Bill and Brian McCarrier grew up with the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania when the name of the game was strictly shallow well drilling.
Their father, William McCarrier, a graduate of Grove City College, was a teacher, but also worked part of the time in the gas industry. He purchased Interstate Pipe and Supply in 1968, and by the early 1970s, had built a natural gas drilling supply business that had six branches in Western Pennsylvania.
But Bill and Brian, who have operated Butler-based IPS since 1995, discovered that as exploration for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale took off, it wasn’t easy to tap into the new industry, despite their longtime association with the gas industry.
The brothers eventually found their way into supplying Marcellus well sites with pipe and absorbent fabric by getting to know the industry’s drilling subcontractors, who ended up buying directly from them.
In fact, the brothers said they owe more to establishing face-to-face contact with those working in the industry here than from making repeated phone calls to a company’s far-flung headquarters in Texas or Oklahoma.
“You can’t call up Shell Oil and ask who to talk to” about becoming a supplier, Bill said recently in an interview with The Energy Report.
Bill and Brian said they’ve also attended numerous energy-related seminars in the region in hopes of connecting with company decision-makers, but to little avail.
“We’ve gone to the industry seminars, the trade shows, but honestly, they’re not there, they’re out in the field working,” he said.
The McCarrier brothers, who currently operate four stores, including one on Henderson Avenue in Washington, and recently completed a company rebranding effort that included launching a new website to highlight their growing sales and service in the Marcellus Shale, acknowledge that their business was doing well before the advent of unconventional drilling in shale deposits.
While IPS, which has 30 employees, has carved out a niche selling pipe, valves, fittings and absorbent fabric purchased by drilling subcontractors as they set up new drill sites, the company also serves residential home builders, commercial contractors, excavators, site developers, mechanical contractors, water well drillers and industrial accounts.
But the McCarriers felt their strong suit was their service, backed by knowledgeable employees and the ability to consistently deliver supplies to a site on time. That led to their adherence to the motto, “Service means business.”
“It’s a cliche, but we’re really selling widgets, so you have to differentiate yourself through service,” Bill said of a supply chain that is crowded with competitors.
Word-of-mouth, especially from their other existing customers, is also extremely helpful, Bill said.
For area companies trying to get a piece of the Marcellus Shale need to determine a niche, Bill also suggests “that they be creative and think outside of the box.”
Both he and Brian suggested discovering the local places where rig workers eat or stop after work.
“Hang out with them” and learn about their work, Bill suggested.
He also stressed that when he and Brian decided to start on a rebranding effort, they didn’t want to ignore their existing customers.
“We were looking for an improved platform to display our 40 years of industry experience and excellence in customer service to a greater audience,” Brian said.
The new website, interstatepipe.com, gives IPS a contemporary platform that aligns with its growing need to better educate and service current and future customers. In addition to the new website, IPS made a strategic marketing decision to focus on specific distribution opportunities within the natural gas drilling footprint and Marcellus Shale market.
“While the primary goal was to position the company and its breadth of product, we also focused on enhancing the user experience while increasing the ease of information access,” said Ed Flaherty, principal and marketing director of FSC Marketing.
Despite disseminating more information about their company to existing and potential customers through the new website and boosting their marketing effort, the brothers have also found that a key to their success is to provide service to the well sites in as unobtrusive a way as possible.
“These guys are under so much pressure to get the job done and move to the next site,” Bill said of gas well drilling crews. “Our goal is to be invisible to them, to deliver our goods and leave the site.”