“If you look clean, you’ll get the green,” Anonymous
Cleanliness and looking neat is one of the keys to the success of Ferguson & McCann, a Delaware County, PA-based certified mechanical/environmental contractor.
“Since we specialize in underground storage tanks for the petroleum and utility industry, most of the work we do is underground. People might see our employees, but they sure as heck don’t see our work. They don’t see what we do. They don’t know what we do. We let our trucks do the talking for us,” said John McCann, who with his brother Mike and other family members runs the operation.
“Our trucks are clean and bright and white. The chrome is polished. It might not have anything to do with the job directly, but it says a lot about our business. Our clean trucks and our clean-cut look — including nice uniforms, shirts and jackets — help present our image. People think we look like we know what we are doing. You know what? The good news is, we do and we get their business,” explained John.
“Our image, including the clean trucks, as well as our reputation for integrity is the best advertising we got going for us,” Mike added.
Ferguson & McCann has been family-owned and operated for 70 years. The McCann’s grandfather, John P., started the operation. Their father, Neil, took over and grew the business.
The original John P. was a steamfitter by trade, so he hooked up with a plumber by the name of Ferguson to handle other work. Although the company originally focused on plumbing and heating work, the firm slowly began doing more and more work with petroleum storage tanks.
“Over the years, we have installed and removed hundreds and hundreds of tanks, ranging from small residential heating tanks to large 20,000-gal. gasoline tanks as well as above ground compressed natural gas storage tanks,” said John P. McCann, who was named after the founder.
“Our name is so closely tied to tank work that people naturally assume that we put it in. That is sometimes the case. In fact, we just took out a tank that my grandfather had put it in the 1930s,” said Mike McCann.
John, who serves as vice president, and Mike, who acts as president, said they have both been working in the business since their teens. Despite their years of experience, they were still not prepared to run the operation when their father’s illness prompted him to turn the operation over to them 14 years ago.
“One day our Dad was here working at his desk, the next day he was gone,” said John, referring to his father’s battle against cancer. “My father was still alive, but he was no longer involved in the business. It was ours. It was the livelihood for our family. It was either sink or swim. There was no way we were going to give it up.
“The business became our responsibility. We were both in our mid 20s. We could turn to our Dad for help and advice, and we did, but it was really up to us. There really was no preparation. We had to learn everything by doing it and as quickly as possible — especially things like estimating and paperwork. It was really odd; here I was 24 years old, telling some business owner he had to spend $100,000 on a job. We had to earn their respect,” he added.
One by one, they won over old customers while gaining new ones.
Currently, their customer list reads like a “Who’s Who” of the petroleum industry because Ferguson & McCann has managed to make itself the “Who’s Who” of the petroleum service industry.
The company provides a wide range of services to Getty, Exxon, Texaco, Shell, Gulf and Sunoco service stations and properties throughout most of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.
To hammer home the type and specialty work they do, the McCanns have converted an underground storage tank and now use it as a sign for the business. They also feature a mini-museum of old gas pumps in their warehouse and lobby.
Ferguson & McCann also does residential, commercial and industrial work related to underground tank service, storage, and safety, and the firm is also regularly called upon by utilities such as PECO and Philadelphia Suburban Water Co.
The bulk of their work still is service station construction, which they consider to be a start-to-finish product. They do not necessarily build the structure, but they do all the work related to the underground storage tanks.
“There are a lot of trades involved in a service station project — electrical, excavation, concrete, blacktop, piping and testing, to name a few. We do it all. We don’t believe in subcontracting the work. We try not to rent or sub out. If you do that, you lose control. It is much more easy to buy,” said John
To get the job done, the McCanns rely on Case.
They own several pieces from Case, including two Case 580 Super M backhoes, one Case 1845 skid loader, and three Eager Beaver trailers. Their dealer is Eagle Power & Equipment, Montgomeryville, PA, and their salesman is Don Walsh. The company also rents other pieces, when needed, from Eagle.
They also have a Cat D3 dozer, 10 Ford F450 super-duty trucks as well as dumptrucks by both Peterbilt and Mack. When needed, they rent cranes and other lifts from A&N Equipment Rental, Alden, PA.
