Warren Environmental has been an innovator and leader in the trenchless rehab market for more than 25 years, building on the foundation set forth by its founder.
What started out as one man’s ingenuity to create an industrial epoxy solution has grown into a well-respected and dominant player in today’s trenchless marketplace. Changes are on the way for this trenchless leader as it readies a big move for its headquarters and continues to develop innovative technology in the coatings industry, as well as the emerging gas main rehab market.
Today, Warren Environmental is a $10 million company, with more than 70 percent of that revenue generated through its position in the trenchless market, serving the wastewater, potable water and stormwater sectors with its proprietary one-coat application system.
While Middleborough, Massachusetts, has served as home for the epoxy maker since its inception, the company will soon be moving into its new, state-of-the-art, 15,000-sq ft office and blending facility in Gainesville, Georgia, to better support its growing applicator network.
“Our success is due to our product and team,” says Warren Environmental president Brian Brandstetter. “It’s the team that helps us grow, exceeds our high safety and quality standards and provides exceptional customer service. It’s the product itself that was designed by a contractor for contractors. Our epoxies are safe for the environment and safe for our applicators to apply.”
As we delve into the heart of their story, we learn about its unwavering drive, determination and dedication to providing high-quality and time-saving epoxy solutions for the trenchless rehab market today and in the future, as well as pushing the industry forward through innovative application technologies.
Where Warren Environmental Began
Warren Environmental’s story starts with the ideas and formulations of Danny Warren, a true entrepreneurial spirit. While working for the Anheuser-Busch brewing company in the early 1980s, he was tasked with developing an environmentally-friendly and employee-safe industrial coating for use in its breweries. The coating that Warren originated became the formulation of what is now Warren Environmental’s proprietary one-coat, 100 percent high-build solids epoxy system.
Rather than turning over the epoxy process to another manufacturer to produce, Danny created his own company in 1996, allowing him to retain control over the epoxy’s manufacturing, as well as utilizing his contracting arm— A&W Maintenance — which provided him an outlet to use, and later improve upon, the product.
“After applying the product in the field, he would make adjustments to be more effective,” Brandstetter says. “This is how he realized that a single coat was a better system instead of using multiple coats. Through his years as a coatings contractor, he knew the majority of failures came from poor surface prep. By eliminating the number of times you need to prep the surface, you reduce the chance of failures or delaminations. It’s also faster and more cost effective.”
Afterward, Danny patented his solvent-free application equipment for the spray application of Warren Environmental’s epoxy and went on to create a product line of specialty epoxies for use in potable water, wastewater and other industries that require corrosion-resistant linings, structural enhancement and repair of deteriorated substrates.
Danny sold his companies to water and wastewater contractor Garney Construction in November 2018, remaining on until his retirement in June 2021. After working in the pump rental business for 23 years, Brandstetter was designated as president of Warren Environmental, managing the manufacturing process, as well as its approved applicator network.
The acquisition by Garney Construction was a game-changer for the epoxy manufacturer. The Missouri-based contractor is one of the nation’s leading contractors in water and wastewater systems, with annual revenues totaling $1.5 billion. Garney is well established in constructing wastewater treatment plants and large diameter water transmission mains. Brandstetter describes this moment in Warren Environmental’s history as impactful, opening new doors for the company’s product lines for potable water and wastewater.
“[Garney] has given us a tremendous amount of support and has helped us to grow our business around the country,” he says. “They have great relationships with engineers and have a great reputation with owners, allowing us to introduce the Warren products to those who are not familiar with it.”
Warren Environmental’s entry into the emerging and innovative trenchless market came in the mid-1990s and it just made sense, Brandstetter says. After being focused and established in underground concrete restoration for structural enhancements and corrosion, trenchless rehab proved to be a perfect next step for its epoxies. “As the trenchless market moved into rehabbing manholes and sewers to reduce I&I, it was a natural fit for Warren Environmental,” Brandstetter says. “As the cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) market grew, we also grew.”
The Warren Environmental product line includes its flagship offerings, 301-14 high performance epoxy and its 301-01 NSF certified epoxy, safe for potable water systems. From those early years, the product lineup has expanded to include specialty epoxies for new industries, substrates, environments, or safety concerns, including a 501-02 BPA free epoxy option for water systems with strict BPA regulations.
Growing Applicator Network
Warren Environmental has seen its epoxies used on projects all around the world, including the United Kingdom, Europe, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Its primary market is North America with Texas, California and Florida being its strongest markets to date, as well as in the Northeast. In Canada, its strongest position is in Toronto.
