Case Studies

Big M Construction LLC

Staying strong in a flagging oil and gas construction market

Since 2006, the team at Big M Construction LLC has been providing a full range of pipeline construction services to customers throughout Oklahoma and Texas.

Big M has grown to fill a unique niche in its market over the last decade, laying gathering lines from wellheads to larger transmission lines for clients throughout the region. Leveraging the combined experience of Bryce Murphy, founder and former pipeline welder and Donnie Morse, founding partner, Big M is able to deliver affordable pipelines of consistently high quality to the oil and gas companies that depend on them.

big m

Based in Weatherford, Oklahoma, Big M operates in a historically productive region for the oil industry, with natural gas projects representing an ever-increasing portion of the company’s business as next-generation extraction technologies like hydraulic fracturing continue to take hold.

Big M works within a three-hour radius of its home base, hitting the road whenever there is a customer in need. “We’ll extend it out to wherever we’re needed,” says Murphy.

Solutions for survival

While Big M was able to weather the Recession due to low overhead and its flexible status as a fledgling company, the recent precipitous drop in oil prices has created a real challenge for the pipeline contractor. “In 2008 we didn’t have as many employees to take care of, but this has been pretty tough,” explains Murphy.

Revenues are currently down as much as 20 percent, as Big M struggles with a flagging oil market that has seen the price of a barrel of crude oil drop to a near-record low of less than $50 a barrel. “If it gets as low as $20 a barrel, it’s going to kill us and a lot of the other guys in the market,” Murphy says.

The problem has been exacerbated in Oklahoma, where oil and gas revenues account for more than 8 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. “It’s a pretty vulnerable time and the country is in rough shape. Though I heard recently that when oil is down, a lot of other things in the commercial building market thrive, but we don’t have too much of that going on around here,” he says.

To address this sudden stagnation in the market, Murphy and the Big M team are working to cut expenses without losing one of the company’s most valuable assets: its employees. “A lot of them have been with us for a long time and they are our No. 1 priority,” he says. “When it gets slow like this you’ve got to suck it up and make everything stretch a little further,” he says.

This means keeping a close eye on overtime costs which, as a company that completes projects solely on a bidding basis, can mean the difference between making a profit on a project and just breaking even.

A commitment to employees

Big M’s employee ranks have shrunk in the last couple of years, owing to a flagging market, down from 50 in 2014. “We’re probably down to about 40 right now; with oil prices down we had some guys leave and just have not replaced them,” he says.

Still, Murphy says that a dedicated, talented workforce remains a factor in the company’s success. “This job isn’t for everybody. It’s got its ups and downs and a lot of people don’t like that. They want the security of working 40 hours a week across the board, 52 weeks a year, but that is not the case here: it can be 51 hours one week and 30 the next,” he says.

Murphy is currently working to prepare the next generation of employees for a job in the oil and gas pipeline construction industry, with a number of millennial employees already on staff.

As the company celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, Murphy looks back on the last decade and counts it as a success. “Each job is a success, really. We’ve been awful fortunate here to come in and start a business and stay as busy as we have. It’s a pretty tough industry to break into and we love what we do or we wouldn’t be here,” he says.

While it’s not an easy time to be an oil and gas pipeline contractor in Oklahoma, Big M Construction LLC has been able to draw on the considerable experience of its founders to weather a tough period and establish itself as a trusted name throughout the region.

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