Jim Fineis started Atlas Geo-Sampling with the simple goal of giving clients what he wasn’t getting as a consultant.
“When I was consulting and I would hire direct-push firms and drilling firms, I was just not getting any customer service,” the Atlas Geo-Sampling president says. “They would tell me when they could be on site. They’d show up late. I just didn’t think that they were acting like true service companies. So I figured if you got into the business and actually provided good service that you might have a leg up.”
Fifteen years later, the company has eight drilling rigs. He runs a fleet of AMS equipment — four larger dual-purpose rigs and four small ones for inside jobs — servicing customers in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama with direct push and hollow-stem auger services. In addition, the company also does vapor intrusion work across the United States and internationally.
Fineis, a geologist by training, says that “a new level of customer service” continues to be the motto for him and the Atlanta-based company’s eight employees.
Q. What do you do and what keeps you coming back every day?
A. What keeps us coming back every day is our great client base. We obviously provide environmental drilling services, direct push, hollow-stem auger and remediation services. We’ve been in business 15 years. We’ve got a great client base. I would say 80 percent of my clients I have now have been with me for more than 10 years. A vast majority of our work is repeat business, and it’s the great clients we have that just keep us coming back and continuing to do the work that we do.
Q. What does a typical workday involve?
A. It depends. If we’re doing direct push, then we’re just going to collect soil and groundwater samples and maybe set temporary wells. Some days, we may be out putting in 2-inch hollow-stem auger wells for site assessment or remediation. Some days, we’re out doing chemical injection, meaning helping remediate the soil or groundwater that may be contaminated. Depending on which of the tasks we’re doing, it’s a different set of equipment, but the same core group of eight employees that I have.
Q. What does it take to succeed in what you do?
A. Good employees are number one. Providing good customer service is number two.
I will tell you that I get maybe 30 minutes or an hour a year face time with my clients because I’m not in the field drilling. My employees are with them eight, 10, 12 hours a day, whether it’s 12 degrees out like it is this morning or 100 degrees out like it has been this summer. The employees are the reason we’re successful because they’re the ones that have all the face time with my clients.
Q. What do you wish you knew when you started?
A. I wish I knew all the other parts of the business that you have to understand, meaning how and when to get insurance; all the health and safety requirements; all the DOT requirements, especially with the new ELD mandate — electronic logs for DOT. Running a probe or installing wells is relatively simple. … Having to handle the accounting, all the insurance, accounts payable, accounts receivable, DOT, OSHA, contracts, subcontracts — that is what is greatly underestimated if somebody thinks that they want to become a business owner. It is how much time it takes to handle all of those other items.
Q. What tool can you not imagine working without?
A. Other than the drills themselves, mobile phones or tablets are something I could not imagine working without. … We’re a completely mobile workforce. My guys are all issued tablets. Everything is done on the Google cloud. So it would be the technology of phones and tablets that we could not operate without.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. It sounds really crazy, but it’s the old Golden Rule. If you run your business and treat people the way you’d want to be treated, then I think that you can be successful. That literally comes down to, if there’s a question on an invoice we ask the client, “What do you think is fair?” I, 99 percent of the time, give them what they think is fair. Now, I’m not going to be taken advantage of multiple times, but it’s literally the Golden Rule. Treat others as you’d like to be treated and it’s amazing how many conflicts will disappear as long as people think they’re being treated fairly.
Q. How would you describe the present state of the industry?
A. It’s never been better, especially in the Southeast region. There is an abundance of work. Great equipment providers like AMS and Geoprobe, and everybody else, keep coming out with better equipment that allows us to do our jobs safer, easier and more efficiently. I would tell people that it’s a great time to be in the business and a great time to get into the business.