This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue as "Learning Process"
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The city of Buchanan, Mich., is located in the southwest corner of the state and has a population of approximately 4,500 people. Its northeast border is the St. Joseph River, which was once used as a major Native American transportation route.
Greg McCarty’s grandfather opened McCarty Well Drilling in Buchanan in 1950.
“He started working as a plumber and then he just bought a rig and started putting wells in,” McCarty said. “[He was] self-taught.”
McCarty grew up in the business after his father took over, and working there was “just something you did as part of the family,” he said. In 2005, it landed in the hands of McCarty and his wife, who are its current co- owners. McCarty works in the field while his wife manages the office and handles administrative tasks of this third-generation business.
McCarty Well Drilling’s main focus is primarily residential wells, but the company also offers water treatment, geothermal, and irrigation services.
The business offers well drilling, water treatment, geothermal and irrigation services.
Since he began in the industry, McCarty has noticed the biggest shift in the well technology.
“When I started it was mainly 2-in. wells with jet pumps,” he said. “Now it’s predominantly PVC with submersible pumps. That’s the biggest change.”
The company’s marketing techniques also have changed over the years, although not as much as one might think. While the business has abandoned older advertising techniques, such as phone book listings, in favor of the internet, some marketing techniques remain tried and true.
“It’s just word of mouth. That’s the best,” McCarty said. “You hear that a lot, but you can’t beat that. When you’re dealing with something as personal as a well, [customers] pass that on pretty quick if they’re happy, and especially if they’re not happy.”
McCarty Well Drilling has five employees, and McCarty lists finding and keeping quality employees among his biggest challenges.
“You’re out in the cold, and it’s wet a lot of the time,” McCarty said. “A lot of the younger generation just doesn’t want to do it. It’s getting harder and harder to find anybody.”
While industry experience is not a requirement to work for McCarty—and often is hard to come by—he does look for employees who are mechanically inclined. Most of the training is done on the job, led by the more seasoned employees, but McCarty does take advantage of continuing education from time to time.
The business is a member of the Michigan Groundwater Assn., and McCarty himself has served on the board’s education committee. Because of the size of his business, McCarty primarily seeks conveniently located educational opportunities.
“Being small, it’s hard to just take a whole group to shut down to go for education,” he said. “You have to pick and choose.”
McCarty Well Drilling also is a member of the national Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Goulds Professional Dealers Assn., which provides resources and education to qualified dealers of Goulds Water Technology products.
McCarty Well Drilling's client base includes both new construction as well as returning customers.
Communication is key for McCarty, who strives to be open and honest with his customers. Despite the small size of the business, McCarty said it is important to give customers a personalized experience.
“We try to focus on each individual and each job and make sure they’re happy with it,” he said. “It’s becoming harder and harder to do that. People are more demanding. They don’t like the mess in their yard. There’s a lot of communication that has to go on in order for that to all come together at the end.”
The economy has been kind to McCarty Well Drilling. Although the business experienced some downturn during the recession in 2007 and 2008, it was more fortunate than some of its competitors because it does not rely solely on new home construction.
“We had a huge customer base—repeat customers—to pull from,” McCarty said. “We saw a lot of our competitors that were strictly new construction fall by the wayside because they didn’t have the work.” The company’s turnkey geothermal work also kept them busy during this time.
These economic pressures are forces to be reckoned with when running a business. McCarty noted that many business owners in this industry excel at the technical aspects of well drilling or water treatment, but could benefit from earning a business degree.
“If you can do anything to help the generation coming up, it’s to encourage them to go and learn something about running a business, about making a profit at what you’re doing,” he said.
Ultimately, McCarty and his team are providing clean drinking water to their customers, the importance of which McCarty said should not be taken lightly.
“A lot of the people in our industry don’t hold themselves in very high regard,” McCarty said. “I put ourselves up there with doctors and lawyers. We’ve got a heck of an education in this thing and we should get paid for it. A lot of guys don’t do that.”
For now, McCarty and his wife are at the helm of the business, but they are keeping their eyes on the future.
“My son Carson is fourth generation,” McCarty said. “He’s been working in the business for two years now. Right now that’s what we’re looking at for the future.” WQP