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Halfway between Philadelphia and the Atlantic Ocean, Vineland is a medium-sized city in New Jersey, in the United States. It has just over 60,000 inhabitants, who have also suffered the effects of the economic crisis, public spending cuts and a noticeable drop in their comfortable standard of living. One of the consequences of the cuts was what happened to the local drinking water supply. The city has eight storage tanks, and three were damaged. Especially one of the newer tanks, with a major crack in the outer layer that needed urgent repair work.
Up to a few years ago, the job would have been unachievable for a company that had tank maintenance as its core business, but whose operations base was hundreds of kilometres away, in Perry (Georgia).
But, just like people, companies go through many life stages, and in some cases they grow, evolve, shed their skin, move to another hometown, change their goals. In short, they reinvent themselves...
We have to go back in time to 1953 in the county of Rockingham, North Carolina. Water has always played a major role there. Four rivers and a lake take up a large part of the 1,480 square kilometres occupied by this land bordering Virginia in the American west.
The town was founded in 1815 as a trading post for goods transported along the river, so nobody was surprised when a company making water storage tanks was set up in the small town of Madison, at the spot where the Mayo and Dan rivers converge.
The company was called Utility Service, and during its first half century of life, its main activity was focused on maintaining and painting water tanks. Until in 2002 it made its first big move and began to incorporate other services, such as cleaning tanks that had contained mineral and organic waste, plus a sustainable asset management programme. But the biggest change of all was still to come.
NEW WINDS OF CHANGE
Towards the end of 2011, Aqualogy took the reins of what had now become Utility Service Group (USG), with the ambitious goal of transforming it into a nationwide company. To do this it would be able to call on the most advanced water cycle technology, plus a
hundred and fifty years of Aqualogy experience on the subject.
Moving the company headquarters from Perry to Atlanta, capital of Georgia, was the first of many measures taken to achieve that goal. Comprehensive changes in the commercial department and the gradual incorporation of tools that had been thoroughly tested in other parts of the world, such as Ice Pigging (for cleaning large pipelines) and TRS (for reducing trihalomethanes) were a fundamental part of the transformation process.
The change of commercial strategy meant, for example, that the Water Superintendent for Vineland found out about USG’s tank management system at a meeting of the regional association of water industry companies. The company described its operational
needs and financial difficulties and received two separate proposals – for work and for payment – which resulted in a 17-year tank maintenance contract for a total price of 9.4 million dollars.
The example is a perfect illustration of the new winds of change blowing through USG. Over the last two years, there has been a marked diversification of supply and the company is now a global company managing assets related to drinking water supply and sewerage networks. It is built on an innovative and successful service model in which clients can rely on maintenance and future rehabilitation and repair of any asset related to the water supply, for an indefinite period of time and at the initially agreed price.
Assets covered include tanks, wells, water treatment plant filters, storage tanks, valves, hydrants, meters, etc. But USG’s portfolio doesn’t stop there. It is complemented by other Aqualogy products involving more sophisticated technology, such as the leakage detector that uses helium gas, as well as the Ice Pigging and TRS mentioned earlier, plus others based on information technology, like Nemo, Metresa/Metrawa, Galia... The aim is none other than to increase client added value by improving water quality, storage and the management of distribution systems.
Ice Pigging, a system for cleaning pipes with crushed ice, is one of these tools. Western Hills Water District,
the public water service provider in Patterson, California, found out about it at a conference and thought it might solve their problem: the risk of obstruction and cleaning operations in four syphon pipes running underneath the California Aqueduct. The operation was a resounding success. The water recovered its crystal clear condition and the operator was so pleased that it negotiated an annual cleaning programme with USG.
In fact, securing value for clients is another of the company’s new features, making it easier to extend business opportunities beyond the initial expression of interest that may have come out of the first meeting. The wider range of services has also enabled several of them to be grouped together
in special packages and made it possible to carry out cross-selling, a sales strategy that had never been put in place before in USG.
The result of this sum of effort and knowledge shows that today, nothing is the same in this small company set up 60 years ago in Madison. The services brought in since 2012 already account for 49% of business opportunities worth 635 million dollars.
But what is even more important is that in only two years, the company has managed to make its name from coast to coast in the United States, and its products are sold from New Jersey to California. But always with water playing a leading role, the same as it did in Madison 60 years ago. x