Your People Are the Key
Martin, a second-generation driller, started Air Drilling Co. in 1966. The firm, a water well drilling business, is located in Statesville, N.C., as is his other company, Geologic Exploration Inc.
“In the water well drilling business, I’ve got 12 employees, and we run four air rigs,” Martin explains. “All the rigs were bought new – they’re all Driltechs we purchased from Rotary Drilling Equipment Inc. We have two 2003s and two 2001s.” Air Drilling does more residential work than commercial. “We’ll drill 30 to 40 8-inch wells per year – that’s all commercial,” Martin says. “Last year was tremendous because of the drought. The city cut the amount of water available to industry by 50 percent, so there was a lot of drilling done here in our little town; we did quite a bit of big work for local industries. This year, all we had in January, February and March was rain. We’re still busy – we’re out about two weeks – but it’s not like it was with the big backlog.”
Race Track JobOne of the big projects took place at the home of the longest Winston Cup race on the NASCAR circuit – the Coca-Cola 600. Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., needed water in order to irrigate the infield of the racetrack. “Because after last year’s drought, many of the cities cut off water to be used for irrigation,” Martin explains.
“We were unsuccessful on the first well we drilled. We got a little bit of water but they wanted 150 gallons per minute. We drilled that well 600 feet deep but couldn’t get enough water to put a pump in it. We ended up moving to another spot outside the stands and drilling an 800-foot well. We put in 49 feet of 8-inch galvanized casing, and we drilled it 6 inches in the bottom. We had enough water that it was worthwhile for us to ream it to 8 inches. We pump tested it for 24 hours and estimated it to have 175 gallons per minute. At the end of the 24 hours, it was at 130 gallons per minute but it was well above that for long enough that we had no trouble giving them the 150 they wanted to get them through the irrigation cycle.”
Other VenturesMartin’s Geologic Exploration Inc. does environmental drilling projects. “I’ve got six rigs for that operation,” he notes. Martin started that company in 1990, and it employs 17 people. “I saw that there was going to be quite a bit of environmental drilling being done and I was looking for work at that time to help keep the air rigs busy, so I got into that and it just kept getting bigger and bigger for us. It’s got more people, and we do more volume over there than we do in well drilling but the revenue is about the same because the projects are smaller.”
And there’s still another drilling concern with which Martin has ties. “My dad started Hickory Well Drilling Co. in 1938,” he relates. “About 17 years ago, I had an opportunity to reactivate that business with a partner who was born and raised in the drilling business just like I was. That company does strictly pump work and water conditioning so when we get calls for that type of work, we refer it on to them.”
Looking AheadMartin has no plans for expansion. “I’m as big as I want to get right now,” he insists. “I never would have believed that I’d get this big. While we don’t have any top positions open, you’re always looking for helpers – they’re often hard to find. If I wanted to expand, the environmental side has the most potential for that but, again, I don’t want to get any bigger.
“Our industry has become so much more professionalized in the last five or six years or more,” he continues. “There’s always going to be demand. Water lines are coming more and more. Some of the areas we’re working in have rules that say if a water line is within so many hundred feet of your property, you cannot drill a well. But still, there always will be water wells. I think things are positive for our industry. And on the environmental side, I don’t see a slowdown. It’s been very good already this year. The weather doesn’t affect it quite as bad as the water well drilling because most of the work is on pavement. We’re not having to deal with new construction sites and open fields and so forth.”
As for his succession plans, Martin tells us: “I have two sons-in-law and a daughter working for both businesses and I hope they’re going to take it and go with it, but you never know anymore.”
One thing he does know: “We’re very blessed that we have some really great folks – I’m surrounded by good people. That’s the key for any of us.”