In this episode Nick gets a chance to sit down with Mike Coffey owner and operator of Abatement Pro. We are able to hear how Mike got into the demo game as well as some insight on what makes his team successful. Listen and follow along on Rev.com Here or play the youtube video and follow along with the text below.

Speaker 1:

Welcome to Recycled Idaho, where two recycling industry veterans, Brett Ekart, Nick Snyder, explore Idaho businesses and organizations. They're putting in the work to keep Idaho environmentally and economically viable, at the same time. Take a listen to how these entrepreneurs, business owners and operators are making things happen, in the great state of Idaho.

Nick:

In this episode of Recycled Idaho, I get a chance to sit down with Mike Coffey, owner and operator of Abatement Pro. Mike is able to give us some insight on how essential demolition companies truly are. Enjoy and take a listen.

Nick:

Welcome everybody., We're here with another episode of Recycled Idaho. I'm sitting here with the owner of Abatement Pro, Mike Coffey. How are you doing?

Mike:

I'm doing well, thanks. Thanks for having me here.

Nick:

So, Mike, I've known you for a while now. But real quick, let's get into how you got into the demolition and about your company.

Mike:

This started out as a part-time job for me. In 1992, a friend of mine, worked for a local asbestos abatement and demolition company. And he called me up and said, "Hey, these guys are hiring." So I went in and had picked up a part-time job with them, that worked into a full-time job. And I ended up staying at that company for 16 years, before... In 2008, I started Abatement Pro. And that's about when I met you.

Nick:

Yep, right around there. Because Mike, your father-in-law, that's how I met you guys. He was bringing us aluminum in here.

Mike:

Yeah.

Nick:

So back in the 90s, when you got into the game, in '92, you said?

Mike:

'92.

Nick:

What were you doing before that? What brought you into that direction?

Mike:

I was just a young, dumb kid. I had recently drank my way out of college, to the degree that they asked me to leave. , it's, it's better if we split ways here.

Nick:

I have a similar standing with BSU.

Mike:

Same college. So I had moved home, in Northern Idaho, for a little while. And then came back to Boise in '92. And I was just working several part-time jobs. I worked at Shakey's, I worked at Rite Aid. I think I was working three or four part-time jobs, just to pay rent, do whatever. And that's why when my friend called and said, "Hey, these guys are hiring." In 1992, an asbestos abatement worker made about $6 an hour. And that was a better job than what part time jobs I was working.

Nick:

That was better than Shakey's?

Mike:

Yeah. I think, Shakey's was paying minimum wage, which I don't remember what it was at the time, it was probably $4 and something an hour. Or six bucks an hour looked awful good.

Nick:

So when you started in the demolition world, did you immediately say, "Hey, there might be a future here?" Did it take some time where you saw, "I kind of like this." Or how did that progression really work for you?

Mike:

I think for me, it was a lot about the people that I worked with. I really liked the guys on the crew. We got along really well. We were really productive. I mean, we got a lot of work done. So when work is fun, it goes a little easier. And as I worked there a little longer, the pay got a little bit better. I started climbing the ladder of leadership there a little bit. So that's how it all evolved for me. Eventually in the 16 years I worked for them, I was kind of in charge of my part of the business, what I was doing for the company. So I got to make a lot of decisions.

Nick:

What were you doing? What was your title?

Mike:

Well, my official title was probably project superintendent, but by the time that 16 years was up. I was doing most of the hiring for that part of the company. I was ordering all the supplies. I was bidding a fair amount of the work. And then I would go out and also run the projects as well. So I wore a lot of hats, which was great for me because I was always learning and evolving within the business. Which prepared me to open Abatement Pro, it was a good prep work. I tell people now, that as the owner of Abatement Pro, "If I knew now, what I knew when I opened Abatement Pro, it may have gone a different direction." If you're not the owner, there's so many things within the business that you just don't have the insight for. You take it a lot more personally, when it's your business, then-

Nick:

You don't get to leave your work at work anymore.

