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Meet Bill Anderson of Prairie Dog Boring Equipment

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bill Anderson.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
After receiving my degree in accounting I got into the equipment rental business. First in the accounting department, then later in management. I was working for a large equipment rental company in Houston. I had been there for 11 years and 11 more previously with another local equipment rental company. I got tired of the corporate politics and started searching for my own business.

I ran across a website of a local business broker and found a business that I thought was suitable to my interests. I’ve always been a bit of a tinkerer and liked figuring out how things were put together. Manufacturing of small construction equipment seemed like a good fit.

The owner established the original company in 1968 and was really wanted to retire. I met with him and we hit it off immediately. Our backgrounds were very similar. He had some other people interested in the business but he felt like I was the one that would run it the way he had all these years. I think he was a little concerned about his legacy. He made me an offer to buy the assets of the business, trade names etc. that I couldn’t turn down. I was able to come up with enough money to make a down payment and he financed the rest. We’ve grown in revenue and company value just about every year since.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Timing was terrible in the beginning. I bought the business in May 2008, In September 2008 Hurricane Ike hit Houston and we were down for 2 weeks. Shortly after that is when the housing bubble burst and threw us into a major recession. We sell our equipment all over the country. Houston didn’t get hit as hard economically as the rest of the country though and there was enough local business, along with some exports, to stay afloat. It was really scary at times. I had a little money set aside to cover overhead for a couple months and actually had to dip into that a few times. Looking back on that struggle I don’t think I could have had a better way to start. I learned very quickly how to run a tight ship.

Currently, my biggest struggle is marketing. I’m not a natural born salesman. I hate cold calling and don’t like the rejection. Now if someone is interested I can talk comfortably to them and be a great salesman but I have to know they have interest. I have been using some inbound strategies and social media but it’s limited. I send out a lot of emails and spend a lot of time combing the internet looking for new prospects. I know there is a better way but I haven’t found what really works yet. It may be as simple as having someone make calls for me. I think that’s really the way to get in touch with our base.

I think the biggest ongoing struggle is convincing people that our machines do what we say they will do. A lot of people simply don’t believe such simple machines work in a high tech world. I’ll go do demos as often as I can and will usually sell the machine on the spot. People just have to see it work. I have some videos on YouTube now that I can point skeptical customers to but most still want to see it in action.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Prairie Dog Boring Equipment – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
We manufacture portable underground boring machines. When I say portable I mean they are small enough to be hauled in a pick-up truck. They are mainly used for utility installation by municipalities, water supply companies or districts, utility contractors, plumbers, electricians, cable and fiber optic installers.

When the machines were first built by the original owner, the machines were one of a kind. Prior to that, if you needed to cross a road with any kind of pipe, conduit or line the road was usually cut. The problem with cutting a road is it can never be repaired as well as the original so you get dips or potholes.

Over the years, another technology has come along. Some of it is very expensive and some works well in certain soil conditions but not others. Some machines have locating devices and are steerable. That’s fine on long bores but it’s unnecessary on shorter bores. Most of our customers need to bore no more than 150 feet or so. Usually, it’s in the 40 – 100-foot range. Our machines are low cost relative to other options, work well in a wider variety of soil conditions and they are very accurate. We’ve made minor improvements to the machines since I bought the company but have kept the same basic principle of keeping the machines inexpensive to own and operate. I’m most proud of the fact that I do business honestly. If I don’t think our machines are a good fit for a particular situation, I will let the customer know and suggest alternatives. I don’t want to sell machines. I want to help customers solve their problems. I think our machines do that very well most of the time but sometimes it’s just not a good fit. I think, that honors the legacy of the founder as well.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I’m looking forward to seeing a steady growth more than anything. I want to find a marketing strategy that works consistently. I’m trying to figure out the best way to attack the internet. There are so many directions to go it can be overwhelming. I guess my plans are to navigate that and find a way to keep growing in an ever-changing market.

Strengthening dealer networks, getting some manufacturers reps or even hiring a marketing person are all options that I am looking at currently.

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Getting in touch: VoyageHouston is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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