Brandstetter credits the company’s approved applicator network for its past, present and future successes while attributing the network’s strength to the comprehensive vetting and training process when expanding its applicator circle. To date, there are 21 approved applicators in North America, with others in Europe. Approved applicators go through extensive specialty training, in the proper use of Warren Environmental specialty epoxy systems and application equipment. Applicator crew members are trained by Warren Environmental and are recertified every three years.
“They are the ones who have the [spray] gun in their hands, applying the product and the ones who are in the trailers running the pumps,” Brandstetter says. “While some [companies] may be more interested in selling materials, our focus is on making sure the product is applied correctly and safely. This may not be the fastest way to grow [the company] in the short term, but we believe that is the way we will maintain our long-term growth.”
Brandstetter says the area of high-build solids epoxies is growing within the trenchless rehab market, with large coatings and paints companies focused on either developing their own or buying existing companies that already produce the epoxies. “We’re also seeing quite a bit of growth in the pipe rehab world, both in wastewater and especially the potable water market. The spray-in-place pipe (SIPP) installation method of using epoxies, is starting to gain strength but [hasn’t reached] widespread acceptance,” he says, adding there has been an uptick in the number of pilot projects over the last year involving SIPP across the United States and in Canada.
An emerging and promising growth area in recent years is the trenchless rehab of gas mains. Brandstetter notes that for the last two years, Warren Environmental has been collaborating, through the Department of Energy, with GE Research and Garver LLC to develop PLUTO: a PipeLine Underground Trenchless Overhaul. PLUTO is an innovative, long-distance minimally invasive pipe repair system that will structurally rehabilitate gas pipelines faster and more cost-effectively vs. traditional open-cut methods, the latter which can cost from $1 million to $10 million per mile to dig and replace, per Brandstetter.
“We are about two and a half years into this project to create both a method and a tool to install 100 percent high-build epoxy inside gas mains and rehab them for long-term life,” Brandstetter says, noting GE Robotics is creating a delivery tool (robot) to use the Warren Environmental epoxies. “[Historically] we have not done a lot of gas main work. This is a new space for us and, really, a [relatively] new space for coatings in the trenchless market.”
He says structural gas main rehab has great potential for the trenchless market, noting that over half of the U.S. gas transmission mains were installed during the 1950s and 1960s. “There has been a tremendous amount of growth in this country since that time. These [mains] are getting to or, in some cases, are at the end of their lifecycle,” Brandstetter explains. “Our goal is to create a much more financially viable way to extend the life of the gas mains.”
Overall, the trenchless industry has seen a return to normalcy and stabilization after several years of dealing with pandemic-related challenges including rising costs, supply chain and labor issues; however, the path forward still revolves around those same hurdles. Brandstetter says all of those areas continue to factor into today’s higher project costs and will for the foreseeable future.
“We saw a tremendous increase in raw materials pricing throughout the pandemic, as well as the ability to get raw materials,” he says. “We’ve seen the pipeline comeback as far as getting new materials and costs have come down a little but are still quite elevated vs. 2019 pricing. All of this has driven up construction costs and project pricing. Currently, we are seeing a 20 to 30 percent increase for pipe installation and rehab work.”
He adds that supply chain issues are abating but are still impacting product availability, noting the recent closure of Yellow Trucking, which was the third largest partial shipper in the United States, leaving companies like Warren Environmental searching for trucking options to ship product. “Finding trucks has been difficult [recently] and the lack of available alternatives has driven transportation costs up,” Brandstetter says.
But all that aside, Brandstetter is enthusiastic and positive for the short- and long-term health of the trenchless industry, citing the strength of its existing markets, the expansion into new ones and infrastructure work through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. “The trenchless market is in a fantastic place right now,” he says. “As this infrastructure continues to age, it gives owners the ability to create jobs and is just a huge boon. Trenchless rehab is typically quite a bit cheaper than dig and replace and gives owners the ability to fix more issues in their systems vs. trying to fix just one spot.”
On a more personal level, Brandstetter is even more enthusiastic and positive regarding Warren Environmental going forward. “The future is really bright for us, as we continue to grow the company and focus on adding new applicators in areas that make sense. We’ll be in our new facility very soon and will be able to service our network much better. We will continue to build on 25-plus years of successful applications, many of which are still in the ground today.”