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Catching up with Turner Mining Group

By |  March 31, 2020
Photo: Tracy O'Brien

O’Brien

Headshot: Keaton Turner, Turner Mining Group

Turner

Keaton Turner, president of Turner Mining Group, established his company as a mine services contractor in 2017. The company offers a variety of services to the aggregate industry, including contract mining, overburden removal and crushing and screening.

With the United States starting its third full week in a national emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak, P&Q caught up by phone with Turner and Tracy O’Brien, chief marketing officer at Turner Mining Group. The magazine discussed the impact of the pandemic on Turner Mining Group’s business, its employees and much more.

P&Q: What is Turner Mining Group’s current situation regarding the coronavirus pandemic?

Turner: We’re still working. None of our operations have been affected yet. We haven’t slowed down or shut operations down. Mining, aggregates and cement production have been deemed an essential business.

I think that’s for a few reasons. With the sales cycle of building materials, it takes a while to go from a raw, aggregate-in-the-ground, unprocessed virgin material all the way through the cycle to the finished product. If production stopped now, they’re going to be hit with the feeling of the lost production and no inventory on the ground 30, 60 and 90 days from now, depending on your markets.

P&Q: How is Turner Mining Group and your employees adapting to our new world?

Says Turner Mining Group's Keaton Turner: "Social distancing is not a huge disruptor for us." Photo: Zach Stinton

Says Turner Mining Group’s Keaton Turner: “Social distancing is not a huge disruptor for us.” Photo: Zach Stinton

Turner: Our industry has already practiced social distancing before social distancing was a thing. Most everyone’s in equipment. Even if you are a laborer in a trench, you’re not right up on somebody on most days like you are in an office setting. Social distancing is not a huge disruptor for us.

Then, you have the aspect of building products in the U.S. economy. One of the things we can’t afford to shut down is infrastructure in this country, whether that’s repairing roads, bridges or hot-mix sales – those start jumping through the roof to repair potholes from the winter season.

We’re working extensively throughout California. The Bay Area shut down six counties, but we’re still working. Tracy and the team have put together a one-pager for our guys if they were to get pulled over by law enforcement, outlining that they are part of an essential business operation. So our operations around the Bay Area have continued, and the same goes for around San Diego. We’re picking up a project in [upstate] New York that is still on track, too.

P&Q: What sort of feedback is Turner Mining Group getting at this stage from employees?

O’Brien: Much of our workforce is very interested in working. The messaging we’ve put out is how we can continue as is, remain stable and take the necessary measures to remain healthy. The sentiment has been ‘let’s keep going.’ We try to foster and support that.

What’s your outlook for the market in the months ahead?

Turner: We’re a very forward-looking company. I think everyone has understood the impact to the market. Because our sales cycle has a longer tail, we’re going to probably see some impact to our sales cycle in the second, third and fourth quarter. Who knows what will actually happen, but we’ve ramped up operations across the country and started to work more hours. You might as well make hay while the sun is shining.

If, for some reason, we are seeing less money spent on infrastructure in the second, third and fourth quarter, we may start to see a big shift in how much work we’re able to do.

P&Q: How about your outlook for the greater construction materials industry?

Turner Mining Group offers a variety of services to the aggregate industry, including contract mining, overburden removal and crushing and screening. Photo: Zach Stinton

Turner Mining Group offers a variety of services to the aggregate industry, including contract mining, overburden removal, and crushing and screening. Photo: Zach Stinton

Turner: In the building materials space, nothing has changed with sand, gravel, cement. The virus didn’t change anything. We still face the same issues, whether we can continue to address and fix all of those issues in 2020 or 2021.

The timing is an unknown thing at this point. [The coronavirus] unfolds every day, but here’s what I will say: I know us as a country. America is going to restart building roads and bridges, investing in airports – all of these things. We are focused on putting our company in a strategic position to capitalize on those investments.

I know the Martin Mariettas, Vulcans and Lehigh Hansons of the world are thinking the same thing. I think this is going to be a much quicker rebound.

