Fueling it Forward
‘Pump and tank’ business built on experience, safety and family
For Buddy Bayliss, his business isn’t just about earning a dollar, it’s about paying it forward.
As a young man working for JCV, a Maryland-based petroleum equipment company, his boss, John Mitchell, President of JCV, Inc., invested the time, training and care to help him become one of the best managers in his field. And when it came time for Mitchell to retire, he handed the mantle down to Bayliss, leaving him a foundation to build his own company—the skills, the connections and tools. Mitchell gave all of his managers, including Bayliss, the opportunity to buy their operations and establish their own companies.
It’s a gift Bayliss wants to give to his own employees someday.
“John honestly cared about everyone who worked for him,” says Bayliss, President of BC&C, LLC. “I know the stereotype of many business people is the greedy, miserly businessman. We’ve all worked for someone like that, but that wasn’t John or his family.”
That philosophy of caring remains the same for Bayliss and BC&C. “You invest in your people,” he says.
BC&C is a fuel infrastructure specialty business or as Bayliss calls it a “pump and tank” business. His company—based in Winchester, Virginia—removes and installs the large fuel tanks, related piping and control systems, and computerized pumps for gas stations and commercial fleets. They also work with much larger tanks, both underground and aboveground, that fuel backup generators and boilers for government agencies, major financial institutions, data centers and hospitals. The firm serves Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, working with owners, architects, engineers and general contractors.
A Small Company with a Huge Impact
The company isn’t huge—just nine employees—but neither is the industry. Most people take for granted that it exists. People don’t think about what it takes behind the scenes to keep things working when they pull up to a pump to get gas; they just want it to work. It’s the same for customers with mission critical systems. The work is crucial to the safety of the public and the environment. BC&C’s projects typically can go as high as $1 million or be as simple as fixing a local farmer’s fueling system. “We have a depth of training, knowledge and skill sets born of experience that the bigger companies simply don’t have,” Bayliss adds. “And it gives us an edge that makes us hard to beat.”
Other companies often have people on staff who service gas stations, doing day-to-day things like repairing the electronic card readers on the pumps. “But when bigger problems are involved or no one else can find the problem, that’s typically when we get the call,” Bayliss says.
Also, companies sometime try to do the work of installing or removing the tanks themselves—situations that rarely end well because these types of projects require a high level of training, knowledge and ability, including certifications in some jurisdictions, as well as hands-on experience. Removing fuel tanks improperly can potentially have a negative effect on the water table and an owner’s land, as well as a community. It’s an important job and must be handled carefully and responsibly.
“We do it well, safely and we stay environmentally compliant,” Bayliss said. “We spend thousands of dollars annually in training and equipment to keep our people safe.” Bayliss is a strong supporter of his industry’s trade association, the Petroleum Equipment Institute, which develops technical standards and promotes professional development, as well as serves as a platform for equipment manufacturers, installation and service companies to interact. Careers in this field require substantial training and preparation, including meeting the requirements of government entities like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In fact, Bayliss says you don’t get good at this work until you’re a decade in. He’s been doing it for 35 years and is often called as a consultant in the field as well as a contractor.
Paying it Forward
It’s also why he takes an apprenticeship approach with his employees.
For instance, Mike Ward, the company’s construction superintendent, started out as just a helper with little to no experience in petroleum equipment. In fact, Ward was working as a foreman in housing construction before he was hired at BC&C.
“It was during the 2008 downturn in housing,” Ward said. “I had just done a commercial garage for Buddy when he asked me to help him.”
Constructing the garage was the kind of job where Ward was the foreman, the roofer, the siding guy and the flooring expert—he did everything. And that impressed Bayliss enough to offer Ward a job. While Ward then went from being a foreman to an apprentice with the move, he now has no regrets. Bayliss says that he chose to make an investment in Ward because of his ability to tackle every part of the job on a contract.
“It’s the most important ability for a pump and tank guy,” he says
While Ward started out 11 years ago as a helper, today he has learned every part of the petroleum equipment business, including installation, service and estimating. “It took time to gain experience, build problem-solving skills and learn to put a project together from start to finish,” Ward said. “It isn’t just understanding the technical side; it’s understanding what a customer wants in theory even though he/she doesn’t know how to get there.”
BC&C’s nine employees must each be capable of tackling every aspect of removing and installing fuel tank systems. They can also work as service techs for every project they complete.
“Most techs can problem-solve to a certain limit,” Ward said. “With our depth of training and knowledge we can keep going well beyond that level.”
The Fix-It Guys
Bayliss and his team are often used as the problem solvers or teachers on fuel systems in different areas of the country and even abroad. From week to week, they can be dealing with dead pumps at the local Exxon affiliate or building a fuel system for an AT&T facility’s backup generator or working on a government facility’s critical systems.
“The fact is I truly love what we do,” Bayliss says. “We have a positive impact on so many people, in a quiet way.”
Bayliss says that one of the most dangerous parts of the field is removing old fuel tanks and piping. A misstep in this process can lead to explosive results.
“Each year, tank removal is the cause of multiple deaths from fire and explosion,” he adds. “When removing the tanks, something as simple as the humidity in the air or the discovery of fuel contamination in the ground can dramatically affect what and how we do this work. Failing to do it properly can lead to an explosion, and the next thing you know, you’re on the 6 o’clock news.”
Fortunately, in the 15 years of BC&C’s existence, they’ve never experienced this kind of incident. Safety is deeply embedded in the company’s culture. It’s such a hallmark for BC&C that Bayliss often receives requests to teach “pump and tank” to people across the country and internationally. Bayliss regularly instructs tank installers/removers and leads safety refresher courses.
The company is also a family. When Ward, a local native, started out, he was a young single guy in construction. He went from helper to project manager. He also married and had kids. Still, he calls BC&C home. Matt Fishel, another long-term employee and lead foreman, agrees, sharing, “It is home, working here and in this business; it is a career for life, not just a job, and I like that.”
“Some companies can keep people in the same place with the ability to fix one small thing and that’s all they can do,” Ward said. “We’re small enough that you learn it all here, from start to finish.”
Ward believes that BC&C is a place for opportunity and connection.
“We just wouldn’t be where we are if we didn’t have great people willing to work and learn along the way,” Bayliss adds.