You Know the Drill: Staying Profitable Amidst Increasing Costs
Before launching his professional career, Stewart Krause, sales manager with Wyo-Ben Inc., decided to take some time off from college to earn some money. He took a job in the oil field and, “life happened,” he says. Now, 38 years into his drilling industry career, Krause is being recognized with the National Ground Water Association’s (NGWA) Ross L. Oliver Award. The association’s top honor recognizes outstanding contributions to the groundwater industry.
“It was certainly a surprise to be even mentioned in the same group as the past recipients,” he says. “I have been fortunate in that I know quite a few of the past award winners of the [Ross L.] Oliver Award and hold them in high regard. I do not take this award lightly.”
Krause says his success is due in large part to taking every opportunity to learn all aspects of the business, not just what he’s doing at the moment. His advice to drilling industry newcomers is to find a mentor to bounce questions off of.
In his role as sales manager for the Billings, Mont.-based sodium bentonite manufacturer he is tasked with keeping the company profitable with ever-increasing costs. Krause says the bentonite market is very competitive with the oil and gas market down. The oversupply drives pricing down.
“Regulatory requirements, insurance, mining costs, labor, travel, etc. continue to climb with little room for price increases on the sales side. We try to maintain a customer service level to support our distribution network while not breaking the bank,” he says.
Q. What do you do and what keeps you coming back every day?
A. New challenges. Our company deals in a lot of different industries, so you never know what the next phone call brings.
Q. What does a typical workday involve?
A. When I’m in town, it usually starts with arriving at the office at 7 o’clock. Coming in early allows me to get a jump on emails and paperwork before the phone starts ringing. I also like to start the phone calls to the earlier time zones that usually are follow-up from the previous day. I try to communicate with all of the sales group multiple times per week by phone, email or text to stay informed of what they’re doing in the field. Meetings seem to occupy a large amount of my office time as well. When traveling, the days usually start by 6:30 with customer meetings and site visits. Dinner with customers rounds out the sales day, but paperwork and email usually adds an additional hour or two.
Q. What does it take to succeed at what you do?
A. Perseverance. I always say it takes a new employee two years to start making money rather than costing money. While the mud business may seem simple from the outside, there is a lot to learn, not just on the field side but also distributor sales. You have to earn the trust and respect of not just our distributors but their customers as well.
Q. What do you wish you knew when you started?
A. I wish I had known the right questions to ask. I had a very good group of mentors, but you have to know enough to ask the right questions to really learn. There is no substitute for experience.
Q. What tool can you not imagine working without?
A. Today, the cell phone. I remember waiting in line to use a pay phone.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. Your hearing is much better with your mouth closed.
Q. How would you describe the present state of the industry?
A. That’s a very difficult question to answer in that the water well drilling industry is very versatile. When the water well sector falls off, they find some other type of drilling to do. Environmental, geothermal, oil and gas, foundation, cathodic, HDD, mining, and the list goes on, have drawn their attention in the past. What does concern me is the lack of younger people coming into the aging industry.