For any company to sustain long-term success, it has to be willing to look for new opportunities and ultimately take risks. Without that type of vision and forethought, a company will, in all likelihood, not survive the business world.
Rain for Rent, based in Bakersfield, Calif., has been a survivor and has grown into a nationwide leader of liquid handling solutions. During its 70 years of business, the company has reinvented itself four times — exploring new avenues to grow and expand. It started in the oilfields, moved into agriculture and later into industrial construction and now into trenchless technology. Today, it is one of the leading pump rental companies in the United States, most notably pumps used for bypass pumping operations.
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The two constants during all those years of change and growth have been the Lake family, who, in its third generation of leadership, owns and operates the company, and its focus on liquid handling solutions, whether it is oil, agriculture or wastewater.
Today, the grandchildren of its founder Charles Lake lead Rain for Rent. John Lake took over the reins of president in 1990, following the retirement of his father, Jerry, who had run the company since 1964. John’s brother Robert is a vice president and chief financial officer, sister Cynthia is vice president in charge of marketing and his cousin Chris Lake is vice president of business development.
Company leaders credit much of the company’s long-term success to the attention to its customers and the fact that Rain for Rent has remained a private, family-owned company, allowing it to make decisions on the company’s direction that publicly run companies might not make.
“Many times family companies get involved in something and they just get stuck and don’t change,” says Cam Gould, Rain for Rent national pumping systems manager. “I think Rain for Rent’s leadership is aggressive, youthful and forward-looking. I compliment [the Lakes] on their strategic view for not just being complacent. They had the opportunity as a third generation to sit at the wheel and just steer it. Neither John or Robert [Lake] would have been happy with that.”
Gould cites the company’s entry into the trenchless technology market in the late 1980s and its further expansion into underground rehab in recent years as an example. “In 2001, [John and Robert] decided to expand their pump opportunities because they saw the dynamics of the growth of trenchless technology and other types of construction, such as mining,” Gould explains. “In the last five years, we have probably increased our rental fleet by a factor of three times what it was five or six years ago.”
Today, Rain for Rent manufactures pumps for sale and rental under the Power Prime name, created in 1994. In 2001, the company was the first pump manufacturer to introduce a 16-in. pump for the bypass market to handle the escalating number of high-volume projects, which can be upward to 200 million gallons a day (mgd). Also, as a result of its success in the trenchless market, a SWAT team (known as the Sewer and Water A-Team) was created in 2002, which supplements Rain for Rent’s regional offices and staff with technical assistance on large, high-volume projects. The company just recently launched a complete line of magnetic flow meters to measure high-volume flows.
“Around 1988, we started looking for ways to diversify. We got interested in the municipal and bypass pumping markets,” says John Lake. “The infrastructure problem in the United States is pretty significant and it was something that we hadn’t really explored [before 1988]. It has opened our eyes to how big that industry is… The biggest part of what we do is still in petroleum and agriculture, but the trenchless segment is growing faster than those markets and we are putting more resources into that industry. ”
Company officials point to a 2003 project in Tucson, Ariz., as the watershed moment that put Rain for Rent on the bypass pumping and CIPP map. At nearly five miles, this project was the longest length of a major bypass in the United States, as well as being the longest continuous length for a CIPP project in the United States at 23,000 lf. Rain for Rent employed 24 pumps — including ten 12-in. and two 14-in. pumps — with two successful locations dispersing the flow through four separate pipelines. The project was named the 2003 Trenchless Technology Project of the Year for Rehabilitation.
In August 2005, Rain for Rent also provided much needed pumping systems and personnel to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Today Rain for Rent stands as a company with more than 1,000 employees scattered among its 54 branches across the United States; however, its modest origins are found in the oilfields of Kern County, Calif., where Charles P. Lake founded Western Oilfields Supply Co. (WOSCO) in 1934, selling used oilfield equipment and pipe. During the Depression and throughout the 1940s, WOSCO also manufactured water well casing, clothesline poles, re-sleeved threaded tubular oilfield pipe and rental pipelines.
“We bought, sold and refurbished used oilfield equipment, pipe and boiler tube,” says John Lake. “So we’ve always been substantially oriented toward pipe and liquid handling. We started out in the rental business by delivering water to drill rig sites and piping to the oil and gas fields.”
After World War II, agricultural development exploded in California’s San Joaquin Valley and Charles Lake seized on the opportunity to tap into the Ag market by renting irrigation pipe and sprinklers to farmers. In 1948, Rain for Rent was incorporated as the country’s first irrigation equipment rental company.
