To explain, he talks about a big storm that hit the Parry Sound area one Friday in July.
“They had to evacuate the provincial park, and the people camping must have had one heck of a scare: trees came down that crushed their trailers and tents,” Conrad says. “People around here took those people in.”
“You see it more and more of people around here, and that kind of good spreads: you help people out and it comes back to you.”
People helped Conrad when he got started in 1996. After he graduated from the blasting and drilling program at Sir Sandford Fleming College, he drilled a few wells with Roy Lang of Lang Well Drilling in Hillsburgh, Ont.
“Roy is a very nice guy – he and his wife are both lovely people,” Conrad says.
Conrad then answered an ad for a job with Eckerson Well Drilling in Milton, N.Y.
“Eckerson had a well driller who drilled all the wells but was getting older,” he says.
That “old driller” was Ron Bank Sr. His son, Jim Eckerson Jr., looked after pumps and water treatment.
“It was at Eckerson that I learned a great deal about water wells, pump systems and water treatment. You go to college and you do learn, but once you’re out there every day doing it, you’re retaining a lot more.”
Conrad learned the job, and he also learned about the industry. “Jim encouraged participation within the industry associations, and soon I was going to events with him and becoming involved in their associations,” Conrad says. “I joined the National Ground Water Association and started taking examinations for certification.”
When Conrad returned to Canada several years later, he started Conrad Well Drilling, a business he runs with his family to serve the Parry Sound, Muskoka and Georgian Bay area. On March 29, 2017, they celebrated 10 years in business.
Conrad, who has been on the Ontario Ground Water Association board since 2013, says one of the things he likes about being involved with industry associations is that issues get discussed and knowledge is shared, for example, around regulations and why they are important in protecting ground water.
“We have to be good stewards, and if we’re not, we won’t have jobs. We won’t have water either,” he says, adding that it’s better for everyone if everyone does a good job.
“I may get accused of being finicky, but everything’s in order and you can definitely tell on my jobs that it was me that did it, because they almost all look the same. Sometimes it comes from the right-hand side feeding water and other times from the left, but it’s an exact same looking pump job in the end.”
That’s how his customers like it. “Customers want to know that everything’s being done correctly,” Conrad says. “Years ago, people might not have known a lot about regulations, but they’re researching it now. The internet has all the answers they want. They want to do it right.”
Conrad has had customers ask him if he will be grouting, for example. He likes to take time to explain a little of what he is doing to help them make sense of it all.
“They’re inquisitive, and they want to know about their water source. They want to know how to protect it,” he says. “But the end result for me is to give everyone a well like I would drill for myself.”
Doing that keeps Conrad very busy. He has an assistant – a woman who is newly graduated from Fleming College – but because he holds the licence he has to be at every job site.
“I like to oversee every job, but I’d love to find licensed well drillers who could take over some of this. There’s enough work where I’m just running around and trying to meet people and set up jobs, looking at what’s required and ordering the materials. Then there’s the drilling and the pumps and whatever else, plus the phone calls. I get pretty busy, but I know I’m very lucky.”
Asked for tips for other drilling companies, Conrad says make sure you size your systems right for the customer.
“You don’t want to design a system that is going fail right after your warranty ends,” he says. “I try to make a system that’s going to last 20 to 25 years.”
While Conrad gets a five-year warranty on motors and pumps, he offers his customers a 10-year warranty and sets up the system to last.
“When you size things out right for the customer, then everything’s going to run properly and everyone’s happy. If they don’t have to call you back for 20 years, when they do call, they are happy to do so.”
Conrad says one thing that has really helped him over the years is having a live person answer the phone. “My family answers the phone while I’m out drilling wells,” he says, explaining that when potential customers get an answering machine, they often hang up and call somewhere else. Having a real person answer the phone makes a difference, and if a customer’s problem needs immediate attention, Conrad’s dad can get a message to him.
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REFERRALS KEEP CUSTOMERS HAPPY
“If it’s an emergency, you want to know someone’s answering that phone and that they’re trying to help,” Conrad says. “I’ve even referred jobs at this point so that customer gets help. I believe we should be looking out for each other in this industry. I’m not going to make a customer wait two days for me when they may have no water if I know there’s someone that could fix them up right now. What do I make on it? Nothing, but that’s not what it should all be about, right?”
