Shell, Carolina Siteworks leaving their mark on regional landscape

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 6, 2014

CHINA GROVE — Darrell Shell has always done things from the ground up, and Carolina Siteworks, the company he co-founded in 1999, pretty much starts at ground zero.
The Carolina Siteworks crews clear and grade sites, install curb and gutter, dig out and install water-sewer systems, construct sidewalks and parking lots, pave and repair streets, develop subdivisions and build things such as tennis courts and running tracks.
Shell’s company handled the site preparation and utility pieces for the Wallace Commons shopping center in Salisbury and the new Love’s Truck Stop along Interstate 85. It did the land preparation and development for numerous residential subdivisions in Cabarrus and Rowan counties.
Carolina Siteworks built the track at West Rowan High and the tennis courts at Salisbury High. In recent years, it has landed several projects for the N.C. and S.C. Air National Guards, such as replacing an apron for 24 F-16 jets and adding 1,000 feet of runway.
“Our team is made up of people who really care about their product, and it shows to our customers,” Shell says. “Some of them have been with us since day one, and others have been here for many years. Others are friends who I have known since childhood and high school.”
Today, Carolina Siteworks employs about 25 people. This past week, crews were removing and relocating a bus driveway at Beverly Hills Elementary School in Concord and constructing an additional 30-space parking lot in the rear of Rufty-Holmes Senior Center in Salisbury.
The senior center project required Carolina Siteworks to clear woods, grade, build a curb, make connections to the existing parking lot, lay stone, pave with asphalt and line out all the new spaces.
On this particular day, Shell stopped by to check on the curbing. The site was bustling with seven guys, a couple of motor graders and the company’s 1997 model Power Curbers machine.
They had started about 6 that morning.
“I don’t think I was cut out to be in a cubicle,” Shell says, knowing that statement sounds strange coming from a guy who majored in economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Plus, he increasingly finds himself tied to the company’s headquarters at 300 Wade Drive, not far from Carson High School. But he’s not complaining.
“I enjoy coming to work,” he says. “I think I will for a long time.”
Shell, 44, is a 1987 graduate of South Rowan High School. While in school, he worked summers for Donald Bost Trucking, a connection that would prove beneficial later.
His dad, John, worked many years for the maintenance department at Cannon Mills, and Darrell says John also was a mechanic with a repair shop at his house. Sue, his mother, worked at home and sold crafts. His brother, Kenneth, has a hoof-trimming business today.
When Shell graduated from UNC in 1991 with his economics degree, he anticipated a career in banking or insurance, but a recession hit at the same time. As he interviewed with various companies, Shell learned quickly no one was hiring.
He told himself if he didn’t have a job by that fall, he would consider joining the Navy. But fate and the Bost connection from the summers led him to start working for Bost Construction of Rockwell.
He said he learned the business by doing everything, such as shoveling gravel, laying pipe and running machinery. It led into project management and having a superintendent’s role in road construction and asphalt paving. Shell also became involved with outside sales and working with customers.
All the while, he was being mentored by men such as O.G. “Mack” McLaughlin, a longtime superintendent for Bost Construction.
“I knew then it was something I could make a career out of,” Shell said.
For Shell, the worst part of being in the construction business, especially at project meetings, is that most of Shell’s counterparts went to school at either N.C. State or Clemson.
Shell laughs and says he likes to think he gained insights into the big picture at UNC.
In late 1998, Bost Construction was sold to Rea Construction in Charlotte. By March 1999, Shell had started Carolina Siteworks with two partners: Jackie Reilly and Todd McNeely.
Reilly remains a part owner. He also kept working for Concord Builders and still does today.
Shell says the men put together a good business plan, worked with low overhead and had made a lot of connections through their previous work. Cabarrus Bank was willing to finance the startup because Carolina Siteworks already had several residential subdivision jobs lined up, Shell adds.
Carolina Siteworks started with nine employees, including several from Bost Construction, and worked out of a two-bay shop on Shell’s father’s property.
McNeely ran the crews. Shell, company president, rented an office from Brad Bost, and Carolina Siteworks eventually moved to a shop on North Main Street. In 2006, the company bought the Wade Drive property from a church and did some renovating and new construction.
The site had been neglected and was “kind of scary looking,” Shell says. But the tucked-away location is close to I-85 and the homes of Shell and many of his other employees.
“The GPS really doesn’t like to find Wade Drive,” Shell says.
Today, the company operates out of three large buildings, and a lot of heavy-duty equipment and materials cover the 3-acre site.
As with most companies in this business, Carolina Siteworks hit a rough patch in 2008-2009, when construction dried up during the recession.
“Everything stopped,” Shell said. Through the third quarter of 2008, Carolina Siteworks was having a record year until things ground to a halt.
Shell soon was faced with laying people off.
“It was very different,” he says. “I had never had to lay off anyone. We had only known growth.”
As the downturn continued, the new military contracts for work in both Carolinas provided a buffer until construction picked up again. If not for the government work, Shell says, Carolina Siteworks would have had to rethink its business model.
School systems also have been good customers for the company. While at first Carolina Siteworks depended on new residential subdivisions for much of its income, they probably represent only 10 percent of its business today.
The company is doing a larger percentage of commercial work than ever before.
“We’re very fortunate, no doubt,” Shell says.
Away from work, Shell likes to tinker with vintage Ford Mustangs and Chevrolet Camaros. He’s also proud of a restored 1954 Chevrolet truck he keeps at the Carolina Siteworks headquarters.
Shell and his wife, Christy, have two daughters, Lauren and Sarah. Shell says he met his wife on a blind date — just another example of working from the ground up.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.