Charles’ two sons, Don and Jerry, returned to the family business after World War II with new and exciting ideas for company growth. With their guidance, Rain for Rent expanded into the construction pipeline rental market following the creation of the Interstate Highway System by President Eisenhower in the 1950s.
“We provided pipelines for pre-wets, dust control and soil compaction, predominately in the West where there was no water,” John Lake says. As a result, new offices opened in Arizona, Idaho and New Mexico. “From that, because we were already doing business with the construction companies, we started to transition into the wastewater business.”
In 1981, Rain for Rent acquired West Side Pump and ASC Tubing to grow its turbine pump sales and increase aluminum tubing manufacturing capabilities. By the late 1980s, the company was well positioned in the western United States as a premier pipe and pump rental provider and the West’s largest irrigation dealer.
“From the industrial/construction industry, we transitioned into the underground rehabilitation market by providing tanks and pumps to the directional drillers and then we got involved with the cured-in-place contract business where we do large sewage bypass,” John Lake says.
Rain for Rent’s foray in the trenchless arena was in the late 1980s, with its interest on the municipal and bypass pumping markets. With its years of pump experience through its agriculture and industrial contractor operations, this seemed to be a logical step for the company. At the same time, the Lakes also started looking at the tank rental business. In 1991, the company acquired Land and Marine Tank Rental and Frac Tanks Inc. in 1999.
“When I joined Rain for Rent in 2001, John [Lake] wanted to expand our pump opportunities into some specific market segments, one of which was the contractors market,” says Gould, who is Rain for Rent’s point man on the trenchless market. “We felt that trenchless technology was the most dynamic within that segment.”
What company leaders saw were more and more cities upgrading their underground infrastructure and realized this was not a short-term market swing but an opportunity for long-term expansion. Trenchless technology — specifically CIPP — has become an increasingly popular option for cities to choose for their sewer line upgrade needs due to its lack of disruption to communities.
Gould says CIPP work is the biggest, single trenchless market that Rain for Rent has been involved in, providing bypass pumps and pumps for the recirculation of water out of the boiler trucks. The company also furnishes tanks and pumps to pipe bursting and horizontal directional drilling contractors.
Key to the company’s success in the trenchless market is its mission to not just provide the pumping systems but to be involved in the overall solution and project design. “We are managed by engineers. John [Lake] is an engineer and so is Robert [Lake]. Our whole approach to the marketplace is really through an engineering eye,” Gould says. “Our whole aim was that we didn’t just want to rent pumps. What we wanted to do was get in at the beginning of a job and work with the engineers and then the contractors as they prepare their bids and come up with a safe, economical bypass solution.
“Over the last five years, our revenue from trenchless technology has grown tremendously. It’s become a very important component in Rain for Rent’s portfolio,” he continues. “At the same time, it has allowed us to develop [the SWAT team] which allows us to differentiate ourselves from a typical pump rental company.”
John Lake says it is Gould who is the champion of the trenchless market at Rain for Rent. “Cam is very involved in the underground technology side of the business and he’s the guy who’s led the charge into this business,” he says. “Every product line requires a driver. If you don’t have someone to champion it, it just dies. Cam is our driver. He gets us excited about this business.”
As the trenchless market continues to expand, Rain for Rent officials see an increase in size of the bypass projects. Ken Kross, engineering and manufacturing manager at Rain for Rent, oversees the design of the pumps and says the size of the bypasses are getting bigger. “We are seeing a lot more high-volume bypasses,” he says. “Seven or eight years ago, if we did a 40 million gallon a day bypass, that was huge for us. Now we are consistently doing bypasses over 100 million gallons a day. It’s almost routine whereas it used to be unheard of.”
He says Rain for Rent has added the larger pumps, such as the 16-in. pump, to its inventory to address these larger projects. By using the larger pump to handle the larger flows, fewer pumps are actually needed for the job — the 16-in. pump has added a cost-efficiency to the projects, Kross says.
John Lake also sees the pumping market moving toward a concept called “bundled services,” in which the entire pumping operation — from equipment installation, operation, monitoring and securing proper bonding — is handled by one pumping company. “This eliminates finger-pointing,” he says. “In order to eliminate misunderstandings, we try to bundle the solutions for the contractor and the owner.”
Keys to Success
While company leaders attribute the company’s longevity and success to the fact that the Lake family has been at the helm over the years, John Lake cites three factors that all companies should follow to be successful. “The first is having good people… that’s really important,” he says. “Secondly is your reputation. You have to have a reputation of never leaving a customer hanging and if something does go wrong, you fix it. And thirdly, you have to have a solutions approach to solving your customers’ liquid handling solutions.”
Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.