, and we have the modern demolition and scrap process equipment to help us move a project in a fast, expedient manner."

DIVINE BEGINNINGS

This fast track approach is a long way from where the elder Griffin started in 1959. At that time, his wife's brother was dismantling a church and saving all the lumber to build a house. He got discouraged with the project and sold the church to the Griffins.

"My parents bought the remainder of the church, and the lot and the house being built, with the foundation laid, all for $600," explains the younger Griffin.

The elder Griffin was making his living building clothesline posts, using pipes he bought from scrap and demolition operations. He worked on dismantling the church in his free time."

"While he was doing that, a city official came by and asked if he would like to submit a bid for some houses coming down nearby," says the younger Griffin. "He realized he could get paid to do this kind of work. So he bid on the houses and got the job."

For the first two years, the company founder did all his dismantling work by hand. He saved the lumber and sold it. After two years, he bought his first bulldozer and loader. From there, the company continued to grow and add more equipment as needed, says Griffin.

"Today, we are up to more than 200 pieces of specialized scrap and demolition equipment ranging from small Bobcat skid steer loaders to 120,000-pound excavators with LaBounty Shear attachments."

Griffin speculates that his father did not anticipate the extent to which the company would grow over the years, but says this growth was possible because of the older Griffin's ability to adapt to the changing needs of customers and willingness to meet tight deadlines.

"We have a good reputation in the construction industry for being able to get in and get out of a large, fast-track project and turn it over for new construction on time," says Griffin.

Since all demolition jobs have scrap metal in them, says Griffin, his father decided in 1973 that it would cost-effective to open his own scrap yard rather than continuing to sell to local scrap processors.

We buy scrap from industrial facilities within a 75-mile radius of Greensboro, and sell processed material to steel mills and re-refineries in our general area. We also process white goods generated by two local municipal programs."

D.H. Griffin's Greensboro headquarters consists of 37 acres, including the demolition operation, the scrap yard, the salvage yard and the transportation fleet, according to Griffin.

The company also maintains offices in Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta, Ga., and New Orleans, La. Several small satelite offices, also in the Southeast, bring the total number of employees to 400.

Like many scrap and demolition businesses, D.H. Griffin is very much a family operation. Griffin's mother, Marylene Griffin, is president of DARI, and holds various positions in the other divisions. Both of his sisters, along with other family members, are also active in the company.

Out of 400 employees, about 30 are family members, says Griffin. "I think we work well together as a family."

Griffin himself, with some engineering background, has spent his entire business career with the family business.

The elder Griffin has begun to turn more of the everyday operations of the company over to his son, he explains jovially. "I plan to slow down a little over the next few years. In fact, this year I've played right much golf and let David Jr. and some of the others work more."

SCRAP SIDE

D.H. Griffin's scrap yard handles ferrous and nonferrous materials, materials that can be sold for reuse such as used steel beams and pipes and various other types of salvageable equipment.

The company does not recycle concrete and asphalt at its Greensboro facility due to the ready availability of virgin aggregate in the region, which makes recycling of those materials prohibitive.

"In various cities where it's economically feasible, we are recycling concrete," says the younger Griffin. "We do a lot of conrete recycling in Louisiana, as the nearest rock quarry to New Orleans is about 30 miles from downtown. On some other projects it's being landfilled. It really depends on the economics of the area."

The scrap operation processes about 3,000 tons per month. In addition, he adds, other projects spread around the country process an additional 3,000 tons per month, approximately.

The company uses an HRB8 Harris baler for aluminum, stainless and copper. Ferrous is processed using a 1,000-ton Harris shear, and material that is not shearable is prepared with a cutting torch. The resulting steel scrap is sold to steel mills.

"In the company as a whole, we have balers, shears, two LaBounty shears mounted on hydraulic excavators -- when they aren't busy on our demolition jobs we use them in the scrap yard. We also have about 30 excavators with grapples and magnet attachments, which travel all over the United States to wherever they are most needed."

The LaBounty shears have helped speed up the demolition process, says Griffin, because they cut materials without the use of a flame.

"If there is the potential of flammable gas or residue in a pipe, it's dangerous to use a torch to cut it," explains Griffin. "Shears are also useful with lead paint, since OSHA regulations limit the use of torches on lead-based paint."

MARKET FLEXIBILITY

Because D.H. Griffin operates nationally, the company can take on projects in states where the markets are the most healthy, a useful strategy in recessionary times.

