Local favorite: Serving residential customers

By |  April 26, 2015

An Oregon producer takes care of his residential customers, and a new wheel loader helps save on fuel costs.

When site development contractor John Malnerich couldn’t buy enough crushed rock for his projects, he did what most people in his situation would not do: He got into the quarry business. A decade later, in order to produce material that was up to state specifications, he moved down the road 10 miles and purchased a larger quarry with a better grade of rock.

Malnerich, who owns Westside Rock in Hillsboro, Ore., about 25 miles west of Portland, turned his frustration over a shortage of rock into a successful quarry operation that today has a well-earned reputation for exceptional service to an often-overlooked constituency – homeowners.

“We were doing prep work for large sub-divisions and big commercial building sites in the mid-1990s,” he says, “and were stymied by the lack of available rock. The start of light rail, the construction needs of firms such as Nike and Intel, and the closing of an area rock supplier made resources very tight. Since I had been around quarries all my life and was ready for a new adventure, I figured why not take advantage of this opportunity?”

One quarry, followed by a second

After reviewing county maps, Malnerich found a quarry that had been abandoned for about 25 years, and he worked out a lease with the elderly couple who owned the property. It wasn’t ideal, but things fell into place quite quickly. The quarry was littered with boulders, which turned out to be a fortunate development for Malnerich.

“The year we started the quarry, there was a large flood in the area that washed out many of the major roads going out to the coast,” he recalls. “The state purchased thousands of tons of boulders from me. I got the place cleaned up and sold a bunch of boulders.”

He also found plenty of customers.

“Several contractors told me that if my construction company stopped bidding against them on jobs, they would buy all of their rock from me,” he says. “That’s when I got out of the site development business. I helped some of my employees start their own company and I moved on to Westside Rock in 1997.”

The company’s first quarry, located on a 107-acre site near Forest Grove, was successful even though it didn’t produce the best rock. Malnerich says the coastal marine basalt was a little bit soft and not suitable for state highway projects.

“The public sector business was important, so I looked around for a quarry with better-quality material,” he says. “There were not many options, but a friend with plenty of quarry experience helped me find and evaluate the best one available. I purchased 114 acres near Cornelius and leased an adjacent 15 acres to have better access to the quarry.”

The second quarry consists of Columbia River basalt, a dark-colored rock that holds its durability very well.

“The better-quality rock has been a tremendous help to the business,” Malnerich says. “It meets state qualifications; contractors like it; and even homeowners who buy rock for driveways comment on the quality. Everyone wants to buy good rock.”

Taking care of homeowners

While Westside Rock has a substantial commercial business, Malnerich takes great pride in servicing his company’s residential customers.

“Those people were an important market when I started the company and, as a result, I like to keep taking care of the local folks,” he says. “Many other quarries sell their rock to a landscape service or a landscape supply company, but I want to work directly with individual homeowners. A lot of them have an acre or two.”

Several hundred residential customers typically purchase about five loads of rock a year, making that portion of Malnerich’s business more than worthwhile.

“That’s something our employees recognize, too,” he says. “They know most of our private customers and will go the extra mile to help them. For example, it takes us about three and a half minutes from the time someone comes in for a load of rock until they are on their way. I’ve heard that it can take up to 30 minutes at some other quarries. My guys are focused on getting the customer in and out quickly.”

Westside Rock even has a small excavator available to assist residential customers who are installing a driveway or a culvert.

Big fuel savings

While many homeowners pick up their own rock, 75 percent of all material goes out in four 17-ton Westside Rock dump trucks or four owner/operator trucks the company rents. All of the vehicles – both for residential and commercial customers – are loaded by a Doosan DL450-3 wheel loader, a machine that Malnerich says is perfect for the quarry business.

“Both the DL450-3 and the loader it replaced were capable of loading a dump truck in two trips, although the other loader was somewhat larger,” he says. “The big difference is fuel consumption. The DL450-3 wheel loader consumes 35 gallons during a nine-hour shift and the other machine consumed 85 gallons. Both machines did the same amount of work. That’s a staggering savings of 50 gallons of fuel per day.”

Other factors associated with the 354-net-hp, 26-metric-ton Doosan wheel loader, according to Malnerich, were a favorable financing package and a superior warranty. He purchased the wheel loader from the local Doosan heavy equipment dealer, Feenaughty Machinery, which is based in Portland, Ore., and has been serving the community since 1901.

His son, J.J., who operates the loader, reports that the machine has excellent visibility when loading trucks, is exceptionally quick and productive, and is comfortable to work in during his nine-hour days at the controls. In the peak season, he loads as much as 7,000 tons a day.

J.J. is one of a half dozen family members who work at the company, but Malnerich considers all of his employees family.

“Nobody ever leaves,” he says. “I haven’t hired a new employee in 13 years. They are all very dependable, conscientious and take good care of my equipment. I couldn’t ask for a better crew.”

The quarry also has an on-site crushing plant owned by another firm with the capacity of about 450 tph and a substantial screening plant that separates the three sizes of rock the company sells.

Malnerich believes his firm has at least 10 good years left of mining the quarry, followed by another 10 years filling it back in with dirt.

“I have another business – Westside Reclaim – that collects income from all the soil that is hauled back to the quarry,” he says. “Many of our residential customers will bring in a load of dirt and leave with a load of rock. And we have some large industrial clients who bring us upwards of 700,000 yards of dirt from new building projects. Once this quarry is filled, we’ll see where we go from there.”

Take note

Several hundred residential customers typically purchase about five loads of rock a year.

Paul Posel is a staff writer with Two Rivers Marketing, Des Moines, Iowa.

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About the Author:

Allison Kral is the former senior digital media manager for North Coast Media (NCM). She completed her undergraduate degree at Ohio University where she received a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She works across a number of digital platforms, which include creating e-newsletters, writing articles and posting across social media sites. She also creates content for NCM's Portable Plants magazine, GPS World magazine and Geospatial Solutions. Her understanding of the ever-changing digital media world allows her to quickly grasp what a target audience desires and create content that is appealing and relevant for any client across any platform.

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