Soil Consultants, Inc. has mastered the family recipe for business success. Celebrating its 65th anniversary this year, the company now has three generations working at its downtown facility. And while several family members are part of the company, the employees at Soil Consultants are just as much part of the extended family.
The first geotechnical firm in Charleston and the oldest such firm headquartered in South Carolina, Kenneth Johnson, Sr. founded Soil Consultants in 1951, bringing geotechnical engineering and materials testing to Charleston. Over the years, the company survived both Hurricanes Gracie and Hugo as well as the Great Recession.
President Brian Johnson admits the company isn’t like other engineering firms. The family values and the company’s smaller size in relation to some of its competitors set it apart – but in a way that has allowed the firm to thrive for more than six decades.
Brian, Kenneth’s son, took over as president in 2001. His siblings serve in leadership positions: Kenneth Johnson Jr. as vice president and Marie Starich as senior vice president. Their mother, Martha Johnson, is chairwoman and CEO. She controls the operations of the company and continues to oversee the firm’s finances just as she did when her husband first founded the business. Adding to the sense of family at Soil Consultants, many employees have been with the company for more than 30 years – some as long as 50 years – but newer employees are welcomed into the fold as the firm focuses on the future.
In addition to geotechnical engineering and construction materials testing, Soil Consultants offers nondestructive testing, contract drilling and testing, and limited environmental consulting.
Its testing capabilities are important in a historic city like Charleston. The company has X-rayed old cannons, tested masonry in historic buildings and churches, and even worked on the delicate H.L. Hunley project, testing the soil sediment before the submarine was lifted from the ocean floor. Soil Consultants was also part of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge construction team and has worked on many facilities for the Medical University of South Carolina.
The company invests in its employees by sending them to training and certification programs. That level of professional diligence makes Soil Consultants one of the first engineering firms tapped for major projects around Charleston, as well as Georgia and North Carolina.
Capital investments in equipment and software are important to Soil Consultants – a certified woman-owned business and SCDOT DBE and SBE. It’s the first engineering company in Charleston to purchase a marsh buggy, an amphibious vehicle that can handle trips through the Lowcountry marsh.
Equipment investments are just one of many reasons other – often much larger – engineering firms contract with Soil Consultants. The company has its own equipment, so it’s responsive and available to tackle big jobs. “We pack a hell of a punch for 35 employees,” Brian Johnson says.
In addition to investments in equipment and training, Soil Consultants has grown its materials testing lab over the years, expanding offerings and investing in third-party certifications, Marie Starich explains. The lab is one of the most accredited in the state, and Starich notes that maintaining those certifications reflects Soil Consultants’ dedication to its customers by providing reliable data that consistently meets industry standards.
For the Johnsons, Charleston isn’t just the place they do business. It’s home. Taking a cue from their father, the family remains active in the Charleston community. The Johnsons are active in Rotary. They also mentor students at local schools and colleges to foster the next generation of civil engineers.
Whether working on a brand new building or historic properties like the Dock Street Theatre, Charleston City Hall or St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Soil Consultants’ dedication to quality reaffirms its position as a leader in Charleston’s geotechnical engineering industry.
Clients like MUSC could pick any firm, but they continue to select Soil Consultants because of its superior customer service and commitment to excellence. The firm might be small, but it’s well established in the Charleston market, having solidified its position as the geotechnical company to call.
“We want people to know we have the capacity to handle projects ranging from single-family homes to institutional, industrial and commercial projects as large as MUSC,” Brian Johnson says.