Target Excavating Inc.: Laying Pipe and Doing It Right

Target Excavating Inc. (Target) is a family-owned pipeline and excavation company located in Provost, Alberta. The company’s niche is in pipeline installation, but Colin Booker, operations manager and part-owner of Target, insists his team has many talents. According to Booker, oil field facility projects go hand-in-hand with pipeline installation and are part of Target’s standard scope of work.

“We have a broad range of work,” says Booker. “When you’re doing pipeline, you have to be involved in a whole bunch of different aspects and industries to accomplish anything and remain competitive.

“We do have a history in civil construction,” continues Booker. In the past Target has picked up contracts in public infrastructure with similar excavation work involved. The company has installed pipe for sewer and water systems in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Booker’s team also knows how to log and clear right of way for new pipeline installation. To bring it all together, Target has a wealth of equipment and experience in brush mulching and forestry to assist in the company’s northern pipeline installations.

At Target just about everything is done in-house, which Booker says helps to control costs and allows the company to maintain a controlled reputation in the industry. “I know my guys and I know my equipment,” Booker elaborates. “If our name is on a project, I’d rather have our name all over the project instead of counting on somebody else to ensure a successful project.”

Target does subcontract work out when necessary, usually for pressure testing and directional drilling. “We try to keep it local to whatever area we are working,” Booker adds. “We’ve worked with some fantastic subcontractors, but it’s not feasible if they’re six or eight hours away.”

Target consistently employs between 30 and 35 full-time employees, but that can spike up to 100 in a busy year. “It all depends on how oil is doing,” explains Booker. “Some years you’re really not doing a whole bunch, and then some years you can’t even buy a day off.” And that is evident as Booker reveals that yearly revenue for the company ranges from $4 million to $14 million.

The company, which does not have a website, relies heavily on long-term customers. “A majority of our work is with repeat clients and word of mouth,” says Booker. “Our marketing is next to zero, and we do not employ any sales staff.”

Quality Over Quantity

Booker’s team has managed to weather a rough patch during the recent recession. “We were top heavy as far as equipment goes,” recalls Booker. “Some contracts didn’t go through.” Target was hit particularly hard when oil and gas prices began to decline. Oil companies did not have the capital for new projects, and had lost a substantial amount of consumer confidence and support.

“It’s coming back now and things look great, but for a year and a half or so we did downsize,” Booker discloses. However, he believes that bigger was not necessarily better for Target. “We were close to three times our current size,” he explains. “We’re finding now that a smaller business model is more manageable and our profit margins are a lot more attractive.”

Growth is in the future for the company, but at a steadier pace than Target’s previous process. “We got too big too fast,” Booker explains. “There were some pretty big headaches.” Booker plans to expand gradually, but never to the company’s former capacity.

“We had four or five crews at a time,” he says. “At that point you’re counting on a whole host of people that you don’t know, all representing your name.” Booker would be comfortable with three crews and a cap of 120 employees. “Beyond that, you don’t have enough control in the company, And you need that in this business,” he points out.

Can You Dig It?

Target operates all over western Canada. “We work directly with oil companies,” Booker says. His operation was one of the first to offer pipe plowing on a large scale in the late ’90s, which when properly applied is upward of five times more efficient than standard trenching techniques. Basic excavating, which Booker says is still necessary with larger pipe, can take as long as a day to install one mile of piping with similar equipment input. Target’s system can lay a mile of small gauge pipe in about an hour. The rapid plowing lays pipe while simultaneously moving earth. Some pipeline needs to be excavated for conventional installation, and Booker explains, “You don’t get one without the other, so we do both.”

Target has been in the business for 25 years. The bulk of experience this business has accumulated in the industry has allowed the company to mature and adjust to a manageable size with controlled quality. Booker’s faith in his team and equipment fuel his dedication to both the company and each individual project. “We could very easily expand over the next few years without much marketing,” Booker claims.

With success based entirely on reputation, Booker is proud to say, “We don’t need a website.” Target Excavating Inc. remains ahead of the curve in technology and know-how, and Booker plans to keep it that way.