Mike:

No, no.

Nick:

And even, probably back when you were with that other company, when you were climbing. It's just a job, this is 24/7. I mean, like some of the scrap positions, there's so many of these jobs, in our industry that are similar to your industry.

Mike:

Yeah, you got to be hustling all the time.

Nick:

Just always hustling. My wife will get mad at me if we're at a dinner party and I'm like, "Oh, you work at so-and-so." I'm like, "Hey, what's scrap metal [crosstalk 00:05:57] you use?" She'll give me like a, "Can you stop working for an evening?" We always say it gets in your blood.

Mike:

It's what makes you great at what you do is you. You still have a passion for the business. You get to meet a lot of really interesting people, construction industry in general. But then I think the demolition and scrap people, that's a whole different niche, they're just very interesting people.

Nick:

A lot of similar type of people, in both of our industries. And that's why you're the second company we've done an episode, in then the demolition industry. I want to, honestly, hit all of them. Because they hit so close to home. A, for Idaho, a lot of people in Idaho don't realize how important demolition is.

Mike:

Right.

Nick:

And it goes hand in hand again with scrap right there, because without scrapyards, without demolition companies, really building all these new fancy buildings, that doesn't happen, that piece doesn't happen. And I imagine being an owner, that equipment you guys operate, that stuff's not cheap.

Mike:

No. Yeah. Then again, as an owner, you see how equipment is being used. You see the lifecycle of a piece of equipment. And from the labor standpoint, they don't always have the view. Well, there's a new widget, whatever you want to call it. Whether it's a new ladder or a negative air machine, something as big as a new excavator. Not that I've ever bought a brand new excavator. But we own a couple used machines.

Nick:

Yeah you have a few, don't you.

Mike:

Yeah. So I see the life cycle of that equipment. So it's interesting from an owner's perspective. Again, from new to being used, and then what do you choose to do with that equipment? How long do you extend the life of that equipment, before you invest in a new one again? And bring Nick our old stuff.

Nick:

Yeah. I love buying scrap metal, but I'd rather have that piece of equipment out there working for you. And that's where, as an owner, no one will probably take care of your equipment as good as you would. But getting the people in place to make sure that it gets done as best as possible. I think is pretty important too.

Mike:

Yeah. Abatement Pro's been very lucky, in that we have... One of my main demo guys that runs equipment for me, he's been in the Valley working for 50 years, in the demolition industry. He worked for Larry Gillingham-

Nick:

Is that Kirk?

Mike:

Yeah, [Kirk Huff 00:09:58].

Nick:

He's awesome.

Mike:

Who's a super great guy. And he actually cares about the equipment. He was an independent... He worked for Larry Gillingham. and then he left Larry, bought his own truck and dump. He had a belly dump and some other equipment, did his own trucking. So he was an owner operator for many years. And then Abatement Pro, we always had a dialogue with Kirk, we would use him on demo jobs. And then we started having a dialogue with Kirk about us buying his truck and him coming to work for-

Nick:

He had that red truck, right?

Mike:

Yep, that big red Peterbilt that was traveling around town with Abatement Pro on the side now. That used to be Kirk Huff Trucking. So picking up Kirk was a big move. As far as the demo goes. There's guys like Jeff Brown, that you occasionally see in here. Jeff, again, has been in the industry for longer than I have. He's a guy who gets it. He does a good job, he cares.

Nick:

I can tell that. And I don't talk to Jeff a whole lot, but when I do, he's a guy you can tell, that just cares.

Mike:

There's a handful of guys, Kirk, Jeff, Doug, Jay, there are guys that we have picked up over the years, that are a real asset to the company, that care. We try to take care of all of our employees. We care about them as individuals. But some of those guys actually return some of that care, and do a really good job for us.

