Hi-Vac Corp. — Stepping Up in the Trenchless Market
February 9, 2016Hi-Vac Corp. is going through an exciting period in its business life. New company president Dan Coley brings a high-energy attitude to Hi-Vac and is re-energizing the Marietta, Ohio-based manufacturer with a new vision and philosophy that will create an interesting dynamic in the sewer cleaning and hydro-excavation markets.
Hi-Vac Corp. is made up of five product brands, but for the trenchless community, it is the company’s sewer cleaning (Aquatech) and hydro-excavation (X-Vac) product lines that are the focus of the company’s efforts to widen its customer base.
And in the short time, Coley has been at the helm at Hi-Vac, he likes the results so far.
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“On the sewer cleaning side, we are dealing with an aging infrastructure nationwide, and there’s a lot of catching up to do,” Coley says. “Some of the catching up will cost significant amounts of money.
The underground collection system needs to be repaired, replaced or expanded, as do processing wastewater treatment plants. Products like ours also can assist in environmental concerns as regulations on collection systems are tightened. Our products can also help eliminate I/I and increase capacity of the system so you don’t have as many CSOs and negative weather events.
“One of the most effective ways to increase capacity in a collection system is to clean it out. Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?” he adds.
Coley took the Hi-Vac reins nearly a year ago and has already seen positive results with his rejuvenated vision for the company. The relatively small company employs 165 workers at its Marietta facility and also has a plant facility in Beijing, China, and sales and support in Bogota, Colombia. Critical to Hi-Vac’s current and long-term success is how well it competes in the trenchless market, which boasts strong competition for both of its trenchless product lines.
“Probably 75 percent of our business is geared toward sewer cleaning and hydro-excavation,” Coley says. “Without question, they are key to this company’s future and its success.”
Hi-Vac, through a series of acquisitions and internal product development between 1989 and 2009, has evolved into a solid player in the trenchless market through its Aquatech, O’Brien and X-Vac product lines. But Coley believes Hi-Vac can — and will — be so much more. Hi-Vac is also working with key industry organizations such as WEF, AEM and APWA to share its knowledge within the water and wastewater communities, as well as to learn what is needed in the industry.
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Coley says the Hi-Vac mission is pretty simple. “Every day we want to make sure that we take care of our existing customer base. We do that in part by listening to those people and finding ways to improve our products and company to better support them,” Coley says.
A Look Back
Originally named National Foundry Equipment International, Hi-Vac opened its doors in 1969 in Chicago, founded as a manufacturer of stationary industrial vacuum equipment. The company was formed to supply industrial vacuums for the foundry industry. The company developed the industrial vacuum cleaner that it called the Hi-Vac, an entirely new concept in foundry housekeeping at the time that allowed the unit to be run by one person instead of an entire work crew. This Hi-Vac brand still exists today under the Hi-Vac corporate umbrella.
Rudolph John Lehman purchased the company in 1989, moving it to his hometown of Marietta, Ohio, where he had other established business operations. In 1991, Hi-Vac added to the company with the acquisition of its competitor UltraVac, folding it into the Hi-Vac industrial vacuum equipment product line.
One of Hi-Vac’s most significant acquisitions was in 1999 — a purchase that led the company into the growing field of trenchless technology. Aquatech has been in the sewer cleaning equipment business since 1964 and has earned the reputation of being a solid company. Lehman was interested in pursuing this industry, viewing it as a key market with tremendous growth potential. The purchase was completed in June 1999 and the Twinsburg, Ohio-based operation was also moved to Marietta.
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Aquatech manufactures eight different models of sewer cleaning machines, with the primary focus on jet/vac combination units and catch basin cleaners. “[Lehman] looked at Aquatech’s history and the success it had and he felt it was something that we could expand on and grow from,” Coley says.
And that it did — Aquatech has grown into a critical component of Hi-Vac, with distributors located throughout North America and many more worldwide. Additionally, in 2010, the creation of Aquatech de las Americas/Hi-Vac Latinos Americas in Bogota, Colombia, was established. This Latin American arm of Hi-Vac provides sales support, service, training and aftermarket products and services to all of Latin America.
Hi-Vac added to its sewer cleaning line in 2006, when it purchased O’Brien Mfg., a manufacturer of trailer-mounted sewer jets and vacuum units.
One more significant evolution of the company occurred in 2009 with the introduction of Hi-Vac’s X-Vac Hydro-Excavation line. This line has four different models, based on capacity, that cater to the oil and gas market, as well as the utility market.
