Cut for Success
Russ T. Diamonds, Inc. maintains unwavering standards to serve customers and employees
In 2000, Russ Thompson started a concrete cutting company to serve clients throughout Colorado and Wyoming. He named it Russ T. Diamonds, Inc., because that seemed appealing. “As a low-profile guy, I didn’t want a company with my name on it, yet wanted something catchy and unique. Because diamond-cutting blades and bits can get rusty, I decided Russ T. Diamonds would be an attention grabber. The name has gotten us a lot of attention and some laughs,” he says.
Russ is President of the Denver-based company known for its cheerful, dedicated and professional staff. He learned the value of good customer service as a youngster working in his family’s businesses in Jeffrey City, Wyoming, a uranium mining town. Business was great until 1979 when the Three Mile Island nuclear tragedy contributed to the uranium market collapse. “After that our town became a ghost town. Businesses were either boarded up or had moved away. That taught me how quickly things can change, and how the need to adapt is key to survival. I found one of the best ways to adapt is to invest in technologies that keep workers safer while improving efficiency,” Russ says.
Learning from Mistakes
After working two years at a concrete cutting company in Denver, Russ decided it was time to try his hand at running a small business. “It was a rough start but through a series of hard lessons I began learning what it took to run a business,” Russ says.
His first challenges were sales and financing. “I thought you just received calls for business once you set up a phone number,” he says, “but the phone wasn’t ringing. After several months without business, I decided one morning I was either going to get a customer that day or go to work for someone else the next day. It was Sunday and I headed downtown where I found a fellow on a job site. I told him I could do a better job on his project at a cheaper rate than the contractor he planned to use. After a bit of discussion, and high-pressure sales tactics, he hired me and became my first customer, I began his job that very minute.”
Russ continued to market his business with a message that he could do the job faster, safer and cheaper. “My prices were lower than others, but soon I realized I was losing money because I wasn’t calculating the phantom costs that at first you don’t know exist,” Russ says. “That was a valuable lesson, and since then I never agree with anyone who says my competitors are high-priced.”
Financial support was also an issue “I didn’t know how to deal with banks, and banks didn’t want to deal with a guy who didn’t have a nickel for a down payment. I was determined to find a way, so I applied for multiple credit cards and used them to buy equipment,” Russ says. “Then, just as I was getting started, I realized I could only offer customers limited services and needed to expand. So I borrowed money from my dad and invested in more equipment. Going forward, I used only money generated by the business to pay for what we needed, and continued to invest in more equipment to become a full- service company. It wasn’t until I was in business eight years that I was able, and decided to, get a bank loan.”
Although Russ often wondered if he had made the right choice to start a business, his persistence and focus kept him on track. Plus, he continued to learn from others. “Each experience strengthened me and by the fifth year the company was on a stable and steady path,” he says. Today, his company has more than 20 full-time employees and 10 service trucks—a level that is comfortable for Russ. “I want to stay a reasonable size so we can uphold our high standards and continue to complete projects on time and within budget. That’s our strength: upholding a higher level of service.”
The company serves a variety of clients ranging from something simple for a homeowner to large industrial, commercial and government projects. “Typically, we prefer industrial and commercial work because of the degree of difficulty and the expectation to perform under pressure. That’s where we thrive. It is also what many others fear and where they fail,” Russ says.
Training and Attitude
Staff training and a positive attitude are key factors in maintaining the high level of productivity and professionalism Russ wants. “We constantly strive to improve our processes with ongoing training,” he says. “We emphasize safety, which definitely requires the right attitude. If someone has a bad attitude, they don’t always follow safety rules. So, we hire people we feel can uphold our high standards. We train our employees to understand that a proper attitude is a key to performing any job safely.”
He adds, “Our approach is to stay focused on the result—with a professional and positive attitude, a smile, and even a bit of joking around after the work is done. This creates an openness that helps employees work through any problems that might arise. It’s easier to work through problems with friends than with enemies.”