Nick:

You're just building your team out, you're building your work family. That's what we were always saying around here, we got a work family. I hang out with a lot of people here, more than my family, because I'm here more. So it's important to build that comradery, important to build that trust. And then important, I think, one thing that's been hard for me and a lot of people to do, is to give trust away. That's just as important to put a lot on someone's plate that can do it. And then it enables you, to go do what you need to do, to help grow the business.

Mike:

Right.

Nick:

So one of my favorite jobs you guys did just because my dad worked there, until he retired, is Idaho State school and hospital, right there in [inaudible 00:11:49], the interstate. So that's the building, the one that you guys knocked over. That's the one that he worked at, his whole-

Mike:

Forever.

Nick:

Forever. As long as I remember, that's where I'd go visit him at work, since I was like this little. And so he got a kick out of it because I was standing on that rubble. Kirk was there, I think he was a one man show at that job. Kind of, at least every time I went.

Mike:

Kind of. There was one other guy that we had hired that was also driving the truck and was an operator. But when it came to the demo portion of that job, it was Kirk's-

Nick:

Which was impressive, it was a big building. I don't know the size.

Mike:

Well, I think the building itself was about a 95,000 square foot footprint. I mean all kinds of weird shapes because there were wing here and wing there and additions. But yeah, that was good job.

Nick:

So I stood on top of that pile because I was looking at some of the copper mixed in there. And I took a selfie, sent it to my dad and said, "Hey, guess we're I'm standing." He couldn't really tell. I was like, "At your old office." He's like, "Good." But that was when I... And so that was a state job, right?

Mike:

Yep.

Nick:

We got into this before we started filming. So it seems like you guys do it a lot of schools, like you're doing at BSU right now. You're done almost, right?

Mike:

Yeah. We still have some backfill and some other work we're doing there. But in the fall of last year, BSU had just brought up their baseball team, just started baseball. Well, they had their eye on this lot, down there, where some existing buildings. The intent was, we did all the abatement inside the buildings and then took the buildings down. There were, I think, three fourplexes, a couple duplexes and another... A total of six structures that we took down there. Well, that space, once we got finished backfilling, was going to be, I don't think I'm letting any secrets out here, but that space was going to be the new baseball field for BSU.

Nick:

I think a lot of people were excited for that.

Mike:

Yeah. And unfortunately, because of all this COVID stuff, BSU has now dropped the baseball team and they're uncertain what they're going to do with that lot. But that was the intent. That's why we went in there and did the work, was for that to be the-

Nick:

Because we wanted to do a boots on the ground there. But then this thing hit, it got weird.

Mike:

COVID came like crazy.

Nick:

So we, just learning to navigate through all that, which it's still weird, still uncertain.

Mike:

Yeah. And still getting weirder. We thought we were putting it back together and it seems to come apart-

Nick:

But you guys have been lucky, able to work all the way through it, for the most part?

Mike:

We have pretty much been working. My crew, I think they've had half a dozen days off, since the shelter in place order started in March. Because the construction industry was considered a vital, essential business. We were able to continue working on the jobs we were working. And so it's been a great thing for our crew and our business. Unfortunately other businesses haven't been as lucky as we have.

Nick:

Yeah. We had a slow a couple of months there, but we've been fortunate to stay open, not to lay anybody off. And right now, honestly, it's because everyone was sitting on their hands for a few months. We were just insanely busy. People trying to get back to work, all these jobs and these new builds. I just looked at a job yesterday in Meridian, I didn't even know it was going up, a new FedEx distribution center is going up, by the... Just right under our noses. There's so much going on in this Valley, Treasure Valley, and then just Idaho, in general. And one thing I think that the demo business gets a negative look about itself, is because the noise, the mess, that people think they're causing. But it's necessary, just like the scrap business. Can you go into that, how necessary it is. And I almost hate using the word, but essential, I'll use it. It's essential, without demo companies knocking these old buildings out, they could be hazardous, doing the abatement. Without that, it just stops all the new stuff from coming in. If you want to go into that.

Mike:

Yeah. So from my perspective, if you want to revitalize... We have done several large demo jobs, not just take the building down, but basically gutted the old Macy's building. CC [crosstalk 00:17:15] downtown.