It is about being part of a community and supporting other businesses; for example, calling in a local business to do backhoe or excavating work or to deliver a dump truck full of stone or install a septic system.
“Trying to use your local people and spread the work around is what it’s about,” Conrad says. “Because you know what? That same guy who did our excavating may be the guy that puts a driveway in for a brand new customer or a septic guy who does their septic and if that customer needs a well, they’re going to say, ‘Give Conrad a call.’”
He also refers out to other drillers. “We do wells, pumps, and some mild water treatment, which we don’t get into that often. There are other guys that do treatment if it gets extensive, and I usually refer. It’s good to pass work on to others. Same with the drilling. I generally stick to within an hour of here. We get calls all the time for jobs that are over an hour away, and I say, ‘You know, I could quote you, but honestly, there are other drillers in your area that are reputable and a lot closer.’ ”
He makes recommendations or directs them to the OGWA’s list of members in good standing. “I think it does a lot for my relationship with the other drillers. For the most part, everybody gets along and makes a living around here, and I don’t think there’s too much animosity between any of us,” Conrad says. “I can’t drill them all. I need to make a living, but I don’t need every job. I got my bills, and if I can pay those and save a buck at the end of the day, I’m fairly content.”
He says it’s especially important to have a good reputation in this industry. “We need to be reputable. You do a good job on a well and that person might tell two people, but if you do something that wasn’t good on a well, they might tell 20 or 25 people.”
A solid reputation leads to word-of-mouth referrals. “Having a website’s important, but word of mouth, I believe, gets the work,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many jobs I’ve done where I’ve drilled for people, put a system in, and all of a sudden their neighbours are calling. “
SET PRICE, GUARANTEED WATER
Conrad says his customers particularly like that he guarantees water and offers a set price. Why he does it is a story.
When he first returned from New York and started his business, he was charging by the foot, the way he had learned at Eckerson – the way everyone he knew did it. But here, customers were asking him, “Don’t you have a set price? Don’t you have a guarantee?” As it turns out, that was the way it was done in Parry Sound.
“Lloyd Trodden, who ran Bettray Well Drilling – he passed away a few years ago – was a great guy, interesting and funny. He drilled for a long time, and I think he started this damn thing where it was a set price and water guaranteed,” Conrad says with a laugh.
But everybody conformed to it, because customers like it. “Setting the price and guaranteeing the water puts the customer at ease, because they know that in the end they’re going to have enough water for their house, whether it’s 100 feet or 400 feet, and if they are building a home, they can budget.”
Figuring out that pricing was hard, he says, but you do get some wells that are 60 feet and not so many that are 400 feet. If hydrofracturing is needed, Conrad pays for it, though he says that is only two to 10 per cent of the wells, a figure that changes every year.
He adds that you do have to make money or there’s no sense in doing it at all. “You might feel a little depressed that you’re not making as much money that day, but it works out the next week or the week after,” he says. “I really do find, the more you know the area, it works out.”
And customers know that hydrofracturing means you didn’t make a lot on the job. “Again, it’s a good thing. They tell their neighbours,” he says. “There are certain streets where I drilled one well, say 10 years ago, and then two years after that, I got two more on that street. Now, when I look back at one street, in particular, I’ve done 15 wells on it.”
It’s a customer-focused approach. “The customers are your business, and I think that’s something you have to think about. At the end of the day, you have your own life or your own problems, but I think it all works itself out if you just do the right thing and try to do for others what you would do for yourself. It’s like karma. It’s spreads around.”
His final thoughts are to express his gratitude. “I think it is important to recognize people, and what I want to say here is thank you to Jim Eckerson Jr. and Ron Banks Sr. for everything they taught me when I first went to New York. And my family has helped me from the beginning. They’ve been great to me, and I want to express my gratitude to my mom and dad – Al and Mary Conrad – for all their support and help.”
And that’s how some of that goodness comes back around.