It’s clean and “green” – and, above all, it’s innovative, describes Dan Harvey, about this forward thinking – and forward moving – enterprise.
Vac-Con’s products may not serve the most glamorous purpose, but municipalities – even nations – couldn’t function without the infrastructural support that this Florida-based enterprise provides. Someone has to handle the sewer cleaning and flushing. Vac-Con accepts the responsibility and demonstrated that it’s up to the task by providing the most advanced vacuum excavation and hydro-excavation equipment. All products offered are rugged and high performing. If they weren’t, Vac-Con wouldn’t have remained in business for nearly 30 years.
The company was established in 1986 by Darrell LeSage, the visionary company president. Before starting Vac-Con, LeSage worked for different companies. “Each was highly competitive and very successful, but Mr. LeSage had his own ideas and philosophy, which led to development of an organization differentiated from what came before,” relates Tom Jody, Vac-Con’s marketing manager. “His foresight formed the basis of an enduring organization. He knew how he wanted a machine to be built and how a product should be taken to a customer. This led to powerful ideas about customer treatment and the best way to develop dealer networks.”
Lesage’s vision resulted in a company that enhanced customer/dealer relationships and bettered the buying process at a time when other companies had yet to consider how such elements could advance their own cause.
FROM ONE TO 6,000
It began with a high-performance machine (introduced in 1986) that demonstrated easy usage and maintenance. Today, more than 6,000 machines have been delivered.
Vac-Con reached the 6,000-unit milestone in March 2012. Since 2005, the company reports, it has averaged close to 300 units each year. In the beginning, there were but five employees; today the company now includes about 300.
Vac-Con’s products fall into three distinct equipment categories. The company is probably best known for municipal equipment. Offerings include equipment for storm and sanitary sewers, including a combination machine that commingles powerful vacuum technology and high-pressure water technology. Specifically, the combination machine features a hydraulically operated front-mounted hose reel with polyethylene water tanks and a high capacity water pump. The result: materials found in storm and sanitary sewers are cleaned and recovered from deposit areas.
“We also built a sewer flushing machine, which we call the ‘Hot Shot,’” continues Jody. “It’s strictly high water pressure technology that flushes sanitary and storm drains.”
The “Hot Shot” comes equipped with a non-corrosive, nonmetallic polyethylene water tank. It flushes stones, bottles, cans and other debris from sanitary sewer and storm drains. The company also produces a catch basin cleaner, another element of its vacuum technology menu.
The second category is industrial vacuum loader technology. Equipment recovers material in industrial applications. Specific applications would be in shipyards, and in the complex process of cleaning out of barges; in cleaning up mines, where spillage comes from conveyors; and in settings like a steel mill, for cleaning out furnaces.
In addition, railroads and bridges represent important services areas. As far as railroads, Vac-Con technology cleans out the material that falls and collects around and between tracks. When it comes to bridge applications, think paint: the old, lead-based paint chipped from these huge, vertiginous structures must be recovered and, subsequently, properly disposed. Vac-Con is on the spot.
The third category involves vacuum and hydro excavation, which relates to the gas and oil industry – the exploration involved and the construction entailed. “We’re looking at damage prevention to underground utilities – things such as gas and oil transmission lines, fiber optics, electric cables and water lines,” defines Jody.
This started in the oil fields of Canada is now growing in municipal applications, both in Canada and the United States. Jody offers a scenario: A backhoe operator may not know that such infrastructure resides underground. Potential damage could have severe implications. An entire city could be impacted.
All manufacturing is conducted at the Green Cove Springs production plant – a 100,000-square-foot production center situated on 16 acres that provides jobs for about 300 people.
The name of the location – Green Cove Springs – seems appropriate, as Vac-Con is a “green” organization committed to environmental responsibility. It’s also an employee-owned company, as it is a subsidiary of Holden Industries Inc., an employee-owned corporation, headquartered in Deerfield, Ill. Vac-Con is but one part of this organization’s group of diversified manufacturing companies dedicated to profitable growth through capital-efficient reinvestment and strategic acquisitions.
The company is also involved in the “greening” of employee relationships. Vac-Con is one of the few ESOP’s [employee stock ownership plan] that is 100-percent employee owned. This places both ownership and control into the hands of managers and employees, the company says. Sense of ownership fosters growth.
RE-INVIGORATED AND RECESSION RESISTANT
Up until the most recent recession, Vac-Con had enjoyed a continued annual average growth trajectory of 15 percent, essentially doubling the enterprise every five years.
But like just about every company, the recent recession proved a roadblock. But this was only temporary. “We’re not entirely recession proof, but we are recession resistant, because of the need that our equipment fulfills,” says Jody. “Vac-Con provides service that’s essential to communities.”
Currently, Vac-Con is witnessing re-invigorated growth. “After experiencing a record year in 2008, we felt the effects of the recession in 2009,” recalls Jody, “and 2010 was a very difficult year. But we responded with a strong year in 2011, as we started to see an uptick in international business, beyond our domestic markets. We anticipate 2012 to be a year of renewed growth.”
Vac-Con is particularly excited about what’s going on with oil and gas exploration and the related construction. “That is fostering economic recovery – not just in our business but in North America – as it leads to project and job creation,” says Jody. “But our recession resistance arises from versatile technology that communities can’t do without.”
Gazing ahead to future success, Jody carefully considers the company’s inherent nature. “Our primary driver is our ingrained culture of continuous improvement,” he points out. “We constantly seek new directions and, in the process, collaborate with customers.”
Indeed, the company takes collaboration to its highest level. “Customers are in charge of industry evolution,” Jody says. “They use the equipment. As such, they’re the ones who know what improvements need to be made.”
Growth-driving customers drive Vac-Con’s plans. As the company is bolstering American manufacturing, it’s a modern American success story.