Cover Story: Premier-Pipe USA Makes Its Mark in the CIPP Market

“Quality liner starts with quality people,” says Jim Mortell, president of Premier-Pipe USA, a cured-in-place, manhole-to-manhole relining company.

Over the course of a decade, Mortell has seen his company grow to become a success in the United States, after bringing the technology over from London in 1997. But Mortell doesn’t just give credit to the relining process and his personal efforts; he stakes the success in the people who install the product.

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“Without a doubt it is the quality installers that we have,” says Mortell. “I’m so lucky and fortunate to have the quality people I do to install our liner and keep the proud tradition of Premier-Pipe going.”
But 10 years doesn’t come easy for any company. To get Premier-Pipe USA to where it needed to be, Mortell had to plan out and precisely execute the company’s move. By facing challenges and fierce competitors and building relationships with installers, Mortell launched Premier-Pipe into what he calls, “a traditional company with quality people who install supreme products right the first time around.”

Coming to the United States
The path to Premier-Pipe USA first began with Mortell, who grew up around the piping industry. Mortell’s family had roots in the business — his father successfully worked with different mechanical and piping companies and his grandfather operated his own plumbing and heating service. He credits his family’s influence as a significant factor for getting him into the industry.

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“By being kept around different piping work, I was able to recognize that this field and industry were worthwhile,” says Mortell. “I saw the industry at work and realized that this was a career I wanted to pursue.”

With knowledge and a passion for the business, Mortell dove into the relining industry 18 years ago. He began his career with Midwest Pipeliners, a relining company in Columbus, Ohio. With Midwest, Mortell flip-flopped between positions in sales and installing U-liners, gaining a deeper appreciation for the trade.

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Then Mortell, with the assistance of a colleague, found his calling. David Fletcher with Applied Felts, a liner manufacturer that operates in both the United States and United Kingdom, introduced Mortell to Premier-Pipe International, a London-based, rehabilitation systems company that specializes in manhole-to-manhole relining.

The process, referred to as the CIPP water inversion method, intrigued Mortell and he entertained the idea, of bringing its concepts to the United States. Then after much thought and advice from industry personnel, Mortell set out to start Premier-Pipe USA in early 1997.

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His quest was to bring a CIPP system to the United States that would be more versatile and produce quality results time and time again.

“After working in the relining industry for so many years, I wanted to establish a relining process able to compete against what was out there in the market,” says Mortell. “CIPP was the only solution out there for handling both small and large diameter pipes.”

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With strong intent and spirit, Mortell began the process of bringing Premier-Pipe’s name and products overseas. However, he had a lot of planning and hurdles to clear.

“Bringing the company and its products over from [London] was a structured and careful process,” says Mortell. “I wanted to make sure everything we did from a legal [standpoint] was done correctly. I was also intent on building on the quality name and good reputation that Premier-Pipe already had.”
In order to effectively make the transition into North America, Mortell had to follow strict rules and strategically plan out the move. Certain steps and procedures needed to be taken before embarking upon the new journey.

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“I had to abide by the standards that Simon Baylis, P.E., president of Premier-Pipe International, set forth. I had to find the right kind of quality installers that would follow those guidelines and enhance Premier-Pipe’s products,” explains Mortell. “I did not want to take any shortcuts at any cost, because if we did, we would pay for them in the long run.”

After all the planning, careful hiring and adhering to specific details, Premier-Pipe USA was born. The new company set up shop in Eden Prairie, Minn., in April 1997 — an area that for Mortell made good sense on business and personal levels.

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“I chose Eden Prairie because it’s a good Midwestern hub where I could go to the East Coast, as well as the West Coast when needed,” says Mortell. “Plus, I grew up in the Minneapolis area.”
Premier-Pipe USA focused on CIPP relining and gravity sewer relining. Today, the company is working on its new Premier-Pipe liner, which is a pressure pipe fiberglass application.

Upon arrival to the United States, Mortell connected with Fletcher at Applied Felts once again. In keeping with the traditions and standards of Premier-Pipe International, Mortell decided to use Applied Felts and its products, just like Baylis did overseas. The company’s willingness to help Mortell and enhance the product has made a lasting impact on Premier.

“Applied Felts has always provided us with the best quality liner and service around,” says Mortell.

Challenges and Competition
Even though Premier-Pipe made a structured and relatively smooth transition to North America, Mortell and his team still faced and continue to deal with challenges and competitors that hover over the CIPP market today. The availability of necessary resources tops the list of the obstacles Premier faces.

“I think the biggest challenge in the market would be keeping a steady oil supply. Our product is an oil-based product and I always worry about an oil shortage,” says Mortell. “Personally, that is a deep concern of mine, if there’s ever rationing on oil or shortage of resin, our industry would take one heck of a hit.”

Although Mortell feels that the CIPP market is competitive, he believes that the relationship between the company and its licensees gives Premier-Pipe an edge over its opposition.

“At Premier-Pipe, our installers are part of the group so we can increase our purchasing power. Our installers can get cheaper prices together, than we could if we stood alone and that goes with resin and pipe liner. Being a part of our group helps us climb that hurdle, allowing us to be more competitive.”
However in the end, Mortell stands firm that the people who make up Premier-Pipe give the company the biggest lead over its competition.

“I think the quality people we have sets us apart. Whoever we bring into our tight group has to be a quality installer and person,” says Mortell. “It all begins and ends with the quality installers. I feel we have the best people in the industry inside our group right now.”

