July 20, 2011Sixty years ago Derrick Corp. opened its doors in Buffalo, N.Y., as a family start-up. Seven-hundred employees and three generations later, the company has grown into a leader in a niche market — solids control technology.
Mitch Derrick, president of the underground construction and oil and gas drilling divisions, says the key to the family business’ success is coupling value-added solutions with industry-leading customer service — something deeply rooted in the company’s beginnings.
Mitch’s grandfather, H. William Derrick Jr., founded Derrick Corp. in 1951. He developed a high-speed vibrating motor to drive screening machines used to separate materials in the mining industry, a concept that still serves as the heart of Derrick’s machines. Today, Derrick’s solids control technology is used throughout
The company is still headquartered in Buffalo and its oil and gas drilling and underground construction
markets are served by Derrick Equipment Co. in Houston. The Buffalo location houses all manufacturing, research and development and industrial mining sales. The company is currently adding a 130,000-sq ft expansion to its existing 230,000- sq ft manufacturing space to meet the growing demand for its products.
After Derrick Equipment entered the oil field in the late 1970s, it found that the underground construction industry required similar solutions and entered that market in the early 1990s.
“A number of trenchless drilling applications greatly benefit from a properly designed solids control system just like in the oil and gas drilling industry,” says Ben Clark, sales manager of underground construction technologies. “Derrick traditionally has the most success with HDD, slurry wall drilling and microtunneling projects. These types of drilling projects are very well suited for our premium solid control technology. You want to efficiently recycle and clean your drilling fluids so you can minimize disposal costs and maximize production. It’s a natural fit.”
Derrick is heavily committed to product development. The company has 44 U.S. and 35 foreign patents, with 39 active in the United States and 34 active internationally. Several patents are related to the screening media used by the shakers. A three-dimensional Pyramid screen provides more surface area than its competitor’s flat screens. The Pyramid screens can process more fluid and remove more solids. Derrick also offers a polyurethane screen that has a more effective life span than traditional stainless steel. The trenchless industry benefits from the screen because of its high open area and durability. Derrick also produces high “G” linear motion shakers, centrifuges, belt scalpers and other products specific to solids control.
“Our products allow contractors to efficiently recycle their drilling fluid, enabling them to maintain their desired drilling fluid properties and minimize waste and water usage,” Clark says. “This is proven to reduce overall disposal costs and maximize production, which is the name of the game.”
Derrick continuously works on research and development to stay competitive.
“We are typically competing against multi-billion dollar conglomerates,” Mitch says. “We like our niche and we don’t want to be squeezed out, so we have to maintain our commitment to customer service and R&D to compete effectively.”
He says the company is dedicated to helping its customers reach their goals most efficiently, especially in difficult applications.
“[Our products] allow the customer to drill and tunnel in municipalities where environmental challenges could be substantial,” Mitch says. “You can’t have a massive settling pit in the middle of downtown Manhattan. You need to — in real time — minimize the amount of waste being generated so you wind up with something that’s a manageable amount to haul off. That’s exactly what Derrick brings to the table.”
Many trenchless projects are in tight, urban environments where primitive cleaning options are not feasible. Lining up numerous trucks to haul off high volumes of solids-saturated drilling fluid is expensive and impractical.
“If you don’t have the right solids-control equipment, you will spend a fortune on hauling drilling slurry off-site,” Clark says. “Especially when you’re working in a big city — New York, Boston, Seattle — you may be paying upward of $1/gallon to dispose of slurry. It can add up pretty quick.”
Derrick’s products allow contractors to separate the drilling mud from the drilled solids (cuttings). Dry cuttings can be hauled out of the worksite more easily and more economically. The company tries to promote its products as cost-effective solutions for large projects, both domestic and abroad.
“We make the commitment to work directly with the customers by putting our own boots on the ground internationally, or we have to align with partners that have a very similar culture and commitment to value-added selling,” Mitch says. “We are not the cheapest solution in the marketplace so distributors have to be able to comprehend and convey the value proposition to customers and also offer that same commitment to service.”