O’Brien: When I think of our team, I think of the 300 people we have. I think we’ll be more set up to take advantage of changes. If something like this happened again, with our ability to react quickly, together and have some things in place to communicate with each other, then I feel like we will be set up for whatever comes our way.

P&Q: How about capital expenditures moving forward? What’s your feeling as you look ahead?

Turner: I think there are a few things going on with expenditures and forecasting that out.

You can borrow money tremendously cheap right now. That’s enticing.

The other thing I would say is I’m going to rent because I’m uncertain when the market is going to rebound. We’re obviously playing that game and weighing our options. We are still financing, buying machines and doing a lot of rental, as well.

Here’s the next thing. We’re betting on America over the long term.

In times like these, we are kind of keeping our eye open on some strategic mergers and acquisitions – more acquisitions than anything else. There are some people who have been overleveraged in this industry. When things are good, it’s easy to buy a machine and put it to work. But I think you’re going to see some players hurt more than others depending on how they managed their cash.

P&Q: This sounds a lot like the circumstances of the Great Recession back in 2008-09.

Turner: I was going through college back then, interviewing with top 50 construction companies in the U.S. When all of that happened, you could really get a sense of who had their stuff together and who didn’t.

I think you’re going to see a lot of the same thing here, whether you’re a producer, a contractor or an equipment vendor. The ones who aren’t overleveraged and the ones who do manage cash in the right way and have a workforce willing to ride through the rough waters will be in a better position.

P&Q: What sort of interaction are you having with vendors at the moment? Have you noticed any change in the dynamic due to the coronavirus pandemic?

Turner: We have seen a little bit of a downtick in our serviceability from dealers and vendors. There’s been a real shortage of qualified technicians in the industry prior to this global virus pandemic. Throw this in the mix and you get a few people sick, and then it becomes a real problem.

Fortunately, we haven’t seen a tremendous effect yet. But if we’re used to seeing someone in 24 hours, it’s probably now 48 or 72 hours. We have seen a little bit of an impact.

We’re seeing [vendors] as close to face-to-face as allowed. They still visit our sites and come out to service equipment. We haven’t seen a huge disruption in parts availability. 

P&Q: Through all of this, have you seen any moments of inspiration? Of workers, customers or vendors offering compassion during these stressful times?

Turner: In a time of crisis, I think it exposes who people really are. The truly good people do more good things. They do more services and donate time to uplift people. The people who are naturally negative go to a negative place. They spread fear and all of the anxiety in the news.

I can only speak to our team, because we’ve spent a lot of time virtually communicating through Zoom and our cellphones. It’s not ideal. It’s not perfect. But today (March 30) at 4 p.m., for example, our chief human resources officer is leading a staff virtual yoga class. Last week, Tracy led a virtual happy hour. We had 35 people on Zoom in front of their computers enjoying a beer and time together in a virtual way.

Creative leaders are going to find ways to be creative. They’re going to motivate people and bring them together. That’s what we’re focused on.

P&Q: How about you, Tracy? What’s been the biggest change in your work experience through all of this?

O’Brien: The biggest change for me has been the acceleration in communication and how we effectively communicate. That could mean what we’re sending out to project managers or how we’re getting people together. It’s accelerated so fast.

We are a relatively nimble, innovative company. I think it showed in the last few weeks. It’s been pretty inspiring.

It’s also been very important to keep a positive sentiment and not use our voices to make people fearful.

P&Q: I know culture is very important to Turner Mining Group. Do you see this pandemic as a test of your culture, or perhaps as an opportunity to enforce the values most important to you?

Turner: I’ve said this in the past and now: I want, as a young leader, the big problem. I want to be put in positions where I have to come up with solutions and have a team who can help us come up with those.

I’m already looking forward to the day where I can look back and remember 2020; that we had to live through this global pandemic that was nothing like anyone on Earth ever saw.

It is interesting times. I can’t say it’s fun every day, but it’s a unique challenge. As a three-year-old company, I think it’s a huge shot in the arm for us and all of the small businesses out there to show how resilient American small businesses can be.


For additional P&Q coverage related to the coronavirus, visit our dedicated webpage.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry magazine. Yanik can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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