A Natural Progression

ABEL RECON has grown from a small startup division to one of the Mid-Atlantic region’s most respected infrastructure rehabilitation providers.
A Natural Progression

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Troy Abel, president of The Abel Companies, wanted to diversify his infrastructure construction firm to facilitate growth and hedge against the cyclical nature of infrastructure construction, which had been his bread and butter for over 30 years.

Based in the heart of South Central Pennsylvania's "Amish Country," Abel's firm was successfully and profitably providing infrastructure construction services such as heavy excavation, underground utility installation, curbing and paving to municipalities, utility agencies and property development firms, but it was time to consider venturing into other markets.

"We knew we wanted to enter a field that would be closely related to what we were already doing so that we could draw upon the experience and knowledge base of our team. It needed to be something where the technical learning curve and capital costs to enter would be manageable," Abel says.

He began his search for the "right fit" by tapping into his existing client base and strategic partners to learn about their experiences with various technologies, and to determine the region's most pressing infrastructure challenges and where the needs were greatest.

This due diligence pointed Abel in the direction of structural rehabilitation. He moved forward with the formation of a new company, ABEL RECON, whose focus would be trenchless technology and rehabilitation services. Abel researched the various technologies that had been recommended, and one in particular stood out as the most sensible first step for his new venture – spray-applied polyurethanes by Sprayroq, Inc.

ABEL RECON became a Sprayroq Certified Partner, a process that required not just the purchase of specialized plural component spray equipment, preparation tools and multiple vehicles, but also that his newly hired spray and prep crew members undergo an intense factory and field training program with representatives from Sprayroq. Each crew member is certified in the proper preparation of structures, application of the various polyurethane materials, and confined-space-entry safety.

Cutting their teeth

One of the crew's early projects as a Sprayroq partner was the structural rehabilitation of an underground sewer culvert in the Philadelphia suburb of Ridley Park. The culvert transported 12 million gallons of wastewater per day and was showing signs of age and deterioration. The biggest issue facing the crews and the asset owner was the line's location. Half of the culvert ran directly underneath Interstate 95, a major north-south route through metropolitan Philadelphia.

The culvert was 3 feet high, 7 feet wide and 575 feet long. The decay was exposing aggregate and the goal was to structurally repair the existing damage and provide protection from future deterioration. Since the culvert was rectangular, the flat surfaces needed structural support using a flat wall design calculation. SprayWall, a structural polyurethane, was selected for the project and the crew prepped, applied and returned the line to service in less than four weeks, extending its lifespan by up to 50 years.

This project, along with many others that followed, including a progressive manhole rehabilitation program for Derry Township, Pa., and industrial projects for The Hershey Company and other regional municipal authorities, provided the ABEL RECON team an opportunity to test their abilities and quickly gain a reputation as the area's go-to guys for rehabilitation.

It became obvious to Abel that he needed to add more services to meet the increasing demands of his clients. "My goal was to be able to offer a wide range of services to the client base we would be working for. It was a natural progression that we would add on services like CCTV inspection, cleaning, grouting and root control," he says.

All of these services made the firm a one-stop solutions provider for their client base, but the traditional maintenance services like cleaning and CCTV, along with root control or grouting, were temporary fixes for infrastructure issues. Numerous other contractors also offered these services, and competitive bidding made them less lucrative for the growth potential of the firm as a whole.

With their success as a certified installer for Sprayroq, adding another technology with a similar structure seemed the next logical fit for Abel and his team. CIPP appeared to be a strong candidate and was a rehabilitation method Abel's client base was requesting and specifying frequently. Just as he had done his homework on what trenchless method he wanted to start his business with, he performed similar investigative research on what CIPP method and manufacturer would best fit his business model and goals.

Similar in approach to Sprayroq, Reline America, Inc. offered a marketing territory for ABEL RECON, which became the first contractor to install the Reline America product in North America. Abel saw great potential in this opportunity and the nature of the technology and opted to invest in his firm again, adding specialized lining rigs and equipment. New crews were hired and trained at the Reline America plant and in the field.

