Tschiggfrie Excavating Co.
- Written by: Molly Shaw
- Produced by: Tschiggfrie Excavating Co.
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
For 50 years Tschiggfrie Excavating Co. (Tschiggfrie) has stayed ahead of the Midwest competition by finding innovative solutions to traditional excavation, construction and underground work. “We’ve always been the first people on the block to bring a new idea into the industry,” shares Rod Tschiggfrie, second-generation vice president and general manager of Tschiggfrie. “That really makes a difference, because there are plenty of companies out there good at everyday jobs; you’ve got to find a way to differentiate yourself.”
Rags to Riches
Rod, who says he’s been running a backhoe since he was only 7 years old, learned how to be inventive early on from his father, Edward Tschiggfrie. Edward founded the Iowa-based company in 1963 out of nearly nothing. “With barely a high school education, instead, he was working three jobs and needed a little extra money to buy an automobile,” Rod explains. “He went to the bank and they turned him down for a car loan.”
When Edward spotted a used Caterpillar tractor for sale on the side of the road it sparked an idea. “He went back to the bank and they approved him for a loan to buy the Caterpillar,” recalls Rod. “He purchased it for $2,400 and didn’t even know how to start it at first. But once he traveled down that gravel road, every farmer stopped him to do some kind of work. It took him a month to get it going, but once he completed his first job, it took off. A couple of years later, it was necessary for Ed to hire his first employee; the rest is history. We’ve grown into a self-sufficient company working across three states.”
People Make the Difference
Today, the union company is based in Dubuque, Iowa, and serves customers throughout Wisconsin and Illinois. “We have around 100 employees now, and, in the work season, it fluctuates on the workload,” adds Rod. “We’ve remained a small, family company and we always work together as a team.”
Rod admits its Tschiggfrie’s employees that truly make the difference. “We have people who’ve been here for three decades or more,” he says. “They’re expertise and ingenuity is very valuable. We also have second-generation employees. It says a lot when a family commits decades of service to a company. When we see people retire, it’s a sad day. Anybody can go out and buy a piece of equipment, but it’s all about the people, the knowledge and the pride we put into every job.”
Friendly Competition & Innovation
Today, Tschiggfrie operates two maintenance facilities and owns 356 pieces of equipment; however, 12 years ago the company owned and operated more than 20 mines and quarries, three asphalt plants, four crushing operations and four sand pits. Tschiggfrie was operating with almost 600 pieces of equipment, 300 employees and two shifts in the crushing sector of the business.
“Having our own material and producing our own products made us efficient and flexible,” explains Rod. “We could get products to a site on our own time and schedule, but we decided to downsize so we sold some of this to Mathy Construction [Mathy] out of Wisconsin. With this downsizing of our company, 200 pieces of equipment were sold and our workforce was cut in half.”
Rod is proud to note the company has carried on the tradition. “We continue to do business with Mathy hand-in-hand on a daily basis,” continues Rod. “We’re typically subcontractors for them, or vice versa. Selling our material operations helped us focus on equipment and projects and after downsizing to Mathy, my father was able to semi-retire.”
According to Rod, Tschiggfrie has been the major land developer in Dubuqueland through the building/owning of residential/commercial subdivisions along with its latest creation of a 400-unit manufactured housing park. “We are called the finest in Iowa,” he says proudly.
Although Tschiggfrie is in competitive markets, Rod says the company is on a first-name basis with area contractors, fostering positive relationships with them like it has with Mathy. “The other night we were at a fundraiser and I sat right next to three other contractors and we all enjoyed our dinner,” he says. “That’s one thing about the Midwest, there’s a hometown feel and a sense of friendly competition.”
While Tschiggfrie is personable with its competition, the company isn’t afraid to differentiate itself. “On the Highway 20 project in Iowa we teamed up with Mathy to install 53 miles of sub drain,” shares Rod. “The DOT couldn’t figure out the best way to remove the concrete, install the sub drain and lay the asphalt; their specs called for a 2-foot wide trench. I took an old rock trencher and modified it to saw a 12-inch groove into the concrete, essentially cutting the project materials and costs in half for a savings of about $721,000. The DOT shares half of the price savings with the contractor that presents/implements the idea to them. This is why you need to be innovative; everyone is good at doing things the usual way. It’s about finding new solutions that set you apart.”
In its home city of Dubuque, Tschiggfrie has helped modernize aging infrastructure, something Rod says is a major part of the company’s future. “Our strongpoint is underground sewer and water work,” he adds. “I think this will remain the cornerstone of our business in years to come, because this infrastructure is aging and in need of repair and replacement. Dubuque is one of the oldest cities west of the Mississippi, seeing the transition to more modern highways, roadways and infrastructure has been rewarding.”
Rod admits Tschiggfrie is pretty comfortable in its current position. “We don’t want to get any bigger,” he says. “We like our upper management to be involved and we can make quick decisions and maintain good communication.” For half a century, Tschiggfrie Excavating Co. has stayed ahead of the friendly competition in the Midwest through personable service and ingenuity.
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