In operation since 1967, CVA Inc. (CVA) has seen a fair number of corporate transformations over the years. Originally founded by Tony Campellone, the Pennsylvania-based company began as a digging service for plumbers and trenchers; however, expanded into the company’s current iteration as a complete site-work preparation company when CVA’s reputation grew and more clients came a-knocking.
“We do land clearing, erosion control, sanitary sewer, storm sewer, water main and services, curb and paving,” says Tony DiSandro, vice president of CVA, adding that the company does not get involved with the planning stages of a construction project. “When we get a project, all of the planning is done, but we may do some value engineering early on,” he continues. “Some people might call us and say, ‘What do you think, we’re doing this,’ and we’ll say something like, ‘Nah, that’s not going to work.’ So we put a little input in, but not to the extent of what civil engineers do.”
In the business to do everything but build the house, CVA has prepared construction sites for Toll Brothers Inc. (Toll Brothers), Pulte Homes Inc. and K. Hovnanian Homes, to name a few.
“We also work for developers that are a one-man gang, but it ranges from real small to very large,” says DiSandro. “We’ve even worked for a builder who’s just one man building four or five homes, and we’ll do the site work for him.”
Not surprisingly, determining which company or developer that CVA works with depends on market demand. DiSandro says the current development trend is townhomes, so the jobs tend to be smaller yet more frequent. However, this does not mean that the larger jobs have disappeared. “The larger jobs are around, but right now we’re on the smaller side of things,” he says.
Digging the projects
The larger projects in CVA’s past run the gamut. “A big project for us could be $8 or $9 million,” says DiSandro. “It could be 300 homes. But we also just did a job recently that has only two lots, so we’re all over the spectrum.”
Of course, some points on any spectrum are more unique than others, such as CVA’s recent project in Raritan Township, N.J., where the company blasted approximately 3 acres of rock in a basin that was 30 feet deep. “It was a subdivision for Toll Brothers, and we had to blast and remove all of the rock,” says DiSandro. “It was fun, but you couldn’t stand too close to it.”
Working as a land preparation company often requires CVA to get creative with the company’s development process. For the aforementioned project in Raritan Township, N.J., CVA processed the 3 acres worth of rock, crushed it down to gravel and used it as backfill for the site and various utility locations and roads. Therefore, the company reused the environmental materials rather than purchasing outside elements to fulfill a project’s requirements.
When the company’s backlog fills up, CVA is known to have approximately 100 employees, all working within a 50-mile radius of the company’s headquarters in Fairless Hills, Pa. “In the winter, though, we can be down to 30 people,” says DiSandro.
Even though it is early in 2014, CVA is well on its way. “We currently have enough work booked through to equal last year already,” says DiSandro. “However, we cannot pinpoint when a project will start due to home sales and township approvals.”
Although CVA brings in more than enough to continue growing, DiSandro cites fuel as the biggest factor eating into the company’s revenue. “Fuel is a big expense,” he says. “We own all of our own equipment, but the cost of operating such large equipment keeps growing while the profit margin keeps reducing.”
To circumvent fuel costs, CVA purchased a fuel truck and now buys fuel through a terminal. “This allows us to get the lowest possible price,” he says. “We have an underground tank, here at our base, and then off-site projects require the tanker.”
DiSandro proudly admits that another cost-cutting technique adapted by the company is self-performing as much work as possible with the company’s own gear and crews. Other than land clearing, surveying and blasting, CVA has the capabilities of preparing a site for any size project, which means less work subcontracted out to other parties and more income coming into the company.
As for Tony DiSandro himself, he believes the best financial motivators are the people he works with. “We are a team,” he says proudly. Together, the CVA team, from the corporate hierarchy to the earthmover operators, is responsible for making CVA Inc. an essential part of the construction and development industry of Pennsylvania.
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