Acme Oil grows organically through a natural expansion of oilfield services.
Sometimes you don’t have to go far to find good opportunities. The owners of Acme Oil Service & Repair learned that lesson, and they’ve built a successful business around it.
Michael Romines and his parents, John and Ellen Musselman, own Southwest Operating and Atlantis Oil Company. When Acme – a service vendor providing maintenance and repair on their pumping units – abruptly decided to close its doors, they saw an opportunity and stepped in. They needed those services, and so did other operators in Northeast Texas.
What they didn’t know was that one business would lead to another and another, like a remodeling project that continually uncovers something else that needs to be fixed. What started out as reviving a pumping unit maintenance and repair business with four employees in 2006 has bloomed into a company with 40 employees and four divisions. Having grown tenfold, the next challenge is to effectively get the message out about all the services Acme Oil Service & Repair offers.
Rebuilding a business
When the well-known owner of Acme Oil Service & Repair died unexpectedly in 2005, Romines and John Musselman discussed the value in owning a pumping unit maintenance/repair business. They didn’t think much more about it until 10 months later on a Wednesday in August 2006 when they called Acme to have some work done. They were referred to a competitor; Acme was closing its doors that Friday.
Without much thought, Romines and Musselman set up a meeting with the widowed owner and presented her with a proposal, which she accepted on Friday, Aug. 24. By Monday, Romines was managing the business.
“We figured that they had been in business for 56 years, and we had a large need for the service and knew others did too,” Romines says.
Though it was an established business, he soon realized he needed to treat Acme like a startup. That meant personal investment and long hours. There were no computers at the business; everything was handwritten. Romines spent long days and Saturdays setting up accounts, payroll, and organizing files on a computer utilizing programs such as QuickBooks and Microsoft Excel. It wasn’t long before he asked his wife, Jenny, to help handle all the paperwork. The couple had three children, ages 4, 10 and 11, so it was a very hectic time.
As the back office was getting organized, jobs in the field started to diversify. When Acme delivered a pumping unit, they referred another company to build the pad before it could be set.
“It didn’t take me but about two months and I thought, ‘I don’t know why we’re paying someone else to do this,’” Romines says.
When the foreman of a roustabout crew he regularly worked with said he would like to work for Acme, Romines recognized an opportunity. He hired the foreman and his son and added oilfield construction to Acme’s resume of services.
“All it took was a truck and a backhoe, and when a customer called we could say, ‘We can build a pad,’” Romines says. “We didn’t set out with the goal to grow services. It just kind of happened naturally.”
Customers appreciated that they only had to make one call to complete the job.
Just one more thing
As Acme was getting reestablished in 2007, Romines asked his brother, Robert, a former Army medic just out of college, to join the business to make sales calls.
By then Acme had three crews, one each for preventive maintenance, pumping unit repair and oilfield construction (roustabout). Robert spent a couple months on each crew learning as much as he could; then he started knocking on customers’ doors. There was enough work by 2008 to hire a bookkeeper.
The business was slowly and steadily growing in jobs and services Romines hadn’t anticipated.
“Early on, and even still, we have grown Acme organically. We let our customers drive the services we offer, based on their requests,” he says.
In 2009, Acme purchased S&D Sandblasting when the owner was ready to retire. Shortly after that, Acme purchased USA Fabrication, which was about to go out of business. Romines said it was too good a deal to pass up after negotiating a price that covered the cost of the equipment.
With those additions, Acme had a complete complement of services and a great sales pitch. Crews maintain and repair pumping units. Workers can build pads, hook up equipment, cut grass — do whatever is needed for oilfield construction. They can bring sandblasting and welding equipment on site for holes and minor repairs on equipment. They can also go to the field, disassemble units, and transport them to their fabrication shop for overhaul and major repair. And finally, the company’s most recent business addition: equipment sales with a focus on new or used pumping units and refurbished tanks.
