It's aggregate mining for Drilling & Blasting Systems. This drilling firm finds its niche in the Southeast.

While it certainly is important for any businessperson to keep an eye out for profitable opportunities, there also is much to be said for sticking to that which you do best. Every company has to make the right decision based its own unique situation, and Brent Taylor, president of Drilling & Blasting Systems Inc. (DBS), has made his.

Headquartered in Conyers, Ga., DBS has a handful of core customers that it serves in four states – Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia – doing contract blasthole drilling. “We serve the mining industry,” describes Taylor. “Everything we do is for the quarries, so you can narrow it down even farther and say we serve the aggregates mining industry. We’re a niche within a niche.”

That wasn’t always the case. “We did some other types of projects in the past, but we won’t be doing anything else anytime soon,” explains Taylor. “Never say ‘never,’ but we might have lost some opportunities within our specialty by trying to take on various municipal projects. They have a higher rate of return, but they took away too much of our attention and time. We’re better off focusing on being the best at what we do.”

A Little History

“I learned early on that I could either work for my father or grandfather on the farm in Tahlequah, Okla., for food and a place to sleep, or I could go to work for someone else and get paid,” Taylor reminisces. “I started mowing Wayne and Michele McCarthy’s lawn when I was 14. They owned Venture Drilling and Venture Drilling Supply. Soon, I was working around the shop, and then I learned to drill.” Taylor eventually was sent to Georgia to run a newly purchased drilling division. “We had four drills, and I was responsible for everything.

“There I found out about Drilling and Blasting Systems Inc., our main competitor in Georgia. Venture made the decision in late 1993 to pull its drills out of Georgia. It was at this time that I was contacted by Drilling & Blasting’s owner, Charlie Newman. He explained that he was looking for someone to fill his shoes so that he could retire. I went to work for Drilling and Blasting Systems with the agreement that I would work for Charlie for a few years and learn the company, and then he would sell the company to me.”

Taylor, along with two other partners, purchased the firm in 1998, and in the first six years, doubled the company’s drilled footage to 2.4 million feet. Taylor bought out his partners in 2004, and DBS grew from $4.5 million in gross sales in 2003 to $10.7 million in 2006. “While there have been some struggles, it has been nice to see the changes that were implemented begin to take hold,” Taylor remarks.

The DBS Fleet

Today, the company runs 43 drill rigs, and it’s a rather wide-ranging fleet. Taylor provides a partial rundown: “We have two machines that are specifically designed to drill 21⁄2-inch holes for boulders or oversized material. From there, we go up to 4- or 5-inch holes with hydraulic top-hammer machines. The hydraulic machines primarily are used for stripping and rough terrain drilling, although they are capable of – and we do use them – for production shots in the quarries. The rest of our machines are DTH rigs and, again, we have a very wide range. The largest portion of our fleet there would be the T-4s. We also have a bunch of DM-30s and a couple crawler-mounted rigs and some pedestal-mounted machines. And we have two Titan 600s and a Titan 500. Most of the machines were purchased new, but we did buy some used machines because of availability issues. Until our most recent acquisition, our rig purchases always were driven by increased demand for our services from our customers.”

Regarding the competition he faces in his market, Taylor explains, “The interesting thing is that our biggest competitors are the aggregate producers themselves. Several of the companies we work for do some of their own drilling, so that’s a little odd. As for other drilling contractors, there aren’t any as big as us, but there are several that run one to five machines. They pretty much stick to a particular geographic area.” On occasion, DBS has worked on sites with competing firms, something Taylor says he doesn’t mind. He describes the current competitive situation as being very fair. “That wasn’t the case as little as three years ago. There have been a few cycles we’ve gone through in the past, but right now, it’s a good situation.”

Recent Expansion Move

Just this past March, DBS got bigger through acquisition. “The owners of one of our direct competitors decided to pursue other interests, and mentioned that they were interested in selling,” explains Taylor. “We got together to talk about it, and it made sense to us because it was really just a bolt-on acquisition, an asset-only purchase. Fortunately, we were able to retain all of the employees. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get some things up to our standards, but it’s a good fit because in the last couple years, we’ve developed a solid management team, so we can handle the additional business with the existing management in place.”

While the expansion has Taylor busy getting his personnel organized, it also has required that he get his drilling rigs put in order. “We grew so fast over the past couple of years, one of our current strategic thrusts is fleet unification,” he says. The plan is to sell off one line of rigs, and then decide which of the two remaining lines, which Taylor says are quite similar, will stay and be replenished. “We want to see what works best for us for whatever reason, and then go with it. From maintenance to technician training to operator training to inventory – it’s huge. Getting the fleet unified will save us a ton of money in the long run.”

Back to Personnel

Taylor says of the employee situation during his company’s rapid expansion mode, “That’s everybody’s biggest problem – finding good personnel – and it’s only going to get worse.” Asked how he’s been able to manage, Taylor says, “We do have a low turnover rate.” Here’s his qualifier: “That is, once a person is established. We rarely hire experienced drillers, so the turnover, of course, is in that first year, and we’re constantly hiring. We offer a heavy benefits package. We try to hire people who live in the region that they’ll be working in so they’re not having to stay out on the road. Once we get people established, we have very little turnover.”

In a speech to DBS’ 90 employees this past Christmas, Taylor explained to his people how, based on his five-year projection, there will be 28 new technical and supervisory positions created, and that out of those 28 positions, 17 would be filled from within the company. “I much prefer to promote from within,” he says.

A Look Ahead

"For now, we’re going to let the dust settle,” Taylor says with a contented sigh. “If there’s going to be any further expansion in the near future, it would be in the North Carolina market, where we could handle an additional customer or two. Before this recent expansion, we projected a 15 percent growth for this year, but now we’re looking at 45 percent.

“The quarries are pretty steady these days. Housing is down, but road building is up, and that’s had a much bigger impact. It varies state-to-state, however, because those funds come from both state and federal sources.”

The guess here is that Drilling & Blasting Inc. will, indeed, be making another positive move – and sooner rather than later.