T-Bone Construction Inc.

T Bone Construction picT-Bone Construction entrusted an industry veteran to build its new fuel service and construction division.

By Tim O’Connor

T-Bone Construction Inc.’s advantage is its ability to complete work using in-house resources. The company owns excavation equipment, operates its own trucking division and has its own crews that can complete the electrical and cabinetry components of its projects. In-house architects can design a structure and its general contracting team can see it built to completion.

That desire to be an all-in-one contractor led T-Bone to start a new fuel service and construction division at the beginning of this year. The 30-year-old company had previously completed a few gas stations for Murphy Oil Corp., but the specialized nature of installing fuel infrastructure forced it to outsource much of that work to subcontractors. The need to go outside the company created complications in finishing the projects.

“It was a struggle for them to get it done right and on time, so [President] Mike [Thibault] decided he wanted to bring it in-house,” says Jeff Pyle, fueling division director.

Industry Experience

Pyle has spent 27 years designing, building and servicing gasoline equipment, most recently as the facilities maintenance manager for Love’s Travel Stops. During his time with Love’s, Pyle worked with T-Bone on several projects and came to know the contractor for its responsiveness and quality work. After spending a few years stationed in Oklahoma, Pyle was eager to move back to his native Colorado, so he got in touch with Thibault about joining T-Bone, which is based in Colorado Springs. T Bone Construction box

T-Bone jumped at the chance to bring Pyle on board, seeing it as an opportunity to build a fuel service and construction division behind an industry veteran. The division started in January and is already licensed to perform underground fuel work in 34 states. True to T-Bone’s in-house strategy, the division also handles general service and maintenance work such as tile repair and electrical wiring.

“Everybody is excited they finally have a GC that can not only build the store but do the fuel at the same time,” Pyle says.

In the first six months since the division was founded, the fuel service team finished its first Kroger King Soopers gas station and began working on a new Safeway store with fuel kiosks and underground retention ponds. Although it has done two ground-up construction projects so far, the company also can perform repair and maintenance jobs or even act as the fuel service subcontractor for other general contractors.

“That’s what lights them up,” Pyle says of T-Bone’s clients. “We can do from start to finish to maintenance after it opens.”

Specialized Service

Fueling infrastructure is a specialized field not unlike HVAC systems or plumbing. Building a new division around fuel service required finding experienced people that could bring their knowledge to T-Bone. Here, too, Pyle’s understanding of the industry was an asset. Because he was familiar with contractors that provided fuel service, Pyle was able to identify talented people within the field and recruited them to T-Bone.

“Through my connections working with Love’s, I know just about every petroleum company in the United States and who is good and who is not,” he says.

But finding experienced people was only part of building a qualified team. Making sure their work met all requirements and safety standards was equally important. Pyle believes that one of the problems in the fuel service field is the overuse of temporary laborers and insufficient oversight from project managers. If a supervisor is only on site once a week, he or she is bound to miss critical details, and temporary workers often lack proper HAZMAT and safety training. T-Bone wanted to build a better kind of team, so the company is investing more in training for all its fuel service workers.

“With my group here, before anyone went out and did a single job, they all went through training,” Pyle says.

The fuel service team now has seven team members, including Pyle, and the installation crew is still growing. Those technicians will provide service to customers in remote regions where it is difficult to secure timely service. T-Bone will expand with customer demand. “We will set them up anywhere in the country if the need is there,” Pyle says.

Setting up its network according to customer need is another way T-Bone is doing things differently. Most fuel service companies give their technicians a 150-mile protected radius. Having a territory all to themselves works out well for the technicians, but it diminishes competition and can result in worse service for the customer, Pyle says. Instead, T-Bone will locate its technicians in ways to foster competition and drive better results.

T-Bone wants to grow its fuel service division through its people. Employees will receive on-site training and then be put into supervisory roles where they can teach the next crop of team members. Expansion will occur only alongside its workforce. “Part of the problem the industry has right now is everyone takes on all the projects they can but they don’t have the people to do the work,” Pyle says.

Pyle’s strategy is to hire young people who have only been in the industry for a year or two. That way, he can teach his methods and train them to his standards, as opposed to trying to rewire the processes an industry veteran has learned over their entire career.

“You’ve got to have the guys willing to be flexible enough to change and grow with the industry,” he says. “I can train anybody in this business. The guys I like have ambition and integrity.”

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