“What sets our business apart is the wide variety of services we offer that are intertwined in some way. Very few of our customers only need one of the services,” Romines says. “If you call us for multiple services it saves you time from calling others, plus we can manage your project so we don’t skip details. It’s a matter of efficiency, which is tied to profitability.”
Developing a team
Along with the businesses, Acme picked up a few good men along the way who now hold leadership positions with the company. Terry Quinalty, the roustabout foreman who asked for work, is the oilfield construction manager. His crews take care of everything from dirt work and site building to oil spill cleanup and remediation.
Clint Wyatt worked for Acme when the business was sold and is now pumping unit repair and fabrication manager. His crews provide a 26-point maintenance service to help clients avoid downtime. When problems do occur, the crews are trained to handle them, regardless of the scope and complexity. As part of that, Wyatt also coordinates custom fabrication in the field and at the shop.
To tie all the pieces together, Todd Carr was hired as general sales manager in 2009, and a bookkeeper and administrative assistant were brought on to keep the office organized. Romines oversees the office, and his brother, Robert, oversees operations. Their parents also stay involved.
“One thing I’m most proud of is that we have a lot of tenured employees,” Romines says. Fifteen have been with the company for about six years. Of the 40 on the payroll, about 30 have been with Acme more than a year.
The company offers competitive pay rates and a group health insurance plan, but prides itself in its nontraditional benefits. For example, the owners offer low interest loans in times of crisis. Recently when an employee lost his home in a fire, he was given an extra week of paid vacation.
“My brother and I grew up in a family business, so we treat our employees like family,” Romines says.
Acme emphasizes safety with weekly employee meetings for “top-of-mind awareness” as well as specific training for things such as confined-space entry and H2S.
Acme has five four-man crews fully equipped for a variety of jobs in the field. Oilfield construction crews work from 1-ton Dodge crew cab pickups outfitted with a welder, air compressor, necessary hand tools and a New Holland backhoe, D95 New Holland bulldozer or a Western Star dump truck. From simple weed-eating and cleaning to extensive production equipment connectivity, Acme’s crews are outfitted for the work.
Romines says the 40-ton crane is the breadwinner for major pumping unit repairs. With a 100-foot telescoping boom, the National Crane (Manitowoc) can manage any repair, whether they’re made in the field or require loading the pumping units for delivery to the fabrication shop. Acme also has a 1994 GMC Telelect 600 Boom Truck with a 70-foot boom and 15-ton capacity for smaller jobs, which provides customers a more economical option.
Another important piece of equipment is the sandblast trailer with a 500-pound blasting pot, Ingersoll Rand 185 compressor and 56:1 Graco Airless Spray rig. The unit is perfect for field repairs on tanks, heater treaters, free water knock-outs and any other production equipment, and it helps the blast and coat/paint crew save customers valuable downtime.
Branding for the future
As all the pieces of the business started to fit together, Romines realized he was spending too much time running between the businesses, which were located all over Tyler, Texas (population 99,000). In January 2013, Acme purchased a 5-acre campus in Tyler that included office space and an 18,000-square-foot fabrication facility with overhead bridge cranes. They also opened a second smaller shop in Quitman, Texas, about an hour away.
“It made a huge difference in efficiency and a better bottom line,” Romines says.
Based on that and the company’s growth in less than eight years, he and his family set a goal to grow the business by 50 percent in 2014. Romines says he feels confident Acme can accomplish that by focusing on marketing, and he hired consultants to create an effective plan.
“We are known for pumping unit maintenance and repair,” Romines explains. “We need to get our story out that we are a provider of all these services.”
For now, ownership is focused on growing their business in northeast Texas, though some work takes crews as far as North Dakota and West Virginia.
With the diverse services they offer, there is plenty of room for growth without having to expand geographically. Plus, there are still other service offerings to explore.
Though there aren’t any set plans, Romines hinted that it might make sense to own an oilfield supply company since crews always need connections, valves and other parts for repair work.
It’s just a thought, Romines emphasizes, but then again, it was just a thought that led to buying Acme Oil Service & Repair in 2006.