Oil, like farm crops, shifts up and down in price every week, month and year. But unlike crops, oil companies can’t grow a fresh supply every season. Limited supply and worldwide demand make it a tough industry to thrive in, as evidenced by the last few years in which oil prices have plummeted due to a host of production and political factors far outside the purview of thousands of companies that either work with oil and gas directly, or service the companies that do.
Bird Electric, an electrical contractor that supports the energy industry with services including transmission and distribution line installations, upgrades and voltage conversions, is one of those companies at the mercy of oil and gas prices. And yet, with its motto of “taking care of business” and its ability to take jobs anywhere in the United States, the company says it remains strong and ambitious.
Part of that is because Bird Electric, which has five locations in Texas and another in New Mexico, is trying to expand from being exclusively an oil-centric contractor to a premier electrical contractor for all facets of the energy industry.
Many pastures, more grass
Jerry Fullen is Bird Electric’s director of business development and client accounts, and says the company has been able to thrive in the volatile climate in part by offering electrical contracting services in many markets and along the entire electrical supply chain.
In addition to working on oil rigs, Bird Electric will perform new construction and maintenance on power lines for utility companies, as well as work on transformers, substations and underground systems.
Recently, Fullen says Bird has built transmission lines for Lubbock Power and Light in Lubbock, Texas, and will build high-voltage transmission lines for Georgia Power and Light starting in late 2017. These projects are in addition to forays into other specialties of electrical contracting, including laying fiber optic cables in Austin, Texas, for Google; and literally bringing light back to storm-ravaged cities on the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast after events like Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina .
More important than business strategy and market penetration, however, is Bird Electric’s emphasis on long-term customer service. “Long-term” is the operative word here, Fullen says, because business relationships, especially in the up-and-down oil market, must be strong enough to endure the bust years as well as reaping the bounty of boom years.
This is crucial for a contractor like Bird Electric that helps oil companies save money by keeping their systems up to snuff and energy efficient. One of the ways Bird Electric offers competitive customer service is by keeping its upper management on the front line.
“We hold ourselves and all of our leaders accountable and that includes every branch of our service,” Fullen says.
He adds that the company sends project managers and even executives out to meet with crews and learn the idiosyncrasies of each site. This also gives management a chance to get feedback from tradespeople and foremen, so that the boots on the ground and the shoes in the office are marching to the same rhythm. This is also true of Fullen, who is constantly on the move, communicating with different members of the company and attending contractor meetings, audits, and, most importantly, safety meetings.
Though it’s not as flashy as opening a new service or expanding into a new market, safety is the lifeblood of contracting. All contracting is dangerous and Fullen explains that Bird’s safety record is the first and most lasting impression the company makes on potential clients. The company says its goal is to be incident free and it’s well on its way with a safety record that far outpaces the industry average. Bird Electric’s Experience Modification Rate (EMR), an insurance safety metric, is 0.62—significantly lower than the industry average of 1.0.
The company maintains that its safety record is the backbone of many of its longest-standing relationships. Fullen thinks those relationships are only going to get stronger as the nation turns its attention to investing in infrastructure.
This is where Bird Electric will come into its own as it explores new avenues outside of oil and gas. He points out that wherever bridges and roads are going up, there are sure to be transmissions lines as well.
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