Case Studies

Ducky Johnson Home Elevations

Three generations of heavy lifting in the Eastern United States

Ducky Johnson Home Elevations (DJHE) is a growing home raising and preservation business based in Grand Ridge, Fla. The company has been in the Johnson family through three generations and incorporates several family members and friends from DJHE’s hometown. Over the last decade, the business has expanded throughout the Eastern Seaboard, offering quick response to the needs of flood victims facing insurance hikes in the wake of disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.

“Sometimes life has a lot to do with luck,” explains Danny McKearan, COO and general manager of DJHE. McKearan has a degree in construction engineering from the University of Southern Mississippi and prior to his current position, had traveled around the world working in the industry. When he and his wife decided to settle down and start a family, the couple moved home to New Orleans. McKearan continued to work in construction as a general contractor.

“As a general contractor, I’ve always dealt with settling problems and I had experience with house leveling,” he explains. “My foray into the legitimate world of home elevation with unified jacking machines came about after Hurricane Katrina. My house was under 8 feet of water and a large percentage of our friends and family has been flooded. Federal law dictates that if the flood damage for a building is more than 50 percent, that house meets a new base flood elevation. I quickly realized this was the industry to be in. I wouldn’t have gotten into this industry if I lived in Iowa.”

The right equipment and experience for the job

DJHE stands apart from other contractors with experience. The business owns eight unified hydraulic jack machines and many of the in-house operators have been working with the same type of equipment for decades. After disasters such as hurricanes, a market vacuum develops and often inexperienced contractors, usually well-intentioned, will rush in to fill demand for these services. In the year after Hurricane Sandy hit, these fill-in-house elevators dropped four houses. DJHE has established a proven track record and homeowners can rest easy knowing work will be performed safety and efficiently.

The company also has a wealth of experienced operators to work with. “Ducky was one of 18 children, so this is a very large family,” McKearan notes. “There are a lot of resources we can tap into and this bulk-owned benefit allows us to respond quickly. Another benefit is that quality control issues tend to take care of themselves when everyone has to sit around the same table at Thanksgiving.”

The right response

The team’s work after Hurricane Katrina has given the company unparalleled experience with large response and government grant programs. After Hurricane Sandy, DJHE was prepared to get to work in New York and New Jersey. While the response assistance programs vary, the team is better prepared to work with homeowners, insurance companies and government agencies to put together a plan that can assist those affected.

“Looking back, after Katrina people formed sense of community and rallied together,” McKearan recounts. “Federal money came in and spurred on business and development. People became interested again, who had either moved away or never lived there. It became important to be part of the rebuild. We think the same things can happen in New Jersey.”

In 2013, DJHE lifted around 300 homes in New Jersey and New York alone. Over the last five years, the team has averaged 1,000 houses per year. “The average house mover in New Jersey might perform 50 to 60 jobs each year,” McKearan explains. “The lack of resources is part of the problem and we are happy to be part of solution. We have gotten involved with the New Jersey Builders Association [NJBA], which has been great because there is an understanding that there is a demand here that locals cannot meet in the short term. It is not as if this thing happened that required a skillset that everybody has. New Jersey maybe had a few unified jacking machines in whole state. We have a large family to keep busy doing what we are good at. When we come into an area such as New Jersey, we want to complement the contractors who are here rather than take local work and push them out.”

Looking ahead

DJHE is constantly working toward increased efficiency and better response time. The business will continue to serve the same niche with no major plans to diversify services. McKearan and his team see a bright future in New York and New Jersey. “I think we will start to see these states respond in the same way Louisiana did after Katrina,” he explains. “Louisiana had its share of startup problems, but now there is a really good grant-oriented program in place.”

McKearan goes on to note that, for construction in general, he believes the industry is set up to grow. “We are going to make flood insurance pay for itself,” he continues. “In instances such as those in Louisiana and New Jersey, homes that had been paying $1,200 each year for flood insurance are going up to $20,000 year. It makes economic sense to raise your house. This issue will not be put to bed when the work in New Jersey is over. The sea level continues to rise and people are limited in options. Everybody could move inland, which might make sense, but it’s not going to happen. I think home elevation will be a major part of the solution.”

DJHE strives to be on front end of the house-lifting niche. McKearan and his team are less concerned about the business’ size and more concerned about doing the work right. The crew continues to build on a solid foundation of quality, integrity and experience. In the coming decades, Ducky Johnson Home Elevations will grow organically, standing out as a preferred contractor for these unique and challenging projects.

Published on: August 22, 2014

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