Ground Water Canada

Features Business Success Stories
Drilling and diversifying

‘From the bottom of the well to the bottom of the glass and beyond.’


June 16, 2015
By Colleen Cross


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It might have been a well-chosen date that secured the success of John and Carol Larson’s business. But it’s more likely their hard work, creativity and pride in a job well done that did the trick.

It might have been a well-chosen date that secured the success of John and Carol Larson’s business. But it’s more likely their hard work, creativity and pride in a job well done that did the trick.

LarsonContents 
John Larson wears and has worn a few hats in his community: well driller, businessman, mayor, councillor, lobbyist and teacher.


 
 

The two launched Larson’s Water Well Drilling and Servicing Ltd. in the village of Lougheed, Alta., in 1977 on the second anniversary of their wedding.

Carol, longtime manager of the Alberta Water Well Drilling Association show and owner of her own nearby wedding rental business, handles bookkeeping and the administrative side of the business. John does – or more likely these days, oversees – the drilling.

He often leaves his four to six staff members, two of whom are summer students, to do the location work, which includes drilling and servicing water wells, installing and repairing sewer and pressure systems, and providing reverse osmosis systems.

John describes the magnet business as a one-stop shop that serves customers “from the bottom of the well to the bottom of the glass and beyond.”

John says his location in a small village of about 300 prompted him to branch out into nearby geographical areas and different aspects of well drilling to keep the work flowing.

They also drum up business by getting referrals and by advertising three to four times per week on radio, an avenue of promotion he likes. But perhaps their best advertising is an annual open house they invite the local radio station to attend and spread the word.

An equally important goal for them is to meet the needs of their rather isolated community by bringing useful services to Lougheed. Their current shop and commercial truck wash centre sits on the outskirts of the village houses two rental spaces, one of which is used by Carol for her wedding and event rental business, Elegant Event Rentals.

Yet another hat: mayor
John’s involvement with Lougheed goes even deeper, with stints on village council for six years, as deputy mayor for three and as mayor for three. He enjoyed his time in municipal politics and is proud of the council work he did, in particular, his role in helping to build a new fire hall, purchase two new fire trucks and bring in much-needed road-grading services.

During his time on council, John showed the initiative he is known for by putting in water and sewer infrastructure himself so a new subdivision could be built when the village’s expansion was stalled by the lack of infrastructure.

He left municipal politics when he joined Red Deer College as an instructor in 2008. The program curriculum matches the course outline of Apprenticeship and Industry Training.

A born teacher
John teaches five days a week while teaching full time for two six-week periods in November to December and January to February. While teaching he stays in Red Deer.

He wasn’t too sure he was right for the job. “I didn’t think it was me,” he says. However, keen to make sure the program kept going, he jumped in.

The program consists of a week each of welding, mechanics and hydraulics, followed by three weeks of water well training.

With an instructor course under his belt, he has taught first- and second-year students for the last six years.

His experience as an employer seems to inform his work as a college instructor. If his employees make a mistake, “I don’t yell at them,” he says. “I ask them ‘did you learn something from it?’ ”

“He has the best sense of humour, he makes it easy to learn, and he is open to our ideas,” said student Jordan Lepper, himself an up-and-comer in the industry, in praise of his teacher’s methods. Jordan, along with brother Justin and friend David Kassian, also former students of the well-drilling course, stopped by the booth during Ground Water Canada’s interview for some catching up and good-natured kidding with their former teacher.

Bringing geothermal into the loop
A geothermal driller himself, John has been a major force behind the province’s designation of geothermal drilling as a trade in Alberta. For more than seven years, he urged the Alberta environment ministry to make geothermal drilling a certified trade, and in 2014 the goal became a reality.

“I was on the board of the water well drilling associations and we had some concerns about what was going on,” he says. “We as water well drillers have a whole set of rules we have to follow to put a well in but these guys were making the same hole and going through all these aquifers and not having any rules to follow.”

“We held a lot of meetings but it got there. And now the geothermal industry’s in a downswing here because natural gas prices are cheap right now and it’s not really feasible for residential anyways,” he notes with some irony.

Although the standards and curriculum aren’t in place yet – he suspects it may be fall 2016 before that happens – the college is looking to attract people from nearby provinces who want the portability an Alberta certification would offer.

He will instruct the program at Red Deer College once the standards are in place. The program, called the Earth Loop Technician program, shares a common first year with the Water Well Drilling program, but there is a difference of about 100 hours in the requirements for geothermal, making the second year quite specialized.

Job well done: pump installation tips
Among the many services Larson’s offers is pump installation, and John shares a few tips. “I think it’s critical that you keep it clean when you’re pulling a pump. Lots of people pull them by hand then drag them out on the ground through whatever may be out on the lawn . . . then they put them back into their well and wonder why they have coliforms. So I recommend you have a hose reeler and wind it up and keep it out of everything and make sure everything is disinfected.

“I also like to have a larger casing. I like to put in, for the most, part six-inch casing and use four-inch pumps, and then you’ve got lots of tolerance. I think it’s a better well, rather than using 4.95-inch, which doesn’t give you as much clearance. I like to use a little larger diameter.

“It costs a little bit more,” he says, “but I tell my customers this is the right way of doing it.”

The couple have enjoyed building their business for nearly 40 years. What was the best business decision they ever made? “We built this new building here and we moved into it in 1998. We had a shop before but it wasn’t big enough. This one’s not big enough either,” John says with a laugh. “It’s a plus, I think. It’s been good. We have a storefront with everything on display.”

“Everything” includes welding supplies, cattle waterers, water conditioning equipment, pressure tanks, pumps, fittings and hot tub supplies. They sell propane and issue hunting and fishing licences.

“We’re a small town so we try to cover some of the bases,” he says. “I don’t think we get rich doing all this but it’s a service.”

The Larsons have two grown daughters – Kristi  and Sheena – both of whom are in the business of managing golf courses. And there is now a grandchild to claim any spare time they may have. What’s next for John, who soon will mark his 60th birthday?

“I think I’m going to stick with this college thing,” he says.