There aren’t a lot of companies in the civil construction and earthmoving industry in Australia that can trace their roots back three generations. Western Earthmoving (WEM) has the proud distinction of being able to do just that, and in the process has grown to become one of the largest family owned earthmoving businesses in NSW. BCM For Tradies met with General Manager & Director, Michael Ragg, on one of their busy new subdivision projects in Western Sydney, where they were putting a new Kobelco SK350LC-10 through its paces. Michael shared the history of the family business, along with what it takes to excel in the earthmoving game for the long haul.
Founded in 1958 by Arthur Baxter, the business set its humble roots as a plant hire company in Sydney, serving the local market with a range of small equipment. When the mid-60’s Sydney housing boom hit, Michael’s grandfather, Wal Ragg, came on board, and expanded the scope of the business by offering a complete residential construction solution to the market – significantly growing the size of the business in the process. Then in the late-70s, Michael’s father, Graham Ragg, joined the business and a decade later bought the Baxter family out of its share of WEM, paving the way for his children to eventually become the third generation to lead the company. In the early 2000s, Wal retired, in which Graham took over the goings on of business at WEM and for the years ahead, Michael’s role within the business evolved, eventually growing into a Director of the business alongside his father, Graham Ragg.
With such a storied history, we were excited to learn how WEM has thrived through the years, and to get an idea of the secret to their longevity in the earthmoving industry. WEM’s long term success is no accident – one of the keys to its success is a deliberate effort to foster a positive company culture,explains Michael. “Our big point of difference is our culture, which is about looking after our people. If we can look after our people in the best way that we can, then they will look after our customers. We are always looking and challenging ourselves on how we can improve our culture. We want people to enjoy coming to work,” says Michael. “We find that happy people will ensure a productive, safe environment, and the right quality outcomes for our customers.”
While 2020 threw a few challenges their way, Michael says that the company has continued to grow, and along with it has their need to grow their excavator fleet. Michael explains that with their current volume of work, they’ve made the decision to purchase eight new Kobelco excavators over the last several months – a mix of SK350LCs, SK135SRs and an SK17.
With a new SK350 working on site, we were keen to hear how the machine was living up to their expectations. “We need a product that is high quality and reliable, that performs well and is productive, while also being fuel efficient,” explains Michael. “The SK350 has proven to be both a powerful and nimble machine. We’ve used it for some very detailed work, like precision placement of boulders for this rock wall – but it has also proven to be equally capable when undertaking large scale, hard digging, bulk earthworks.”
In addition to the capability of the machine, Michael explains how the fuel efficiency of the new SK350 was an unexpected bonus, which has helped to improve the company’s bottom line. “From our perspective, the machine has been very fuel efficient, which is a big bonus for us,” he says. “When we went through our numbers and had a good look at the fuel efficiency of this machine, we saw that it was generally burning under 20 litres per hour – which is fantastic, considering other machines of the same size are burning mid to high 20s, depending on the application… That is a saving to our bottom line that is really appreciated.”
The support from their local dealer was a big selling point for Michael, and key to their decision to choose to partner with Kobelco. “For us, the decision to go with Kobelco was really easy. The last few months has proven to us that we really need to partner with the right OEMs who can assist us and ensure a timely delivery of parts,” explains Michael. “We experienced a lot of issues during COVID, due to suppliers not having enough of their supply chain locally, which has really impacted our productivity on site. So, we decided we needed to pick a partner who could deliver us a machine with the full backup and support to ensure that our machines are as productive as possible.
“Our local Kobelco dealer has been fantastic in ensuring we have never missed a service, that parts are always available, and they are quick to pick up the phone whenever we call to answer any questions. Another great metric for us is that we haven’t had any downtime with any of our Kobelcos since taking delivery – only when it rains,” Michael jokes. “Sometimes you get some machines from the dealership, and in the first two weeks there are a lot of issues – electrical, computer or something. We have not experienced any of that with our new Kobelcos.”
As a well-established leader in the industry, Michael is often asked for equipment recommendations from business peers. “I’ve had numerous people come to me asking what machine they should be looking at and I’ve tried to steer people to look at the Kobelco SK350. We feel it’s the right size machine for our type of work and the backup you get from your local Kobelco dealer is fantastic. Whilst the machine is fuel efficient for us, compared to others it is still as productive, if not more, than our previous other brands of excavators.” “I have no hesitation in recommending the SK350 to anyone.”