In order to keep up with the latest trends in the CIPP market and stay ahead of competitors, Mortell looks to his installers and trade shows for assistance in making new business contacts and implementing new processes.

“I have to keep my ear to the wall to stay ahead. We are constantly asking our installers what their needs are, as well as what their consumers’ needs are,” says Mortell. “After we know the necessary steps we need to take, we research the industry through our contacts. I also travel to a lot of overseas trade shows to meet different people, and make new contacts and connections.”

Communication Is Key
As with any business, communication is a valuable tool. At Premier-Pipe, it’s the glue that holds its team and quality products together.

“Communication is key in the business and one of our greatest attributes is how we share ideas and concerns with one another,” says Mortell. “When someone has a problem, we can quickly talk to everyone else to solve it. Whether it’s a bad batch of resin or an issue with a liner that’s affecting that installation crew, we can leap ahead and make sure that problem isn’t duplicated anywhere else.”
In addition to the everyday communication the team exchanges, meetings are held throughout the year to strengthen their work relationships and better the product.

“We have several meetings throughout the year where we discuss all the issues we need to address. There, we share with everyone the latest and greatest changes that are going on in the industry,” says Mortell. “Installers offer ideas and we build on to them. We also discuss what other people and companies are implementing and changing, so that one person isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here when it was reinvented somewhere else yesterday. We have good teamwork and strong communication to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Although the meetings benefit the group and products as a whole, it took a couple test runs to determine the best and most effective style for the gatherings.

“Our first couple of meetings were pretty regimented in how we were going to have them. They were simple and straight to the point,” says Mortell. “However, I quickly found that we needed to have our meetings where people were out of cell phone range, so that they weren’t interrupted and could speak openly.”

With that information at hand, Mortell opted for meetings away from the office atmosphere that allowed for more open lines of communication and a better focus on the company as a whole.
“We decided to limit the amount of structured meeting time, so that people had time to freely express their thoughts and get to know one another,” says Mortell. “There’s a lot more conversation than in a structured environment, when it’s not just one person talking at everyone else. I believe that it has been effective in the past and it’s worked out well for us.”

Mortell has even held meetings on different golf courses, where the installers can discuss the industry while perfecting their swing.

Building Strong Bonds
Over the course of Premier-Pipe’s 10 years in North America, Mortell has established work-related bonds and strong friendships with the companies that install its products. Their individual skills and process know-how have significantly improved Premier’s products and customer service.
“They’ve all enhanced it,” says Mortell. “We brought these people on board with us and they have allowed us to create a better lining process.”

By adding on installers, first the City of Minneapolis in 1997, which Mortell credits as being one of the building blocks of Premier-Pipe, and then Am-Liner East, the company had the ability to expand its services. From each of the respective installers, Mortell has found individuals whose expertise and friendships have added to Premier’s outstanding reputation.

In 1998, Premier-Pipe added Am-Liner East to its company as an installer — a move that Mortell has found beneficial and right up Premier’s alley. Not only did Am-Liner East offer quality service, which was important to Mortell, but it also had people who could represent the Premier-Pipe family and their products. “They have quality craftsmen at Am-Liner East,” says Mortell. Now after nine years, Premier-Pipe has established a strong union with the installer, a bond Mortell does not take for granted.

“There are very few people lucky enough in this world who can create a lifelong friendship and work relationship that I have maintained with Am-Liner East and the other installers,” says Mortell. “We have a great working relationship with them and when you can add a strong friendship with those you do business with, it enhances the whole experience.”

In 2000, Premier-Pipe also added Insight Pipe to its team of installers and licensees. The latest addition came in 2002 with the Michels Pipe Services and eventually Gelco Services, a division of Michels. Mortell says that the level of experience, as well as the camaraderie Michels brought to the job, has helped Premier further progress into a strong business.

Kelly Odell, vice president of Michels Pipe Services, shares the pleasure of working with Mortell and Premier-Pipe as an installer. He feels that the affiliation between the installers and Premier-Pipe benefits the services they provide. “The greatest thing about being a Premier-Pipe installer is the partnership that we have with all the other installers,” says Odell. “It brings a mass amount of experience that increases the quality of the product we install, as well as reduces the cost.”

Mortell notes that the business relationships and friendships that he and Premier have developed throughout the past 10 years have made work more efficient and enjoyable.

Mutual respect between Premier and its associates also aids in getting the projects completed. “You can work for a person and look at it just as a job, but when you’re working for that person because you respect them and have the highest regard for your friendship, you’re going to work a lot harder and more willingly,” says Mortell. “I can see these guys going the extra mile because of the friendship we have.”

Insight Pipe president Mike Marburger agrees that teamwork allows the companies to complete projects and provide their service to a broad range of customers. “As a group of installers, we’re able to tackle many challenges that are turned down by others, because of the staff at Applied Felts and the support of Jim Mortell,” says Marburger.

The extensive relationships and communication between Premier-Pipe and its installers and manufacturers has ultimately aided in creating a better product and service for consumers. Common goals and work ethics make the work environment pleasant, yet efficient.

“Our quality people make sure there are no shortcuts taken, so we can make quality liner for our customers, says Mortell. “And it’s a great working atmosphere, it truly is.”

Pam Stask is an assistant editor of Trenchless Technology.

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