We have the flexibility to work in other states," says Griffin, "so if the Carolinas and the rest of this region is slow, Louisiana and Texas may be booming. When we are working in 11 different states, as we are now, we can go where the markets are good."

Although market conditions were slower in 1991 and 1992 due to the recession, says Griffin, 1993 was a good year for D.H. Griffin.

"We have lots of ongoing industrial dismantlement, demolition and environmental projects," he says. "On our demolition projects, about 60 percent of our work is for Fortune 500 companies. This insulates us from recessionary times as well."

Markets for steel, as all ferrous processors have been pleased to note, have been especially good during the last few months, says Griffin. Non-ferrous markets, however, continue to be slow.

Environmental issues, especially lead abatement, play a significant role in the scrap and demolition industries today, says Griffin.

"We are very knowledgeable about environmental issues, including lead. But regulations regarding lead will certainly affect the scrap industry. You have to address how you are going to handle it, and the proper protection of your workers who are going to handle it, which can be a big expense. You have to determine the content of the material. If it is higher than the standards, you have to handle it as hazardous waste."

DARI is the environmental division of D.H. Griffin, handling asbestos removal on projects and dealing with compliance issues for the entire company, says Griffin.

"DARI employs 120 people, of which some are environmental engineers," he explains. "They handle all the notification requirements to federal, state and local regulatory authorities, including OSHA and EPA. We deal with regulatory agencies on a daily basis."

D.H. Griffin has to be licensed in each state the company works in, which makes for significant paperwork, says Griffin, as well as significant rewards.

"When we are working for a Fortune 500 company in North Carolina, they may ask us to work on their plant in Louisiana, and we can," he explains. "it's good to have that relationship.

The downside is that it costs a lot of money to stay in compliance and keep all that going on a multi-state basis. Sometimes you think it would be nice to work only in North Carolina, have only one license and come home every night. But then we would suffer more when the markets in North Carolina are bad."

Regulatory issues have changed the industry, observes Griffin. Each new rule results in compliance and cleanup expenses.

"It's getting more expensive every year to do demolition and dismantlement work," he says. "Being large helps. Smaller demolition businesses are going under due to costs. If you can't afford to comply, (regulators) will put you out of business."

One casualty of stricter environmental regulations has been the local C&D landfill business, says Griffin.

"Five years ago, there were 21 C&D landfills in our area, and now there are three, due to stricter environmental controls and compliance. Many who weren't complying were closed down for not following general requirements. Some were just not willing to comply. Our Landfill is in a good spot, on about 40 acres. It's not a major part of our business in total dollars, but it has been very good to us. In fact, I wish we had another one."

Safety is an important issue, particularly in the demolition side, Griffin adds. This is important to Fortune 500 companies.

"We have one of the best safety records among specialty contractors in the U.S., and that helps. The Fortune 500 are looking for contractors that are up-to-date on regulations and can safely and economically perform the job in a competitive marketplace."

On the federal level, Griffin is concerned with the effect of Superfund reauthorization in the scrap industry.

"With some of the pending cases involving Superfund liability where scrap processors are potentially responsible parties, we don't think scrap processors should bear the brunt of cleanup costs, he says. "I'm hoping Superfund reauthorization will release some of that responsibility."

HARD WORK

Both the older and younger Griffin stress the importance of hard work as key to the company's success. The father sums it up neatly.

"You've got to go out and get some jobs, work hard, work long hours and get those projects done," he says.

"Be honest with people, work hard, and don't tell a customer you can do something if you can't. Always strive to meet deadlines. Scheduling and deadlines are very important to companies," adds the younger Griffin.

"We also attribute much of the company's success to the efforts of all the dedicated people we've had working for us over the years."

D.H. Griffin will continue to grow in the environmental and demolition markets, the younger Griffin foresees, with a focus on work for the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense.

"For the DOE, there are large nuclear energy sites that have been operating to the past 20 to 50 years. You have to have the environmental knowledge for this kind of work. Decommissioning military sites for the DOD is also a growth area."

The company will also continue its close working relationship with Fortune 500 companies, he adds, at least partly because the company turns up more profit on a job when more scrap is present.

"They are our main line of work. I like dismantling a 10-story building too, but it won't generate the quantity of scrap an oil refinery or a chemical plant will where just about everything is recyclable. In a 10-story building, much of it has to be landfilled."

Increased involvement in C&D material recycling is likely for D.H. Griffin's future, adds Griffin.

"Although it is still in the development stages for us, we are keeping an eye on the market trends for recycling concrete, asphalt and wood."

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