Paving the Way for the Future
Those at Derrick believe they’re only scratching the surface when it comes to trenchless technology. Contractors in Europe and the United States have started to catch on to what Derrick is offering, but it’s a long process. Abandoning age-old practices, like settling ponds, tanks and hydrocyclone-focused solutions, doesn’t happen overnight.
“Trenchless is definitely one of the most competitive markets we sell into. It’s still in its infancy, especially when compared to the oil field,” Clark says. “A lot of contractors don’t yet fully understand how important solids-control equipment is to the overall success of their project. The oil field learned decades ago that the drilling operation wasn’t going to be successful without a good mud system and the right solids-control products. The trenchless industry is still learning how vital solids control equipment is to its operation. Some contractors are still making purchase decisions strictly based on the price of equipment, while ignoring the value added payback of the equipment performance and aftermarket support.”
Derrick provides a “Fundamentals of Solids Control” educational session for its customers, highlighting the basic principles of effective solids control and system design. The biggest obstacle is moving people away from traditional problem solving techniques and shifting their focus to a cost-effective, engineered solution. Mitch says the best way to convey this message is with dedicated employees who are passionate about the products they represent.
“You have to have those tenured people within your organization who really deliver on premium customer service,” he says. “You have people who know your business, know your culture and they’re out there pushing it day-in and day-out. If you treat your people well, they’ll treat your customers well in turn.”
Since 2007, Derrick has been awarded the No. 1 service rating in the worldwide oil field sector three consecutive times, as determined by EnergyPoint Research, an independent oil and gas industry research company. Clark says this is attributed to Derrick’s “always available” attitude.
“It’s how you face adversity that really helps you grow your business,” he says. “When we do have a problem in the field we go out there and work with the customer and address the issue in a very timely fashion. We recognize our customers’ expectations for prompt technical service and support. Derrick has a readily accessible technical support team available to work with our customers 24/7.”
Derrick’s growth has been aided by strong technical and customer service personnel.
“We’ve made some great strides by just being a lot more accessible than our competitors,” Clark says. “We
have personnel available via phone or e-mail, so customers don’t have to wait long for someone to get back to them. That helps us out tremendously and is one of the primary reasons we have a loyal customer base with a high retention rate.”
Mitch also attributes the low customer attrition to the high quality of the equipment.
“Many Derrick competitors offer machines that last from three to five years. We’ve got gear out there that has been running for as long as 25 years,” he says. “You need to have an organization with dedicated people to provide that dependable level of service, but then you also have to have equipment that outlasts and outperforms the competition.”
Derrick Corp. has approximately 700 employees (five from the Derrick family) and nearly 25 percent have been with the company for 20 years or more, something Mitch credits to the family-oriented nature of business.
“People are our key to success without question,” he says. “The relatively flat organization coupled with our open door policy provides a unique environment where employees corporate-wide play a crucial role in shaping the company’s future.”
Clark says the family atmosphere at Derrick is a welcome addition to the industry.
“The Derrick organization is extremely unique,” Clark says. “I remember when I started seven years ago. I got the plant tour from Jim Derrick [H. William’s son and Mitch’s father]. At that time there were probably about 400 people, but he still knew the names of everyone and was shaking hands and asking how they were doing. It’s things like that that create a great culture. They treat us very well as employees.”
Although the recent economic slump has had some effect on Derrick’s trenchless business, the company has still been able to grow in the last few years due to helping customers with challenging projects and by leveraging the payback associated with the solutions they offer.
“If we feel we cannot somehow add value when pursuing a new endeavor then we will not pursue it,” Mitch says. “We strive to deliver cost-effective, engineered solutions that necessitate innovation and require our unmatched expertise in mechanical separation.”
Focusing on a specialized section of the industry allows Derrick to provide the best products and services to its customers.
“Many of our competitors offer a little bit of everything. We concentrate all our efforts and resources solely on our niche in the market,” Mitch says. “It’s our focus on solids control innovation and customer satisfaction that distinguishes us from our competitors.
“It may not be a flashy industry, but we love it and are deeply impassioned by it.”
Kelly Pickerel is an assistant editor for Trenchless Technology.