We celebrate the continued dedication and hard work of septic service contractors by revisiting companies profiled 10 years ago in Pumper magazine. Check out the original story on the Resource Geoscience Inc. remediation company we featured in the May 2003 issue: “In the Trenches.”
Tom Lewis and his employees at Resource Geoscience Inc. (RGI) never felt the effect of the economic downturn five years ago. While industrial vacuum truck work leveled off, remediation work such as removing contaminated groundwater continues to net steady revenue increases each year.
“Remediation work doesn’t stop, and the recession actually helped us get equipment we needed at better prices,” Lewis says.
To succeed, the Colorado Springs, Colo., business, which he started in 1992, has made changes since it was featured in Pumper magazine 10 years ago.
“We no longer provide sanitary sewer line cleaning and camera work,” Lewis says. “We were finding most municipalities in our area were buying their own equipment.”
Instead of trying to compete with that, Lewis recognized opportunities just as he had the first 10 years, when he had expanded his focus as a consulting engineer into a company that provided services rather than subcontract all the work to other companies. The civil engineer worked alongside employees hydroexcavating, dewatering, excavating and materials recovery.
Since 2003, demand has moved RGI into more cleanup work for the government, energy and oil companies, and businesses such as gas stations. Lewis and several employees at RGI developed new equipment that injects carbon into groundwater aquifers for remediation work, but they still rely on vacuum pumps for many jobs.
“We use vacuum trailers much more than in the past,” he says. “The size is right, and we don’t have to go through most ports (weigh stations), which takes extra time. They are very handy for potholing, which is needed before we drill or probe into the subsurface to clear utilities for remediation work.”
Remediation work accounts for about 70 percent of RGI’s work with the remaining 30 percent in the oil and gas industry. Clients include government agencies in the state of Colorado, municipalities, gas station jobbers and oil companies.
Though it only accounts for about 5 percent of revenues, RGI’s latest wastewater treatment facility located in a heavy industrial area has been key to obtaining contracts. For example, RGI contracts with military bases to pump water from tanks where military equipment is washed and maintained. Workers take the loads to the treatment facility to separate the water, oil and solids.
“About 95 percent of the material we bring back to our waste treatment facility is recycled or reclaimed,” Lewis says.
The company also attracts contracts because of its many other services: geologic and hydrogeologic investigations, environmental site assessments, risk assessments, remedial design and corrective action.
Maintaining the old and embracing the new
When it comes to some equipment Lewis believes older models are sufficient. “We tend to buy slightly older equipment that has been well maintained, and then we rebuild anything we think needs to be rebuilt,” he says. “For example, our ‘new’ vacuum truck is a 2004 Mack with a 3,000-gallon Cusco tank and Wittig RFL100 blower (Gardner Denver).
“We also own a 2001 Keith Huber King Vac with a liquid ring blower and a 1997 Kenworth with a Wittig RFW150 blower. We recently purchased a 1997 VACMASTERS SPV 500 GT3 vac trailer, and we’re looking to purchase a newer VACMASTERS vac trailer since we’ve liked the other one so much.”
Then again, he believes some equipment needs to be up to date. RGI recently added two new 2013 GMC Sierra 3500 crew cab flatbed trucks, a 2012 Geoprobe 7822DT drill rig and a 2014 CleanInject chemical injection trailer. However old the equipment is, Lewis emphasizes good maintenance, which is done in-house.
“We’ve used the Fleet Maintenance Pro (Innovative Maintenance Systems) software program for years,” he says. “It helps us keep track of over 35 vehicles and pieces of equipment, such as vacuum trucks, pickup trucks, generators, trailers and drill rigs.”
Communication technology has been a big boon as the business has spread from its base in Colorado Springs in El Paso County. Years ago 90 percent of the company’s work was in the county. That is down to about 20 percent. The rest of the time, crews travel to other parts of Colorado, Wyoming and other western states to serve government and oil and gas company clients.
“All of our crews use smartphones to stay in touch with the main office, locate project sites and stores for parts, and to keep tabs on weather conditions,” Lewis notes. “We have several stand-alone GPS units that people can use if they don’t want to use the GPS included on their smartphones.”
A decade ago, Lewis recognized that clients valued RGI for keeping in compliance and staying up to date with the vast regulations associated with environmental work. He still does that, but admits it’s gotten more difficult.
“We deal with many regulatory agencies in our line of business: EPA, OSHA, OPS, IRS, DOT, etc. Taken separately, most regulations may make sense on their own, but I believe we’ve reached the point where overall it’s become, in many instances, counterproductive,” he says. “It’s tough to run a small business and stay in compliance with all the regulations. Unfortunately, many of the large companies we work for allow very little flexibility in compliance. If we have even one minor injury many of our business relations are put in jeopardy.”
Because of the diversity of their services and with limited training resources available, RGI supervisors work hard to train workers on the job to be safe and efficient in all their jobs — from running a vacuum truck to a drill rig.
Crew and customers
“We work very hard to find the right employee that we feel will fit the mold and work well with our clients and other employees,” Lewis explains. “When you put together a team to climb mountains, it’s often a person’s attitude that determines their success more than their climbing background. Employees are no different.”
The RGI crew has grown from eight to 11 since a decade ago. To get and keep good workers, Lewis hires a payroll/human resources company to deal with the regulations and manage most of the human resources paperwork.
Lewis also hires professionals to help on the marketing side of the business.
“Our website is one of our best tools for gaining new customers,” he says. “We contract our Web services and search optimization through a Webmaster. I think the money is well spent.”
“It’s difficult to predict where we will be in another 10 years,” Lewis admits. “If we relied on the work we did even 10 years ago, we would not be the company we are today. It’s important in our business to stay flexible. The environmental industry is in a constant state of flux.”
That flexibility includes basic business principles.
“Our history has been that our best marketing is providing good services,” Lewis says. “Repeat business, slow growth. It isn’t glamorous but it works. We have had steady year-over-year growth and that’s the way we like it.”