One For All
Teamwork at RJ Smith Demolition drives company success
When it comes to giving new life to an existing space, projects start and end with RJ Smith Demolition. The firm, headquartered in Chesterfield, Virginia, is part of a family of companies under the parent organization, RJ Smith Companies. “We are the only organization in our region providing a full-service construction solution to our customers,” says Richard Smith, President of RJ Smith Companies.
The family-owned business is well-versed in demolition and offers a full suite of services, including environmental remediation, site development and general contracting. This value-added experience is provided through the company’s sister companies.
The RJ Smith Companies organization also includes RJ Smith Construction and RJ Smith General Contracting. Founded in 1995, RJ Smith Companies serves clients throughout Virginia and across the Mid-Atlantic region. “We work primarily in the federal, energy and industrial sectors,” Richard says.
From Environmental Remediation to Recycling
Richard says the process starts with that initial call. “A client might need a nine-story building demolished to make room for a new high-rise office building,” he says. The company first conducts a survey to identify if hazardous materials like asbestos, lead or PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are present in the existing building. “If we find hazardous substances, our environmental remediation team safely removes these materials.”
Once utilities are disconnected, the team removes everything from ceiling tile to drywall to electrical components, separating out materials for recycling. “Through RJ Smith Materials, we recycle concrete, asphalt and brick,” says Monique Smith, wife of Richard and Owner of RJ Smith Materials and USA Iron and Metal, which partner frequently with RJ Smith Demolition on projects. USA Iron and Metal recycles ferrous and non-ferrous metals, including copper, steel, aluminum, brass and iron.
The companies recycle an average of 22,000 tons of concrete and 2,700 tons of ferrous and non-ferrous metals per month. “These committed recycling efforts keep millions of pounds of waste out of landfills each year,” Monique says.
“We recycle approximately 90% of most buildings that we take down, and RJ Smith Materials is the largest recycler of concrete in Central Virginia,” Richard adds. “Every brick, every block, every piece of concrete, all the ferrous and non-ferrous metals are repurposed. In this way, we’re lowering the carbon footprint and doing the right thing for the environment.”
Living the Safety Culture
RJ Smith Demolition gets work done efficiently and, most importantly, safely. The company has an Experience Modification Rate (EMR) of 0.72. “Due to the inherent risk of demolition and the number of employees, our EMR is quite an achievement,” says Jeremy Setelin, Project Manager for RJ Smith Demolition.
“There are many things that differentiate us from the competition. Safety is on the top of that list,” Richard says. The company employs a full-time safety team that keeps safety top of mind and comes up with ways to keep complacency at bay. “When you say the same message over and over again, it can end up ignored. Our team finds new and innovative ways to get the message across,” Jeremy says.
The company holds safety summits twice a year and daily job site safety meetings. “It’s a great time to come together to evaluate our performance and discuss ways we can continue to improve,” Richard says. He notes that though safety leadership starts at the top, all employees are empowered to act. “Whether a laborer or a superintendent, everyone has equal authority to stop an action that might be unsafe. We all are responsible for making sure each of us returns home in a safe manner.”
According to Jeremy, employees don’t just preach safety—they live it. “When you hear employees talk about safety interventions or precautions they take at home, you know it’s no longer words; they’re living the culture,” he says.
Richard and Monique’s 16-year-old daughter has even inspired those at her high school. “Savannah started backing into her parking space and now other students do the same,” Richard says, noting that by reverse parking, drivers avoid backing out blindly into oncoming traffic or into the path of pedestrians, which is the leading cause of all parking lot accidents.
From office buildings to military barracks to hotels, RJ Smith Demolition serves a wide array of industries. Noteworthy projects include the Spotsylvania Courthouse in Spotsylvania, Virginia, where crews removed an annex building and rehabilitated the existing courthouse. “The original courthouse was constructed sometime around 1900, but an addition was built in the 1960s,” Jeremy says. “We demolished the addition, did the site and landscaping work and restored the original building to its historic look and feel, patching the facade with brick from the 1900s.”
A high-profile project in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, involved the demolition of a 50,000-square-foot unused school building and construction of a new 20,000-square-foot Class A office building. “Our family of companies took that project from conception to completion,” Richard notes.
For Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, RJ Smith Demolition removed a multilevel hotel in Richmond, Virginia. “We demolished a nine-story building, a five-story building and a three-story building and performed asbestos abatement on more than 380,000 square feet of space,” Jeremy says.
Since 2005, the company has been on-site every day at various U.S. military bases. At Fort Eustis, the company removed four barracks totaling 250,000 square feet and performed predevelopment work on 26 acres, the site of two new five-story barracks facilities.
A project for Publix involved the demolition of an 80,000-square-foot grocery store. “This project was noteworthy due to its compressed schedule. We completed the project in less than four weeks,” Jeremy says.
“These projects are a prime example of the teamwork and communication skills of our staff. Their efforts have led to increased efficiency, exceptional quality and, most importantly, safely completed projects,” he adds.
Richard credits his team of more than 100 employees with RJ Smith Companies’ success. “Our team is dedicated to serving the customer and thinking of others first. Employees have a true servant-first mentality,” he says.
The company holds character in high regard along with experience, according to Richard. The company is inspired by the 212 philosophy, a concept embraced from Sam Parker’s book, “212° the extra degree.”
“At 211 degrees, water is hot. At 212 degrees, it boils. And with boiling water comes steam—and steam can power a locomotive. The one extra degree makes the difference. This simple analogy reflects the ultimate definition of excellence,” Richard says. “When we go that extra degree in everything we do, we can produce amazing results. We live by that at RJ Smith Companies.”
The company’s strong culture can be found in its roots. “Every manager here started on a shovel or a piece of equipment,” Richard says. “They all worked from the bottom on up. Our company’s commitment to quality and strong ethics is cultivated with each employee over time.”
Jeremy notes that the diligence and character exhibited by employees starts with the Smith family itself. “Richard’s parents, RJ and Colleen, gave him that foundation,” he says. The Smiths provided excavation and grading services for homebuilders in Virginia. RJ can often be found around the office today. “RJ is 80 years old, but can still run circles around us,” Jeremy adds.
One very visible representation of the company’s values can be spotted along Interstate 95 and Route 288. At 212 feet, the company erected the tallest flagpole in Virginia at Unity Park, which flies the largest American flag in the Commonwealth of Virginia. “Over 2 million people see that flag each week,” Richard says. Our family members are strong patriots, and the flag is a visual representation of freedoms we have because of the sacrifices made.”
RJ Smith Companies offers opportunities for employees to serve the community, including donating food, clothing and school supplies, along with rebuilding playgrounds. “At the beginning of the school year, we delivered 1,000 backpacks to seven different area schools. Employees serve as mentors for area children and we participate in job shadowing with high schools to encourage an emphasis on the trades,” Richard says. “Employees line up to be a part of these volunteer opportunities.”
Richard is also proud of the diversity of his team. “All of our staff in the field and in management have worked their way up. The opportunities here are endless. You can be a laborer today and be running a division within a short time,” he says. “You get what you earn here. Employees go home tired, but they respect themselves because they know they’ve put in a hard day’s work.”
RJ Smith Companies prides itself on a shared values system amongst its extraordinary team. “Our communication skills and attention to detail drive these premier companies forward each and every day,” Richard says. “With a one-team, one-fight mentality, the continued success of RJ Smith Companies is truly a team effort—212.”