You Know the Drill: A Balanced Approach to Small Business Management
Q. What do you do and what keeps you coming back every day?
A. My field work is down to a few times a month, where I might help out a little bit. There I get a chance to meet the clients and see their perceptions of our service and how well we do for them, and try and understand what their needs are so that we can hopefully anticipate the services that will sell and keep the company in business first and growing if possible. What keeps me coming back every day is more two things. It’s momentum. I’ve grown generally during the last 19 years, not even growth but up and down I’ve kept growing a little bit. I can’t imagine going out trying to find a job now.
Q. What does a typical workday involve?
A. Mostly in the morning I’m paying bills, writing invoices, doing quotes. I deposit every check that comes and I pay every bill myself. Like a lot of small businesses, I haven’t gotten over the hump I guess. I haven’t made it through to the other side where I can let accounting go. It always seems like it’s done poorly or dishonestly. I haven’t met that challenge yet, so accounts payable, accounts receivable, billing and quotes are most of my day. Also, I have the burden of tax compliance and reporting compliance because we operate out of New Jersey and it’s a small state, so you can cross state borders in a couple of hours. Just trying to operate between New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware and Maryland. There are so many borders to cross. So the regulatory burden, the license burden and the tax reporting burden are pretty substantial trying to work in an area where state borders are so close.
Q. What does it take to succeed in what you do?
A.I try and keep my bets on equipment and services as reasonable as practical. It has probably slowed my growth over the years, but my primary goal is to stay in business. Growing is important and I strive to grow, but my primary goal is just to keep the lights on and keep people employed. So I try not to grow too fast. I try not to buy too much equipment that I can’t afford. I don’t always have the nicest, newest stuff, but a lot of drillers work with stuff that’s 10 years old and even older. So I’m like a lot of people. I like my stuff that’s paid for, working and acting as a backup and helping to pay the bills for the newer equipment. I try and grow cautiously.
Q. What do you wish you knew when you started?
A. I’ve gotten some equipment that didn’t work out and some equipment that I should have been more ambitious and eager to get into. So if I knew where the industry was going, if I had a crystal ball, that would be a wonderful thing. I’ve bought some things that were just the wrong piece of equipment at the wrong time. I bought some of the lower end equipment that was Geoprobe knockoff, much lower cost, and it absolutely cost me a great deal of money. Really, that’s the reason why only Geoprobe and PowerProbe are still in the business, because they’re the only two firms that actually put a decent probe/auger machine together. For whatever reason, I stuck with Geoprobe and it’s done well by me. There are only two manufacturers left and there’s a reason for it. I’ve got some of the other knockoff equipment and it has always gone very poorly.
Q. What tool can you not imagine working without?
A. I’m primarily a Geoprobe vendor, so really the Geoprobe brand equipment is my core business. It would be a different industry if Geoprobe wasn’t the primary vendor of the medium sized and small auger machine/probe machine. However, I recently moved into sonic drilling and selected a Dando rig with an SDC 50K drill head. When I ordered the machine, Geoprobe wasn’t producing their 50K sonic rigs yet. I am really satisfied with the Dando rig, so this is an instance where working with a vendor besides Geoprobe has worked out well. I am running Geoprobe drill rods and tools with the Dando rig though.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. I would say try and bring up an apprentice and train your own drillers just because it’s easier to quality control when you have your own trained people coming up. Sometimes bringing on a seasoned driller, it can be very difficult to convince them to work in the fashion that you expect them, just because there’s a lot of independence in the driller’s position. They’re not on the floor; they’re not in a shop with a boss around. They have to go out and conduct their work as you expect, and you can’t babysit them. So having your own training is very helpful and valuable.
Q. How would you describe the present state of the industry?
A. I think commercial real estate is flat, growing slightly. A lot of the remediation budgets for the big corporate manufacturers and retail gasoline companies have pretty much flattened out, so I don’t really see any growth in the industry. If anything, I see a small contraction. So we’re just going to be in one of those situations where we have to retrench and try and keep busy with what we have. I don’t foresee a lot of growth, which is one of the reasons why I moved into sonic. I think it’s one of the few services that has some growth potential.
Valerie King is associate editor of National Driller.