In May 2015 HammerHead CEO Brian Metcalf resigned his position to take the helm of Ring-O-Matic, a United States-based manufacturer of vacuum excavators.
On the eve of a planned visit to Australia in timing with the No-Dig Down Under show, Trenchless Australasia caught up with Mr Metcalf to discuss his exciting transition, as well as his ambitions for the vacuum excavation manufacturer.
For Brian Metcalf, joining Ring-O-Matic was an opportunity too good to pass up, both professionally and personally.
“Professionally, I was swayed by the opportunity to join a very focused privately-owned company and be part of an expanding segment within the underground construction market that is focused on safe construction practices and the increased use of hydro excavators,” he told Trenchless Australasia.
“Personally, I’m excited to use my experiences to build upon the past successes of Ring-O-Matic and to impact opportunities for our employees in our local community.”
Ring-O-Matic sold its first vacuum unit in 1983 and its first hydro excavation vacuum unit in 1996.
With almost all of Ring-O-Matic’s machines now sold through its dealer network, including Jet Vac Equipment in Australia, Mr Metcalf sees a prime opportunity to leverage these dealers in unique market segments.
“Ring-O-Matic clients vary from independent utility contractors, municipalities, and a wide array of utility companies,” continued Mr Metcalf.
“Project types also vary quite a bit from potholing, utility locates and repairs, catch basin clean outs, general clean up and working in support of horizontal directional drilling rigs.”
The Australian excavation market
According to Mr Metcalf, the applications and operations Ring-O-Matic machines are used for differs greatly from region to region.
“In our Australian market, for example, they are being used more for new installations,” he explained.
“In North America, I would say they are used equally between new installations and asset rehabilitations.”
When directly comparing the Australian market to North America, one of the biggest differences was the demanding endurance of machines in Australia, Mr Metcalf added.
“In North America, a vacuum excavator may run for a few hours a day. In Australia on the other hand, machines will sometimes run for 24 hours a day. The machine stays on the job site and crews are shuttled to and from the site while the machine is continually working.”
A key reason for this difference in regions is that hydro excavation is a preferred method for most types of earth moving work in Australia, continued Mr Metcalf.
“Larger capacity tanks, larger blowers and larger diameter suction tubes have all been the trend in Australia,” he said.
“Along with hydraulically-operated booms, almost all of the machines are truck-mounted machines. While this trend is starting to show up in North America, it has not materialised as fast as the Australian market.”
Becoming the new ringleader
Mr Metcalf joins Ring-O-Matic following a successful eight-year tenure at the helm of HammerHead, another important player in the trenchless equipment industry.
When asked what experiences from his previous role may prove useful in his new venture, Mr Metcalf cited HammerHead’s change of ownership under his watch, with the company successfully changing hands from Champlain Capital Partners to current owners Charles Machine Works.
“The experience of having led HammerHead under two ownership groups, all while doubling the business, provides knowledge that I will be able to leverage and use at Ring-O-Matic to grow the company and expand our product offering to customers worldwide,” he said.
Ring-O-Matic plans on focusing on its features and the advantages of ownership – especially with the company’s patented Cyclo-Jet Pothole Excavator.
Developments and challenges
When asked about the company’s future plans and challenges, Mr Metcalf said both new developments and continued refinements to the company’s core product line were in store.
“This will be buoyed by strong mandates at the local level, especially around utilities, which will require the use of excavator products at an increasing rate as older technology found in traditional excavators is replaced,” he said.
A particular challenge, meanwhile, was the industry’s opportunity to expand the message of safe digging practices across all aspects of its target markets.
“New construction, rehabilitation, maintenance, landscaping, plumbing and general construction all can benefit by the use of vacuum excavation,” he explained, “we need to increase the exposure and knowledge to match the capabilities of the product.”
Room for growth
Regarding the question of room for growth, Mr Metcalf was extremely upbeat at the company’s prospects.
“Without question, there is tremendous room for growth in the market. As the industry becomes more aware and more educated on the practice of hydro excavation, the market is going to naturally grow,” he said.
“Organisations such as Common Ground Alliance recommend hydro excavation as a best practice and more and more construction projects specify the use of hydro excavation when working around utility lines.”
However, with most refurbishment of Ring-O-Matic machines done through the service departments of its dealers (with support from Ring-O-Matic), Mr Metcalf was cautious about any plans to examine the secondary market for vacuum equipment as a potential growth area.
“As I gain more knowledge within our industry segment, I’m open to all future opportunities, including the secondary market,” he said.
“That said, our core strengths are in new product development, manufacturing and sales support to our dealer network, thus the secondary market is likely not an area we’re going to focus on.”
Setting the scene for success
In the short term, Mr Metcalf sees the company’s chief goals as resetting the organisation to properly align talent and resources with company needs, and setting the scene for long-term success.
“The bottom line is that we need to improve our distribution through adding additional dealers in key markets, we need to increase our marketing and brand awareness, and we also need to make sure that customers and our industry know that Ring-O-Matic has one of the most productive products on the market,” said Mr Metcalf.
Looking ahead to the long term, Mr Metcalf hopes to leverage Ring-O-Matic’s Iowa-based central location and its ability to do trailer packages and custom truck-mounted systems.
“I’ve been impressed with our team’s ability to modify existing product offerings to the needs of the customer and local requirements found on the job site. Our ability to react quickly and remain focused on only vacuum excavation is an advantage that our competitors will find difficult to match.”