Ascendent Grows Into Full-Service Demolition Contractor

An operator cuts steel with a Komatsu PC490LC-10 excavator. (Ascendent Demolition photo)

Wed October 04, 2023
Update Magazine

Destruction of the Kingdome — home to Seattle professional sports teams from 1976 to 1999 — provided the catalyst for Rick Estes to start his own business.

"I worked for a prominent company that landed the selective demolition," said Estes. "Unfortunately, they underbid the job by quite a large amount, which led to it going out of business about a year later. During that timeframe, I was promoted from a field superintendent to project estimator, which kind of concluded my education in doing demolition work."

Rick Estes, co-owner and project manager of Ascendent Demolition LLC

Estes began learning about the demolition industry just out of high school in the late 1980s when he was handed a jackhammer.

"I performed about every role possible for various companies," recalled Estes. "Once the one I was working for on the Kingdome job closed, there was really only one thing left to do."

Estes took his "education" and approximately $10,000 he borrowed from a family member, obtained a business license and started Ascendent Demolition LLC in 2001. He believed the name was a perfect fit for not only the circumstance, but the type of work the company performs.

"Ascendent means on the rise and I believed that Ascendent was kind of like a phoenix rising out of the ashes of a failed company," Estes explained. "Additionally, demolition is often the starting point of something new and better. I thought it really embodied who we were and where we wanted to go."

Since Ascendent Demolition's inception in Puyallup, Wash., Estes has overseen operations as a co-owner and a project manager. His business partner, Heather Estes, also is a co-owner and the administrative manager. Their son, Mike, is a project manager and part of a team of 75 full-time employees.

"I was fortunate to have some contacts in the industry and I got a call from a prior client who had a $10,000 job," said Estes. "I couldn't have picked a better first job to get us off the ground because it led to additional work. Over the course of a year, we performed $200,000 in select demo at the same address."

That fast start allowed Ascendent Demolition to hire additional staff and Estes was able to focus on sales, which spurred further growth. In 2007, the company bought a commercial property to house the business. Then, the Great Recession hit and Estes realized there was more to learn.

"It was a challenging time," said Estes. "We came through it with several lessons in how to run the business that have led us to where we are today. We're grateful to have survived because a lot didn't."

Change in Focus, Bigger Machinery

Throughout its early days, Ascendent Demolition maintained a focus on selective work. That changed around eight years ago when Estes decided it was time to tackle full building demolition, which now accounts for approximately 60 percent of the company's current portfolio of work, with the rest made up of mainly selective demo and hazardous material abatement.

"We now consider ourselves a building demolition contractor, but it's important to us to facilitate any customer need, whether it's pulling up some carpet for $1,500 or taking out a large structure for $4 million or $5 million," Estes said. "Emergency response also is on our list and we offer other services, such as concrete polishing and restoration. We believe that diversification is important and we have added the civil market in the last couple of years to go along with the commercial and industrial work that we mainly do."

A stronger emphasis on full building demolition prompted Ascendent Demolition to look for bigger machinery.

"I decided it was time to take a chance and buy a big excavator," Estes said. "We bought a used, low-hour Komatsu PC350HD in 2015, studied the production of what it could do and realized that we could drastically change our bidding metrics and compete with the big players. Our timing worked out really well because the market was good. Slowly, we started accumulating more equipment, and by 2017, we had five or six machines."

The PC350HD wasn't Ascendent Demolition's first Komatsu excavator. Estes purchased a PC200 almost a decade prior. Both were acquired with the help of Modern Machinery Territory Manager Mike Foote.

"I called several dealers looking for a machine and Mike was the most responsive; he treated me like I was any other contractor and took the time to get to know me when others wouldn't give me the time of day," Estes said. "It said a lot about him and Modern and they haven't let me down since. Their support is outstanding, whether it's parts, service or the knowledge that Mike and Modern have in what we need in machinery. It's a big reason why we chose Komatsu and have stayed with it."

Ascendent Demolition's current fleet includes 21 Komatsu excavators, ranging in size from a 9.6-ton PC88MR tight tail swing to an approximately 90-ton PC800LC. The larger machines stand out due to their branded red counterweights that bear the company name. All are plumbed to run attachments such as shears and hammers.

"We've wanted to add a PC800 for some time because we have gotten aggressive in the civil bridge demolition market and we see it as a key to our success of being able to honor our commitment of taking those down quickly like we did on the Main Street overpass in Bellevue," said Estes. "We had 40 hours to break up and remove about 3,500 cubic yards of material. We got it done about six hours ahead of schedule, which was exciting. The PC88s are like shovels and brooms in comparison, but they are great utility machines that give us a lot of options. We tend to buy low-hour, well-cared-for, used machines, but we went with brand new on those because they duty cycle so much. We equip them with rubber pads over steel for sensitive work such as interior demo.

"Komatsu in general gives us great production and longevity in a demanding application," Estes added. "We have excavators pushing 10,000 hours and our fleet probably averages around 3,400 hours at this time. Every Komatsu we have purchased is still working and considered a primary machine."

To keep them in top shape, Ascendent Demolition Equipment Manager Kyle Jolk uses an aggressive preventive maintenance program that includes tracking the Komatsu equipment with Komtrax through My Komatsu. He monitors daily service hours, machine hours, idle time, abnormalities and other critical data.

"It's a great fleet management tool," said Jolk. "The machine information is current. I also use My Komatsu to look at manuals for troubleshooting and to order parts. We take care of most maintenance ourselves, but when needed, Modern is right there to help. Their technicians and service department have been a huge asset."

Estes added that Foote and Modern Aggregate Sales Specialist Ron Payne were helpful in Ascendent Demolition's adoption of on-site crushing with the addition of an Astec FT4250 mobile impact crusher.

"It lowered costs versus trucking out, which has proven beneficial to our bidding strategy," said Estes. "When we bought that crusher, it was completely foreign to us. Mike and Ron came out and made sure we understood the crusher and how to make the most of it."

Successful Initiative

Ascendent Demolition has identified additional bridge demo as an area for new growth and wants to expand its footprint by doing more projects in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. The company also is focused on building a better future for the next generation of owners, and Estes stated that Jolk and Senior Project Manager Jon Ross are set to take over when the time comes. Estes also formed the Ascendent 25 team, which includes himself, Heather, Jolk, Ross and Administrative Team Leader Liki Estes. The team meets monthly to discuss ideas and challenges.

"I wanted to make sure that they were heard and given opportunities to learn, grow and implement their ideas and the results have been nothing short of amazing," said Estes. "I see in them a lot of creativity, energy and desire that's creating further success. Since its implementation, we have seen our log of work more than double."

(This story was originally published in Update Magazine/Sept. 2023 Issue. It was reprinted with permission.)