Tearing It Up for Clients
Champion Services of Florida, LLC proves it crushes concrete competitively
Located in Apopka, Florida, Champion Services of Florida, LLC travels all over the state to eliminate things that are oftentimes an eyesore in the area. Incorporated in May 2006 and celebrating 15 years in the industry, it carries out complete and selective demolition, concrete cutting and abatement services. With high-profile clients like the John F. Kennedy Space Center, Amazon and SeaWorld, it has a proven track record of accomplishment. Averaging 50 jobs a year, it’s easy to see how business and revenue have grown annually. “Total revenue for 2020 was a little over $3 million,” says Owner Mark Gilman.
“Most of our demo work is performed in Orlando, but we’ve been to Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa,” Mark says. For eight years, the company has had a contract with Seminole County to demolish rundown houses. Removing hazardous materials, like asbestos, is also in its wheelhouse. “We are a full abatement contractor,” he says.
When asked how he got into the demolition business, Mark says, “I think I just liked breaking things when I was growing up.” Now he accomplishes it strategically and makes a few bucks doing it. “I went to a trade school, was a welder, then I did residential and commercial fencing for a long time,” he says.
One major client, the John F. Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, needed some fence work. “We did some ornamental fence projects and gates for them, ranging in costs from $65,000 to around $200,000 for the bigger fence jobs we did over there,” Mark says. Champion Services also puts up temporary fencing around job sites. “Not too many demolition companies offer that service because it’s not in their skill set,” he says.
Demo Dilemma Solved
Ready for difficult jobs, Champion Services steps in when other demolition companies fall short. One example of this happened with the Orlando Police Department’s crime scene facility. Mark says, “We took over for another company, which compromised the building, making the structure unsafe.”
He and the team had to shore up the building, then fix what happened so they could go in and cut the rest of the concrete down, then finish the demolition on the project.
Another tricky job was for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in the building used for its Records/Identification division, where authorities process people who have been arrested. This building has interrogation rooms with big lights, Mark recalls. He adds, “Police were saying, ‘Quiet, please.’ Imagine doing demolition and having to be quiet while they are interrogating someone. It was a little challenging, but we didn’t have any problems. It was a successful project.”
To accomplish tough projects, employees find creative solutions to resolve problems. Mark says, “We do things differently than other competitors. We use our equipment and machines to go up, over and under things, whether we are using cranes or specialized tools to get things done.” One specialized tool they use is a track saw. “A lot of people cut concrete, but not everyone cuts with a track saw to make perfect openings. We do,” Mark says.
In another case, the team designed a useful tool for a recent demo job at the former Winn-Dixie supermarket distribution center in Orlando. While gutting the 1.1 million-square-foot building for the new owner, Amazon, a couple of giant freezers had to be taken out, but some roof panels could not be reached. “The freezers had huge, insulated panels on all four sides, plus the ceiling, so we added the extended arm to fit on an excavator to rise up and cut the ceiling panels down safely, without ceiling damage,” Mark says. The job took about four months to complete.
His company also uses smaller battery-powered equipment to keep contaminants down and dust under control when crews are stripping floors inside of structures. By not using propane or gas engines on some of the equipment, this opens opportunities to work in more places, like airports, where hazardous materials are not allowed.
With approximately 40 different trucks and machines, Champion Services has vast resources for any job. Its extensive fleet contains excavators, Bobcats, small loaders, tractor-trailers, a flat bed, recycling and roll-off dumpster trucks, small trucks and concrete-cutting trucks.
Champion Services has experience with all kinds of demolition jobs, whether commercial or residential. One type is selective demolition. Mark mentions one job that had a building attached to a warehouse. “This involved cutting off a building without destroying the integrity of the adjoining warehouse. First, we separated the walls with saws, before taking them apart. Sometimes we shore up one side, before taking the other one down,” Mark says. Next, the concrete slab is cut up and the rest of the structure is ripped down. The crew also has experience with removing roofs off houses and bringing down structures affected by tornadoes, hurricanes and fires.
Working together is crucial to ensure a safe and healthy workplace, Mark says. “Safety is important,” he adds. “We haven’t had injuries because we work safely.”
He accomplishes this by scoping out the site and doing an overview of the project with employees. A checklist is put together by the superintendent and the foreman as soon as a new project begins, with concerns like, “Is water or power still hooked up to the building? Is the gas on? Where is the closest hospital and fire department? Good things to know,” Mark says. “If we raise awareness, then everybody is happy.”
Safety is also emphasized at crew meetings. “We talk about what needs to be done. We wear hard hats, industrial boots and safety glasses. We require it, even if the contractors we work with don’t,” he says.
Appreciation for Employees
Family is a big part of the company’s success. Mark’s sister, Pamela Ulcena, is a Lead Superintendent. “She does very well out there,” he says. “She has good direction and management skills.” One of his sons, Bryan, is a Concrete Cutter. His other son, Kyle, passed away from a motorcycle accident last year. Mark says, “Clients still mention what a wonderful Excavator Operator Kyle was.”
Key staff members help Mark focus on what matters. Chris Kepple, in sales, holds the general contractor license for the company. Chris wears many hats, Mark says, adding, “He has a great relationship with the high-end companies and contractors.” Chris also operates machinery and drives the big trucks when needed. Josh Howard, also in sales, is working toward a general contractor license to help launch residential remodeling services at the company.
The company’s culture of integrity, honesty and quality is front and center for employees and customers to see. Mark says, “It’s important for the staff to be honest and have integrity. The company logo says, ‘When quality matters.’ That’s on our t-shirts and company items.” These values illustrate what’s important to customers. “Quality is what brings customers back at the end of the day, and it makes everybody happy. That’s especially important,” he adds. He also appreciates that the staff works neat and clean, saying, “Even though we are doing demolition, breaking things and tearing things apart, there’s still a strategic way of doing that.”
From superintendents to sales, Mark considers the 25 full-time employees to be like family. “We treat them well. We’ve given gifts, parties and money at meetings,” he says. In the future, he hopes to have backyard barbeques and offer profit sharing. He also expects to hire more staff this year.
Recycling for the Future
Passionate about protecting the environment they live in, Mark says, “We do a lot of recycling.” Cut concrete, copper wires, copper pipes, aluminum, metals, paper and cardboard are just a few of the materials they recycle. The climate-friendly company takes green initiatives one step further by recycling lightbulbs. “So, we don’t let the mercury out into the atmosphere,” Mark explains.
The amount of materials recycled on a project ranges from 40 percent to 70 percent, depending on the job. If the item looks good, the company will donate it to Habitat for Humanity or let employees have it. “That’s one of our initiatives, to help the environment. We look forward to doing it, plus it helps and feels good,” he says.
With future business plans to expand into residential renovation, Mark remains confident about the strength of the company. “I’ll double business in five years; it’s strong now and it’ll be very strong then,” he says.
Here for the long haul, Mark says he wakes up in the morning looking forward to the challenges of the day. “I love what we do. We are making a difference out there for everybody, including our family of employees,” he says.
Customers recognize the difference and tell Mark they recommend the company to others. Mark reciprocates the sentiments back to his clients. “We are here for them, 100 percent service, safety and building relationships.”