Nick:

Oh, that was a cool job too.

Mike:

Another one of your favorites.

Nick:

I have the pictures of all that stuff we're talking about. I'll have to dig them up and we'll put them on here.

Mike:

Yeah. So if we want to revitalize some of these older, urban landscapes or I guess it's metropolitan landscapes, if we're talking downtown. A vital part of that, is going in and taking out the old... With some perspective there. There are obviously some very unique architecturally sound buildings.

Nick:

That's a cool building.

Mike:

It's a great building. We basically took the entire center out of the building, a lot of it. And allowed the general contractor to come back in and rebuild that building. And now Athlos Academy, one of the largest charter schools in the nation, that's their main headquarters building.

Nick:

Okay, I didn't know that. That's what it is now, okay.

Mike:

That's what the building is. So we spent, over the course of probably three years, in and out of the building, doing asbestos abatement and then lead abatement and then basically gutting the entire building, chain hoisting six escalators out of the building.

Nick:

That was the coolest part.

Mike:

You'll get those pictures.

Nick:

My driver, he called me. He was like, "What the hell have you gotten me into. My man, it's early." [inaudible 00:18:46] "We got it." We made it work. I think we had to be creative. But I can't believe you got those escalators out of the building.

Mike:

Yeah, whole.

Nick:

Whole, because... And I guess that's a perfect segue into how recycling fits in, to the demo side. We recycled those whole things.

Mike:

Yeah, entire escalators-

Nick:

Entire escalators, I would imagine when you're doing a bid, maybe you're not looking at the escalator value, but the scrap metal value. You're looking at that, then it's important to get it to a scrap company and then they pay you.

Mike:

Right. It is part of the process. That's part of the evolution of Abatement Pro as well, as I have learned to get better at estimating the amount of scrap that's on a job.

Nick:

Because that's hard. It's hard for anybody.

Mike:

Yeah.

Nick:

I've looked at jobs with Rod and Brett, who've been doing this their whole lives. And we'll all sit in the truck and we're like, "All right, how many tons?" And, one of us is here, one's here and one's here. And with all that experience, the guesses are still like-

Mike:

Where's it going to be?

Nick:

Because some jobs are just tough to put that number on. But the more you do it, it gets a little easier.

Mike:

The better you get at it. Yeah. It's an evolution. It's a process. You have to look at every job individually and figure out-

Nick:

The best way to, even pull your copper out of it, if there's copper.

Mike:

Yeah, and a lot of that goes into, how much you trust the guys on the crew to... Because some of them, they just want to demo the wall or they want to rip this out.

Nick:

Yeah, just all go to the landfill.

Mike:

Everything goes in the debris pile and they don't take the time to segregate stuff. So it's a training process with the crew. They have to know that, that I would rather salvage a ton of scrap metal that, honestly we're not getting... I mean, it's not your fault, the scrap prices just aren't what they used to be.

Nick:

Yeah, it's been awhile since the scrap price. Copper right now is up.

Mike:

Yeah, it switched up.

Nick:

But with scrap metal, not so much.

Mike:

Yeah. So we try to teach the guys, that I would rather recycle a ton of scrap, and get paid the $60 or $70 a ton, then pay whatever it is a ton, to dispose of that same scrap. If we have to touch it while we're demoing it, if we have to manipulate that load somehow, then it's always better to separate it and recycle it, for many reasons. Part of it keeps it out of the waste stream. Why let that go to the landfill, if it doesn't have to? And why pay for the disposal, if you can come and get paid. Even working out the math on, what's it take a handful of guys to separate a ton of scrap and load it in a truck. Well, I mean, the reality is, if I add what it costs to dispose of it, if we take it to the landfill and what United Metal pays us for it. It's probably about a breakeven on a ton of scrap, but again, that's a breakeven.

