A keen knowledge of the marketplace and noticing what would become a huge gap in the province, led two long-time co-workers to create one of the most well-known trenchless services companies in British Columbia.
The year was 1998 and Bob Taylor and Bob Kennedy were both working for Insituform. At that time, Insituform made the decision to pull out of the pipeline services end of the industry and instead focus strictly on relining. That is where Taylor and Kennedy saw a prime opportunity to fill a niche in the province.
The Bobs could easily have continued working for their former employer or leave the trenchless world all together, but what kept them focused on trenchless?
“You could see [when we started] the void that Insituform was creating in the market by pulling out of doing some of the service work,” Kennedy says. “We both saw it as an opportunity, with our experience, to get into the industry in a small manner and see where it took us from there.”
Taylor adds, “We grew from there with all used equipment at first, buying what we could based on the jobs we received. First it was inspection and cleaning, then smoke testing and then we added grouting work and it grew from there.”
Growth of its Business
As most early trenchless companies, the story of Mar-Tech Underground Services’ start-up is similar. It was a small company with one used CCTV video inspection truck and one sewer cleaner truck. Kennedy operated the camera truck and Taylor operated the cleaner each with one helper. Helping Taylor on the truck in the summer months was Kyle Taylor, his son, who is still with Mar-Tech as one of its operations managers.
“One of the biggest challenges when we started out was that we were a couple of guys with no money and we poured everything we had back into the company to get a toe on the ground, never mind the foot, that is a hell of a challenge,” Taylor says. “Everything in our industry is expensive. It was a challenge back then to buy a nozzle. Today you could find one and buy it, but back then, we had to wait for the right job, made sure we had it and then go and spend the $1,000 on a nozzle. We made some good buys on equipment which sure helped.”
From those early projects and four employees working from a single-bay shop in the City of Langley, British Columbia, the company has blossomed. Kennedy and Taylor lead a company of more than 50 employees — enough to man 20 crews — and more than 40 pieces of equipment available every day.
Since 2006, the company has called a custom-built shop in the Township of Langley home.
Along with the personnel and equipment growth, the services offered have grown to include cured- and cast-in-place pipe relining, point repairs, service relining, manhole rehab and manhole scanning. About the only thing Mar-Tech does not do on the rehabilitation side is pipe bursting and sliplining because, as Taylor notes, it is well-handled in the province by PW Trenchless, a company that Mar-Tech Underground Services works closely with.
Though work has taken the Mar-Tech crews to Alberta on occasion, the bulk of the company’s work is focused on the Lower Mainland as the prime contractor for municipalities and utility service providers. That makes up about 75 per cent of the work with the rest in the industrial sector for pulp mills and some work as a sub for general contractors.
An Experienced Team
Aside from navigating the financial hurdles of having a fledgling business, a key to this company’s growth was the ability for Taylor and Kennedy to surround themselves with the right employees. At the outset they were joined by former co-workers all of whom knew the industry. “We had good experienced employees right from the start and that experience helped a lot,” Taylor says.
In addition to Kennedy and Taylor there are three Mar-Tech Underground Service employees still at the company who joined in 1998, and there are many who have been there for more than a decade. This longevity at the operator, foreman and superintendent levels is vital to bringing in new hires and seeing where they fit. Taylor says that over the years the company has developed an onboarding process that sees new hires rotating through the various crews.
“We try to move them around to get feedback from the operators, foremen and superintendents, and show them the variety of our work to give them a broad view of what the company does,” he says. “Staff feedback lets us know if the worker is a fit or not and then from there it is based on performance and what area they like and enjoy. We have found that typically guys will excel if they are working where they like working.”
Since both Taylor and Kennedy have been involved in the industry, they have witnessed a considerable shift in the industry both in terms of technologies and availability of those technologies.
“There are challenges in trenchless work, especially at that time [our early years] there were not nearly as many suppliers and different pieces of equipment that you can go out and buy today,” Taylor says. “A lot of the stuff you worked on you designed and built it yourself.”
Both agree that, in all of the sectors they cover, the greatest advancements since 1998 have been on the condition assessment side of the business, particularly with regards to the camera systems.
“It went from being VHS tape footage and reports that were hand-written in the field and then typed out in the office and evolved to using software to tie the reports and the video together,” Taylor says. “Then it was digitally-recorded video on CDs then on DVDs. Now, we have clients where we transmit video data and the reports the day after it is received on the truck.”
One of the latest camera advancements that Mar-Tech Underground Services added to its roster of services is manhole scanning with the Helix Advanced Manhole Inspection System from R.S. Technical Services (now part of Subsite Electronics).
As the camera systems evolved so too did condition assessment reporting culminating in 2011 with the adoption of NASSCO’s Pipeline Assessment Certification Program (PACP) as the country’s pipeline defect coding standard. “It was a nightmare for us dealing with the different reporting systems that the cities had,” Kennedy says. “Everything today is PACP, which is a nice change from when we started and we were involved with promoting that process in Canada.”
As a whole, both Kennedy and Taylor have witnessed the industry grow and see continued growth potential ahead.
“The industry has become much more accepted from the video inspection of pipe, to the cleaning, to maintenance programs, to different contracts that come out after inspections are completed,” Kennedy says. “It seems that year-after-year the number of municipalities that accept some of the rehab products that we use, and are implementing them into their programs is growing. This means that the contracts have grown, which has allowed us to expand into different trenchless segments as well.”
“When Bob and I started, you would be lucky if there were two rehab contracts that we could bid on in one year, maybe three,” Taylor adds. “Now there are two or three a month on a slow month.”
Neither see this growth slowing in the province as newer technologies emerge. It is that changing landscape that keep Taylor and Kennedy entrenched in the industry.
“I have always enjoyed the work,” Taylor says. “There are many different aspects and you are doing something different every day.”