“This product line has definitely been affected by the slowdown in the oil and gas market,” Coley notes of the X-12 and X-15 hydro excavators. “But the X-6 and X-8 have been revamped and are heavily geared toward the utility market and are doing very well. We were successful in hydro-excavation before the oil and gas boom and now utility and general construction are very, very active in hydro-excavation.”
Re-energizing and Expanding
Coley was named Hi-Vac president in April 2015. With his 30-plus years of working in the water and sewer industry, he was familiar with the Hi-Vac product lines and knew they were strong and solid performers in the market. However, he knew they could be better and he wanted the opportunity to lead the Hi-Vac team to the next level of success.
“I felt that I had a lot more to give this industry and I felt that I could take everything I have learned over 30 years and apply it to this dynamic company and grow it,” Coley says. “I always saw that Hi-Vac had incredible opportunity and tremendous potential.”
Hi-Vac already had the tools needed to be a successful company — the people and the technology. A solid foundation. “We’ve got people who have been here for a very, very long period of time,” Coley says. “We have employees who have been here for a long time and their experience is reflected in the quality of the products that we engineer and build. At Aquatech, for example, we’re not the biggest in the sewer cleaning business but we are able to compete with the biggest players in the industry based on our superior products and our dedicated customer base.”
Anyone who knows Coley knows that he is a high-energy guy — personable, charismatic and knows his stuff. He brings that high-energy attitude with him to work every day and sees it rubbing off on his workforce. “We have brought that energy to Hi-Vac. Nobody is sitting on their hands looking for something to do. I want people to be passionate about what they do. What I have been able to bring to Hi-Vac is the belief in a bigger picture,” Coley says.
Coley wants to redefine Hi-Vac’s place in the market, showcasing the versatility and capability of all Hi-Vac brands. “One of the things that really attracted me to this company, is being able to define who we are,” Coley says. “This company has done a lot of really neat and unique things with sewer cleaning products, excavation equipment and industrial vacuum equipment. I’ve been aware of these products for a very long time and have always known their full potential. They are long-lasting products. Solid, yet simple. We want to perfect and improve those products. We want to tell the market what we have been doing and what we are capable of doing.”
At the WWETT show in Indianapolis, Coley is bringing out the big guns, showcasing an Aquatech with a large 27-in. Hg blower and X-Vac units, including a new, smaller X-6 that is used for trenchless utility work.
Trenchless Market Is Key
The trenchless market has enjoyed a rich and expansive period of growth the last several decades. With innovative, cost-effective and minimally invasive methods and technologies, combined with an aging and deteriorating underground infrastructure, the trenchless market has bypassed the economic storms that washed over other construction markets in recent years. Trenchless technology is poised for the long-term. Hi-Vac is eager to make its mark in trenchless, expanding its customer base in North America and around the world to include more than just the public works audience.
With its sewer cleaning and hydro-excavation lines, Hi-Vac has its sights set on being a main player in the trenchless market. Coley knows there is some work to be done but he sees the potential for Hi-Vac to “experience significant growth”in the coming year. “These markets are very, very stable,” Coley says. “We’ve been gaining ground in them over the last several months, selling our products into those markets.”
He notes that Hi-Vac has expanded its customer base over the last year beyond the public works segment, successfully introducing its products to contractors who were not familiar with the sewer cleaning equipment’s capabilities. “On the sewer cleaning side, we’ve been selling more to the contractors that perhaps didn’t recognize what Aquatech was capable of doing,” he says. “We’re showcasing the big water system capability (up to 2,500 psi at 150 gpm is possible) and big vacuum capability, which is something that the contractor market has been asking about for some time.”
Municipalities are the bread and butter of the sewer cleaning market and Coley intends to make further inroads there. He talks about the changing attitudes of the municipal markets over the last 20 years, as more and more cities have looked to address their underground infrastructure in a proactive approach. “In my lifetime in this industry, I’ve seen people go from just taking care of the problems to preventing the problems,” Coley says. “I’ve seen how municipalities throughout the country have gotten far more sophisticated and far more forward-thinking when it comes to maintaining their collection systems, as well as wastewater treatment plans. The amount of energy and effort they put into preventative maintenance and preventative planning and scheduling has been impressive.”
Coley is excited for the future of Hi-Vac and relishes the opportunity to grow the company in the trenchless market. “We want to adapt technology that brings value. We do not see the point in offering technology for the sake of technology,” Coley says. “If it doesn’t help you do your job more efficiently or effectively, or if it doesn’t simplify the process or make the product more economical to maintain and operate, then it’s really something that shouldn’t be on the machine.”
Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.