In the early 1980s, Pac-Man was a popular arcade game, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, and the trenchless industry in the United States was just in its infancy. Technology seems to have changed almost every aspect of the American household since those days, and that’s especially true for David R. Herrin, a licensed private pilot and Willis A. “Bud” Thornton, an avid fisherman, who formed Southeast Pipe Survey (SPS) in June 1985.
At that time, Herrin had about four years of experience working for a trenchless rehabilitation company located in Florida. Thornton had about 11 years of experience with the same Florida company and worked on one of the first cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) relining crews in the south.
Herrin and Thornton, both family men, felt that the timing was right to start a full-service rehab company in the Southeast. Contracts were plentiful and the two businessmen were determined to make their mark in the industry with quality work, competitively priced, and performed with integrity. So, with a vision and mission locked in, the two set out on a journey that would lead both to places they’d never imagined going.
30 Years of Evolution
When SPS first started, Herrin and Thornton focused on evolving and growing the CCTV and cleaning side of the business. Handheld video cameras and hand-written video inspection logs were the norm. Before issuing pagers, foremen would have to find a pay phone and call in to the office for updates or revised plans. Communication was definitely a challenge.
Two years in, SPS added sliplining and then, by the mid-90s, pipe bursting. The late 90s ushered in SPS’s first CIPP offering — spot repairs — followed closely by full CIPP rehabilitation.
“We’ve always embraced new technology. Getting in on the ground floor of any new technology or method meant that we could respond quickly to the customer’s changing needs; and getting in early, before the market was saturated with competition typically led to above average profit margin,” Herrin says.
Looking for ways to address growing concerns for quality in CIPP liner materials, Southeast Pipe began research and development on their own liner product, which led to the creation of Daystar Composites, as well as the company’s first foray into UV CIPP relining.
“In 2000, after purchasing defective CIPP tubes from a manufacturer, we started Daystar Composites LLC, a sister company to manufacture felt and felt/fiberglass tubes,” Herrin says. “We decided, after the course of about a year [dealing with the defective tubes], that we would invest in that technology. Daystar makes a quality product and primarily focuses on supplying SPS with other opportunities on the horizon.”
With integrated information systems inside and between both companies, we’re able to work more seamlessly than we would otherwise. We’re not waiting in line for a manufacturer to start our project. Liner order information goes in directly from the field and communication is constant between the two companies.
The next milestone in the SPS story came in 2003 when the company imported its first UV liner from Brandenburger and tackled several UV lining projects in both Georgia and Canada.
By 2006, SPS had implemented its first real-time job costing system, HeavyJob, and information began to move much more quickly throughout the organization. SPS managed more than $30 million in contracts for the City of Atlanta using the new HeavyJob system to account for not only SPS crews, but for several subcontract crews as well. “Time cards came in overnight and by 9 a.m. we knew exactly where we stood on all contracts. The timing of the software implementation couldn’t have been more perfect,” says Herrin.
In 2011, SPS decided it would fund the development of a U.S.-made UV curing system. Like other American entrepreneurs before him, Herrin grew tired of purchasing substandard equipment and receiving very little support. The SPS system is in testing phase and Herrin takes great pride in the fact that it is made of all U.S. materials and manufactured in the United States.
The Industry Today
Thirty years in, Herrin has gone from creating handwritten CCTV logs to using fully integrated Geographical Information Systems (GIS). But the most significant change by far, is his recognition that it’s a team effort to run an organization like SPS. After Thornton retired in 2007, Herrin immediately started “flying solo,” attempting to manage all aspects of the business. “I’ve learned the hard way to let my team do their job by mentoring and supporting them,” he says.
Herrin is just as excited about the business as when he and Thornton formed SPS. Evolving technologies, customers’ increased knowledge, and the SPS team’s commitment to excellence help bolster that excitement.
What innovations does he see the industry and SPS embracing? It is no surprise that Herrin points to UV CIPP. “Although currently contributing a minor percentage of our revenue stream, I believe UV CIPP lining will be the dominant CIPP product for the future for us and the industry.”
Why UV CIPP? Like many trenchless companies that offer the process, Herrin sees it as a more environmentally friendly product. The liners are stronger, have a longer shelf life, the projects require a smaller equipment footprint and there is a significant savings in curing time and cost, he says. Of course, by no means does Herrin see inversion
CIPP going by the wayside as those methods have applications where UV CIPP is not feasible.
Sanitary and water systems have long been the areas that trenchless companies, as well as utility owners, have focused their attention. Herrin sees storm drainage as the next big growth area for the industry as utilities place a focus on these failing systems.
Education plays a key role in Herrin’s view of trenchless industry growth. “Today our industry is doing a great job by educating the public, the utility owners, engineers, contractors, suppliers and most importantly the rate-payer or homeowner,” he says. “Education is the most valuable tool in my opinion since there are valid reasons that we must renew our infrastructure to protect the environment, which ultimately ensures our grandchildren and future generations a safe and healthy world to inhabit.”
While the competitive landscape can seem daunting at times, Herrin sees the many positives that lie ahead for the SPS team.
“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve trained hundreds of people in the trenchless industry, many who are now managing their own companies or work for larger corporations.” Herrin says. “We’re also proud that we contribute to our local economy and give back to our community. We’ve developed a solid reputation and have been known for handling the tough jobs. We’ve also been able to navigate through tough economic times and keep our head above water by doing honest work and by standing by our commitment to quality. We’ve educated our employees on the importance of water conservation, as well as stormwater and wastewater collection systems maintenance and repair. We understand that there’s a higher calling for what we’re doing here and that the communities we work in are relying on us to spend their funds wisely and get the job done right.”
“The future has great potential, since our industry is a key component to the preservation of our environment and water supply, particularly as education increases,” he says. “When we started in the business, black and white CCTV cameras were all that was available. [There were] no VCR’s, no mobile phones, and computers were almost non-existent. I remember when fax machines changed business transactions dramatically. And now, in a small town in rural Southeast Georgia, we’re using robotics, smart phone apps and GIS on a daily basis. I can honestly say that in our 30th year we’re stronger and more determined than ever to be the very best at what we do.”
Article provided by Southeast Pipe Survey.