The drilling industry revolves around service. This theme comes up on the busy floors of trade shows and on the muddy sidelines of jobsites. It all comes back to service, where a contractor or a company says what it’ll do and does what it says.

National Driller attended the recent Open House event for rig and tooling manufacturer Geoprobe in Salina, Kan. The Open House, in many ways, typified drilling industry events: casual and friendly. It included demos of new products like the 3100GT and 150GT geotech rigs, and the DM250 water well rig from Drillmax, among others. It included a dinner event where contractors could catch up with peers from around the country. And it included a barbecue lunch and Kansas hospitality.

People we spoke with, though, kept talking about that central theme of the industry: service.

“We’re a service company. They’re a service company. Service sells. You’ve got to do a good job, but you’ve got to provide service,” says Gary Hill, president of Walker-Hill Environmental. Walker-Hill works regionally on a range of remediation services. It calls Foxworth, Miss., home, but has offices in Florida and Louisiana.

Hill has worked with Geoprobe equipment for 20 years. Obviously, Geoprobe isn’t alone in appealing to customers with a strong sense of service. Any manufacturer or contractor in the drilling industry needs to live and breathe service to have staying power. But the hundreds of people registered to attend the event April 25-26 show the company’s impact on, and reputation among, its customers.

The Latest Equipment

Dennis Samsel of Geo Logic Inc., like others attending, got a sneak peek at new equipment available from Geoprobe and sister company Drillmax.

“I like to see what’s coming out,” Samsel says. “We’re always trying to figure out what machine do we need to replace next.”

He says the 3100GT piqued his interest. Geo Logic does mostly environmental work in the Louisville, Ky., area. But he says his company has purchased a couple of Geoprobe tracked rigs and a truck rig over the last five years, outfitted with drop hammers, to do standard penetration testing (SPT) work.

“Our market has changed from being almost exclusively environmental to probably 30 to 40 percent geotechnical to support that, which has really been nice,” he says. “It’s opened up a new market segment for us basically with the same staff and equipment that we’ve had.”

Samsel, who started his own company in 2001, has worked with Geoprobe machines since ’93 or ’94, he says.

“We’re running Geoprobe exclusively,” he says, adding that the company’s rigs lend themselves well to the shallow bedrock of northern Kentucky. “We’ve gotten rid of all of our conventional augering rigs, just because I feel they’re safer, they’re more compact, they’re easier, they drink less fuel — it just makes sense.”

Peter Byer, president of South Atlantic Environmental Drilling and Construction Company (SAEDACCO), also made the trip to Salina to see some of the new equipment. He’s attended several of the manufacturer’s open house and regional events.

“I’ve been out here numerous times and I can see what goes into it,” he says. “I’ve always been impressed by their engineering staff. They’re really the only company I’ve ever dealt with in terms of business that has as large of an engineering staff and puts as much into R&D.”

Byer has used the company’s products for more than 20 years, starting with a small truck-mounted skid unit. Now, SAEDACCO has 7822s, a 54 series and a few sonic rigs.

“We have other drilling rig manufacturers that we have equipment from, but I’ve come back to Geoprobe numerous times because of, really, one thing: service,” he says. “They stand behind their product.”

Making Connections

If the industry has a secondary theme, in addition to service, it’s family. Many small contracting outfits pass from one generation to the next. They grow organically from a father, sons and daughters, to regional crews that keep dozens of people working. That mindset shows in how contractors treat their customers, but also in how they view equipment providers like Geoprobe. Many of the people we spoke with view the engineers and sales reps as an extended family.

“They’re just a good, honest bunch of folks that strive to please,” Hill says.

That personal connection makes lasting customers for any business, because contractors view it as a partnership that leads to success for both sides.

“They give the driller, the consumer, a product that they can make a living with,” Hill adds. “When they’re designing equipment, cost is important.”

The company displayed an extensive timeline of its history at the event, going back to 1997, showing just how it developed alongside its customers from early prototypes and development of direct-push, to trademarks and events. The company has grown over the years from a small family outfit to employing dozens of engineers, salespeople and others.

“I started 25 years ago using the Geoprobe brand and Geoprobe product,” Samsel says, “and it’s just amazing to me to see the growth — not only in the company, but just in the size of the machine and their capabilities and what they’re able to do. It’s just mind-bending to me.”

A big part of that lasting personal relationship, Hill adds, is being there in good times and bad.

“I guess the biggest bond is, equipment is going to fail,” he says. “If someone tells you they can build something that won’t fail, they’re already lying to you. So, what separates our relationship with Geoprobe [from other companies] is these guys have always rushed to make things right.”

He offered as an example an experience his company had with one of Geoprobe’s early sonic heads. He has prototyped a lot of Geoprobe equipment over the years, and anyone who’s worked with sonic knows the heads have improved a lot over time. Hill says company reps rushed from Salina to the jobsite in Mississippi to get the sonic rig back up and running.

Byer has similar experiences.

“Things do break and that’s part of this business. I’ve never had an issue where we haven’t gotten it resolved and had a team actually resolve it.”

Looking Ahead

Hill brought four people to this year’s event. He likes the back and forth with the engineering staff.

“They talk to us about needs. They tell us about ideas,” he says. “We kind of do some brainstorming, and the next show you come to a couple years from now something will roll out from behind the curtain that you hadn’t seen before.”

And, like a lot of manufacturers, many changes are fueled by customer demand.

“You notice it here with Geoprobe with these cages — you didn’t see that five years ago,” Samsel says, motioning toward a rig on display. “You saw the kill switches and then safety ropes, but now they’re being fully enclosed, and that’s a shift. We’re seeing that across the industry.”

Everything evolves, from the features of the equipment to the relationship between the customer and manufacturer. For Hill, though, the future of Walker-Hill’s work with Geoprobe looks very much like the past.

“Geoprobe people are good people and I’m still old-fashioned and like to think that a man’s word is his bond. Geoprobe has always kept their word.”