Nick:

And that's more on, I would imagine more on interior demo. One that it doesn't have a whole lot of scrap. Because you've had some decent jobs in the past, that I know turned some decent amount of scrap. You did-

Mike:

Albertson's Spoke in Meridian.

Nick:

Yeah. That one, the new fancy Albertson's now.

Mike:

Yeah. I was surprised how much scrap came out of that.

Nick:

Me too. I was shocked how much... Because we put some roll-offs inside the building. And we were turning them every other day, for a long time.

Mike:

Yeah, that was about a four month job for us. And I think roll-off of scraps were rolling out of that building.

Nick:

And you did some aluminum out of there too.

Mike:

We did aluminum, we did the full range of stuff. That was a good job from a recycle perspective. And just the amount of work that we were able to get done in that timeframe was pretty cool.

Nick:

So I took my kids to that Albertson's because we were at the village and I'm like, "Hey, let's go check it out. Let's grab something for dinner and go home." And I tell my wife and my kids, I'm like, "Oh yeah, we did the recycling in here." And they just like, "Oh great. Who cares." I think it's cool. I'm like, "Oh, we did all the recycling in this building." And I still think it's super cool. When I drive around and see a building, like the Macy's, when I say, "We helped get those escalators out." And I'm sure you have a lot of pride, when you see your job. I used to paint houses when I was 16, 17. I still drive by some of those houses. I'm like, "I painted that house." I just had that pride in anything I do really. So do you see any big changes coming in the demolition industry?

Mike:

I don't know. The business is always evolving a little bit. Some of the demo guys that are out there, are innovating in ways that I wouldn't think.

Nick:

Is that what technology or what's the biggest driver on some of the changes? I would think a lot of it's still similar to how it was 10 years ago.

Mike:

Yeah, just get in there and rip it down stuff. I don't know. Some of it may be just some fresh faces come into the jobs and looking at stuff a little differently than, I started 28 years ago. And so the way I've always done it is the path I usually take. And sometimes it takes some fresh faces in there to really think, "Well, why are we doing it that way?" Common sense would tell me, the new guy who's never done this, that this would be the easier path. So I think some of it's fresh faces, some of it's just-

Nick:

Yeah. You're hitting it right on the head, I think. Because I was touring one of the Fiberon, they make that Trex decking type stuff. And I don't exactly remember what the machine exactly did, but they basically had this attachment, that they added to it, that saved half the time on doing that work. And the guy that figured that out was a temp worker. Because he went in there, they'd been doing it the same way for 10 years. And this temp worker that came in was like, "why don't we do it like this?" And they'd said, "Well, shit, we never thought of it like that."

Mike:

"Where were you 10 years ago?"

Nick:

Yeah. So I think it's important to, even with some of the guys I trained, I'm like, "Hey, this is how I've done it. But if you see a better way, I want to know. I want to know and look at it." Because you just never know, because that's how I've done it, that's how I know it. But it is important to get those fresh set of eyes on things.

Mike:

Yeah. It's interesting how a business that is so much the same, go in and tear down this building. That how some fresh faces or new perspective can drive innovation on how to more economically or just improve how we get the work done. So I guess you have to keep your eyes open for that new guy and new perspective.

Nick:

Yeah, you got to be open to it. I think the businesses that die, are the ones that's-

Mike:

Are so rigid.

Nick:

That are just so like, "That's not how we do it." The ones that aren't open to it. I know we talked about a few jobs already, but do you have a favorite job or one that stands out, anything that? Or any funny stories or anything like that, you can think of? We might have already hit on a lot of them.

Mike:

Yeah. Abatement Pro is niche business, where some of those jobs downtown, like the CC Anderson building or 10th and Main, it's about a block from the CC Anderson building. Those are two buildings that we basically went in and gut the entire building. The 10th and Main building, anybody who worked downtown a couple of years ago, we had 10th Street blocked off for a couple months. Because we saw cut about 70% of the concrete roof off of that building and craned-

Nick:

You were telling me about that.