The demand for highly skilled CIPP installers takes ABEL RECON to many interesting locations and communities such as Elizabeth Township, Pa., a region just southeast of Pittsburgh that is a mix of rural and suburban communities. Under consent decree to drastically reduce its wet-weather-related SSOs, trenchless technology – in particular, CIPP – became the predominant solution of choice for the township.

The initial phase of the township's CIPP rehabilitation program began in 2009. Steam-cured felt liners were used, but the consulting engineer, Senate Engineering of Harmar, Pa., began investigating UV-cured CIPP as an alternative. For its next phase, bid solicitations included both fiberglass-UV and felt-hot water curing methods. ABEL RECON was awarded the contract utilizing Blue-Tek technology from Reline America. The crews successfully completed the rehabilitation of 55,000 feet of pipe and the project received news coverage in several publications on a regional and national level for its cost-effectiveness and helping the township move toward its SSO remediation goals.

If you build it, they will come

The famous line from "Field of Dreams" is just that – a dream that only happens in the movies. For his business, Abel knew he had to have a plan. Simply finding excellent technology, vendors, good employees and well-built equipment was not enough. Precisely targeted and cost-effective marketing would be the key to the firm's quick success and rapid growth in the rehabilitation sector.

"There's a big difference between advertising and marketing," Abel says. "We view marketing as an educational process – a direct, hands-on effort to educate people about who we are, the services we offer, the products we represent and the advantages and benefits of working with us. Advertising items like direct mail and ads have their place; it places your name out there, but marketing and continual dialogue with the client or prospect is what really drives the business our way."

ABEL RECON's educational marketing approach plays a key role in securing opportunities to work on many important projects.

"We understand the particular concerns our clients have about protecting themselves as an asset owner or municipality and that they want to make sure that they get the very best service and products or solutions available for their needs," says General Manager Hap Witmer. "By educating them about the unique characteristics of our products and solutions, when they begin to write their specs, they will be well-informed and have the knowledge to help them procure the best solution for their needs, and know that sometimes, the right solution won't always be the least expensive."

Publicity and free press opportunities are another form of "education-style" marketing that Abel takes full advantage of whenever possible. Developing feature articles about key projects and success stories that are published in local, regional and national industry publications on a regular basis helps educate the market about the firm. Case in point, an article showcasing Derry Township gave positive mention of the firm and the great success achieved by the utilization of Sprayroq technology. This created interest from officials in another local authority who knew the gentleman featured in the article and regarded his opinion highly. This opened a dialogue that lead to an eventual working relationship between ABEL RECON and the authority.

Witmer and the company's business development managers, Scot Snyder and Pat Godwin, are constantly in the field, personally delivering the firm's marketing message of new trenchless technologies and how ABEL RECON can assist in solving infrastructure issues. The marketing team participates in approximately 15 regional Water Environment Association and Rural Water Association trade shows annually and finds this an excellent method for meeting key contacts and decision makers. Brown bag lunch field demos, targeted email outreach and a media-rich, comprehensive website are some of the other methods ABEL RECON utilizes to continually stay in contact and educate its client base.

A good model

With a solid, time-proven model for marketing, finding, deploying and executing successful rehabilitation projects with multiple technologies, ABEL RECON is now expanding beyond its original core base of wastewater infrastructure into stormwater and DOT drainage, vertical industrial and potable water structures.

Since its inception in 2005, ABEL RECON has achieved much to be proud of. They were willing to repeatedly get out of their comfort zone and try new technologies. When asked for the secret to their continual growth and success, Abel humbly replies, "A good foundation and a focus on the basics certainly, but I think the real strength of our company comes from always trying to take the best possible care of our clients, anticipate what their needs are, and to give them the stable of services that benefit them the most in achieving their goals."


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