Equipment Offers Safety
The company’s equipment choices are also based on safety. It uses remote-controlled demolition/excavation robots to provide a safer and more efficient way to complete projects. According to Russ, the robots have been around for several years but few companies in Colorado have them. “They are much safer and faster to use on projects that might otherwise put workers in harm’s way,” he says. “But the cost of $200,000 or more, plus ongoing maintenance costs, is a deterrent for some companies, especially smaller ones. We’ve made these investments to keep our people from getting hurt and to make their jobs easier. The machines can perform many tasks that would otherwise require extensive manual labor and take much more time to complete.”
The electric-powered robots have multiple benefits, according to Russ. “They have a low noise level and do not emit fumes, which makes them ideal for interior projects, such as those in hospitals, food plants or any area where fumes would be harmful. The machines are also able to fit through standard doorways and can climb stairs, creating opportunity for use in all types of places,” he says.
Russ T. Diamonds recently used them on repairs to six electrical rooms in a parking garage at Denver International Airport, where the client specifically said no fumes were permitted. The work required cutting and removing concrete slabs, then excavating 8 to 10 feet of dirt around electrical lines and inside an excavation. This type of work is usually done by hand, is high-risk for workers, and is very time consuming. The robot, along with the professional operator, did the digging with no damage to electrical lines and no risk to workers. Each room took about 15 hours to complete.
“The robots have attachments to perform a variety of tasks. One of those is a grapple that can grab material, such as concrete that has been cut into manageable sizes, and place it anywhere using smooth and precise movements,” adds Russ. “[The robot] may seem more expensive up front, yet [it] completes the job faster while reducing the chance of injuries. So when we look at all aspects, it actually is less costly.”
Remote-controlled saws are another way the company saves time and keeps its workers safe. Russ’ teams are using the saws on the $1.2 billion redevelopment of Interstate 70 that starts near the Denver Coliseum and extends several miles northeast. The work includes making 30-to-40-inch diameter holes in a short timeframe, and requires nice smooth cuts on 10-foot-diameter brick pipes that will have sealed connections to new pipes. It also calls for precise cuts in 18-inch-thick concrete walls. Much of the work is below ground, and some of it is in enclosed areas of the pipe or other structures. The remote-controlled saws enable work to be done much safer and faster in areas that typically are high-risk for workers. Russ T. Diamonds will be working on this project each month as each stage is completed on the four-year project.
“We’ve made these investments to keep our people from getting hurt and to make their jobs easier. The machines can perform many tasks that would otherwise require extensive manual labor and take much more time to complete.” Russ Thompson
Russ pays close attention to all clients and their needs. “We consider all our projects great,” he says. “Each one is important to us, and we understand that for each client, their project is most important to them. It’s our job to get it done right, no matter the size. I’m always aware that any homeowner may also be the owner of a company that may need our services, or is the connection to a future project.”
His staff is on the same page. “Our people are proud of where they work because of our solid reputation, and they’re very aware of their role in maintaining that,” Russ says. “They have a sense of belonging and pride in what they do. They know they are first-class professionals in their trade, and that is invaluable. We all started with nothing and, collectively, we’ve made it better for ourselves and our clients.”
The company is also generous with any time needed away from work for vacation, fun or family needs. “We understand the stresses in life we all face and that our employees need time to relax and enjoy what they’ve work so hard for,” he says.
Employees Are Part of the Community, Too
Russ feels one of the best things he can do to help his community is to fully support his staff, both on and off the job. “We go above the norm to make certain our people and their families are well taken care of and have a support network if needed. They help us on a daily basis and we will do whatever it takes to help them. We all need help sometimes,” he says, adding that he is the “luckiest guy in the world” because of the help he has received over the years.
He continues, “I want to be sure they’re doing well. Being supportive and understanding helps our people be better at everything, and that helps make our community a better place for all.”