Mike:

These concrete slabs were four feet wide, six feet wide, by 13 feet long. We craned those slabs off the top of the building, so that they could add another floor to the building, another penthouse basically. It's the jobs like that, that have... After 28 years, I've seen a lot of jobs come and go. It's the ones that have a more technical aspect to them, a little bit of challenge and the diverse kinds of skills that we need to get the job done. I think that's where a Abatement Pro really shines, is that we're not afraid to take on any of those jobs. We always want to innovate. We want to look at things a little differently and try to get those done.

Nick:

Well, I think going into a job like that, you have to be. Because not every job is the same. You got to find a way to do that particular job. That one's not as simple as knocking the building out and picking the scrap out.

Mike:

Right. Yeah. There were definitely challenges that... Even the Albertson's Spoke thing that we talked about earlier. There's 125 linear feet of the front of that building, that we basically took the entire front wall of the building away, so that they could make that new, fancy, Albertson's look there.

Nick:

Yeah, the entrance.

Mike:

So we saw cut that wall out and then took, I got the biggest front end loader that Western States Cat had available. And changed that wall to the front bucket and laid that front wall down-

Nick:

I wish I had the footage of that.

Mike:

In 40 foot pieces. We'd lay that front wall down with that loader and then break up the wall on the ground.

Nick:

Because you're not trying to save it.

Mike:

No.

Nick:

You're just trying to break it to maintain the integrity of the rest of it.

Mike:

Right. We were trying to figure out how to safely get that wall out of there, without damaging any other part of the building that was supposed to stay.

Nick:

What about even the concrete and asphalt? Are you still trying to protect that too? Or is that-

Mike:

Yeah, all the sidewalks on the exterior part of the building.

Nick:

Yeah because I don't think they had re had to redo any of that, did they?

Mike:

They redid some, but not all.

Nick:

Did they? Okay. So you saved a lot of it.

Mike:

Right. We saved what we had to and the part that demoed, we weren't as concerned about.

Nick:

[crosstalk 00:30:42] demoed.

Mike:

But bringing that wall down safely was what we were after there. So yeah, a lot of work. Because otherwise that wall would have been mostly all hand demo, 125 linear feet of 30 some foot high wall. That's a lot of hand demo to-

Nick:

What does hand demo mean?

Mike:

It means guys with sledgehammers or handheld jackhammers, physical, hard, manual labor kind of stuff.

Nick:

So you're in there with hot saws, is that what you're using? Or what kind of saws?

Mike:

Hot saws, because that wall was embedded with rebar. So there's a certain amount of hot saw work. Or portions of it, we had A-Core come in and saw cut lengths of wall, linear bites of that wall, to make that separation so we could take it down and in pieces. So yeah, that was the whole goal, is how do we take it down safely and as efficiently as possible. Because ultimately, productivity drives some of the game, but it's got to be safe.

Nick:

You got to find that sweet spot, where it makes sense and then it gets the job done.

Mike:

Right.

Nick:

Well, cool. Well, one last question for you, Mike, how do people get ahold of you guys?

Mike:

We're in the phone book, Abatement Pro Inc., is out there.

Nick:

Okay. Website, phone number?

Mike:

We used to have a website. We used to pay for some people to manage a website. I don't think that's up anymore just because we-

Nick:

Well we'll put your phone number on the-

Mike:

Slide it in their or something.

Nick:

Yeah, we'll slide it in there for you.

Mike:

Yeah. We're always interested in taking a look at new challenges.

Nick:

We'll put it out there. And I mean, I appreciate you coming to do this. I know you're busy. Where are you headed right now?

Mike:

Headed to Pocatello. We've got a couple of jobs going on out there. So go out and check on the crew and get an update on how everything goes.

Nick:

I love it. Thanks for your time.

Mike:

Thanks Nick.

Speaker 1:

Thank you for listening to another episode of Recycled Idaho. And as we continue the journey across this great state, we look forward to bringing you more stories of people and organizations putting in the work to do the right thing.