Putting The Strata Way To Work

Strata Corp. is using 103 years of experience to nurture its bursting Bakken business.
By Luke Geiver | July 31, 2013

Strata Corp. isn’t the only concrete, aggregate or construction firm operating in the Bakken, but the North Dakota-based company does have one thing that perhaps no other Bakken businesses can claim: 103 years of service. “We are committed to our locations long-term,” says Steve Griffin, construction division manager and 36-year employee of the company. Since starting Bradshaw Gravel Supply, a gravel operation in Arvilla, N.D., in 1910, the Bradshaw family and members of the Strata team including Griffin, have helped to expand its reach into South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana. The company’s approach to maintaining a strong culture of employee satisfaction in combination with strategies for longevity explains why Strata has found success in the Bakken and why other firms intending to operate in the play for decades should consider the Strata philosophy on oilfield business.

Reasons for Success
The grounds at Strata’s eastern N.D. facility are situated within minutes of an interstate on-ramp and a highway that runs through the heart of the Bakken. A rail line that is capable of importing and exporting aggregate and equipment runs through the north edge of the property. A multistory, ready-mix concrete plant sits in the middle of several massive stock piles of granite chips and other aggregate materials necessary for constructing buildings, well sites, roads and slabs. Rows of late model trucks are parked in a huge equipment parking lot, and a sophisticated building of corporate-style offices stands near the entrance of the multi-acre campus. According to Griffin, the company has needed all the facility has to offer, and more, to stay current with the demands of its Bakken clients.

The company also has erected a replica of its Grand Forks, N.D., ready-mix plant in Williston and several other facilities scattered throughout Western N.D. that help it supply service and bid on jobs. The long list of Strata’s locations and equipment supply dedicated to the Bakken grew as a result of an extensive assessment and research effort by Griffin and others. “Before we moved into Williston we wanted to make sure we had the support available to service our customers,” he says. “We talked to each oil company we work for out there to ensure what they were looking for is what we could offer.”

Those efforts have paid off, and now the company has been able to deploy its business strategies to the common problems addressed by every Bakken firm in the past five years: staffing, timeliness of service, housing, competing businesses and work-related travel.

According to Julie Magnus, hiring coordinator and marketing director, Strata’s accomplishments can be traced back to the company’s pseudo-mantra that bragging and business hyping don’t secure current or future success––employee satisfaction and customer appreciation do. Magnus has been to every regional job recruiting fair over the past year, including a few in Arizona and Florida. Although many potential hires aren’t familiar with Strata, that 103 years of service combined with testimonial’s from current employees help to explain why a Strata job is worth applying for. “We offer stability others can’t in the state,” she says. “Our challenge is that there is the next business that might pay a few dollars more than what we might pay,” she adds. “What we like to say is you can jump ship and make a little more money but you won’t have the longevity that Strata has.”

The average number of years for long-term employees is roughly 15, and for short-term, the number is five, Griffin says. The majority of seasonal employees continue to come back as well.

The hiring practices and staffing strategies help. Griffin and other division managers work to keep staff numbers high, in case an employee needs to take off. The company also maintains its fleet and reinvests in new or late-model equipment. “We want what will help employees do their job better and more comfortably,” he says. For Griffin and the rest of the executive team who are on the road 60 to 70 percent of their time, the company has added two airplanes to its fleet, making travel to western North Dakota and back much quicker. A shop in Grand Forks services the trucks Strata uses in the western part of the state.

When dealing with external clients, the company has leveraged its ability to communicate with both large and small contractors from outside the area. According to Griffin, the team has developed project planning skills similar to those of consulting firms. As an example, he points to out-of-state project engineers who plan a site package for a well in January. “We know the scheduling issues and the seasons,” he says, so when project managers expect to pour concrete or work on a job site in harsh weather, Griffin and his team inform them what conditions will be like and what those conditions can do to project execution.

Catching Up With Demand
Maintaining a happy and healthy employee base or client relationship may have helped Strata for the past 103 years, but since the Bakken started ramping up, Griffin and others have had to adapt. The company is now in the service business. Four years ago, a hazardous material handling and cleanup service was added to Strata’s list of offerings, along with well site maintenance, snow removal and pipeline servicing. “The company has always been bid-generated, where now we have more service-oriented businesses and people are going to hire you because of the job you do, not because your bid came in lower than the next guy,” Griffin explains.

The strategy to emphasis employee satisfaction and industry research is working for Strata in the service industry as well. Griffin says over 90 percent of its western N.D. workforce is employed year around, while only 60 percent of its eastern N.D. staff works all year. And, every division is maxed out with work. “Sometimes they don’t work for three weeks, and sometimes we are running every truck we own and every truck we can rent.”

Although a hazardous material team may not seem to mesh with the skill set of a concrete pouring company, Griffin says it is the nature, challenge and opportunity of the play. When companies and other clients told Griffin that Strata couldn’t accomplish adding the service in the Bakken, he says the reply was simple. “We like for people to come in and tell us you can’t do that. That comes from our North Dakota heritage,” he says. And, as Magnus adds, having 103 years to figure out how to successfully operate and grow a business doesn’t hurt.

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Author: Luke Geiver
Managing Editor, The Bakken magazine
lgeiver@bbiinternational.com
701-738-4944