“Our Dad starting buying Case back in the late 50s and early 60s. He always had them. We have been using Case since we were kids. Service and parts are pretty good. They have never given us a problem. We’re loyal. Everyone here can use Case. We know what we can do and we know what Case can do,” explained John.
A typical job involves excavating a hole to a depth of approximately 12 to 13 ft. (3.7 to 4 m) to accommodate a gasoline storage tank 8 ft. (2.4 m) in diameter and 32 ft. (9.8 m) long.
“They’re made of fiberglass. They weigh a ton. We use the backhoe to dig and then use it later to lower the tank in. And, it usually is more than just one tank. After all, there is regular unleaded, super unleaded, and premium. Some stations have kerosene or diesel, too. Sunoco uses two large tanks because they blend their fuels,” explained John.
After they shore the hole, they let the trackhoe do its job.
“If we can, we just slope it. That’s a lot cheaper. But, it needs a lot of room. We can use steel sheeting,” said John.
They lay down 12 in. (30.5 cm) of pea gravel to help set the tank and then use concrete deadmen to secure it. They backfill to the top of the tank and then fill the tank with product or water.
“We have to do that for ballast. If not, the tank can float right out of the hole,” John explained.
The company also sets manholes and submerged pumps that will later help pump the gas from the tank to the dispensers and drivers’ vehicles. It also pours concrete for the tank pad, the island and the island mat, as well as sidewalk approaches and ramps.
“To be honest, right now, we are not doing as much of this work as we would like to. The industry has slowed down. Installations are down. We are busy, but we are not doing as much big work as we used to,” said John. “It goes in cycles. One year, we install. The next year, we often do an upgrade. The year after that, we perform other services like checking to see if they are in compliance.
“We haven’t turned too much work away. Service stations call us for a lot of different things because they know our work. There are a lot of other things we can help them with, including water lines and electrical work, pump work, etc. We also do upgrades,” John added.
All the facilities are registered by the state and the Department of Environmental Protection checks and reviews each facility and installation.
“We can help the service stations every step of the way, from a simple decal that must be affixed to a complete upgrade,” John explained.
When the company is not putting in tanks, it is taking them out. Tank removal can be hazardous at times, especially if the old storage tanks have been neglected or are rusting away.
“Safety is one of our biggest concerns. Underground tanks, at times, are basically bombs waiting to go off. That hasn’t happened to us, thank goodness. We try to have all of our employees attend workshops to keep up to date. We just try to do things the best we can. That’s about all we can do,” John said.
He said removal of tanks is often painful, especially for the customer.
“A lot of mom and pop businesses have been forced out of the service station business. I remember one job when we went to remove an old tank, and then we found another, and then another. We ended up removing seven tanks. The small operators can’t afford to be in the business anymore.“Regulations are strict,” added Mike.
He said another expensive but critical part of the job is the removal of any contaminated soil.
“We take soil samples and they are tested to confirm whether or not they are contaminated by petroleum products. If so, then they must be burned. We have to haul them away to an incinerator,” Mike said.
“We know it is important to clean up the sites. But, just take a look around, there are no new mom and pop stations. The cost of compliance is running them out of the business. To us, it is a doubled-edge sword. We have a lot of work, but that means that, in the long run, there will not be many gas stations. One summer, we helped close 30 stations. There used to be one on every corner. Not anymore,” Mike added.
The change in the type of business is not the only change at Ferguson & McCann. The brothers are most proud of their new 19,000-sq.-ft. building that serves as office, headquarters, garage, and warehouse (as well as a mini-museum of vintage gas pumps and other petroleum memorabilia.)
“Building this facility was fun. It was like therapy for me. As a family we designed and built this place. We drew it up and took it to an architect,” Mike said.
The structure features a nice, airy conference room, roomy offices, a restroom that resembles many service station restrooms (only cleaner), and a large warehouse/garage where the trucks and other equipment are stored.
“We have our own wash bay. We keep the trucks clean. As much as possible, we keep them inside. Once a week, we clean them up,” said John, referring back to the original secret for his company’s success.
“Our dad would be proud of us. We have never worked for other people.
“This is all we know. Our dad passed away in 1995. In the past seven years, we have tripled our size, acquired state of the art equipment and added a new facility,” said Mike.
“We have a lot of pride in our work. Ferguson & McCann has quite a long history — 70 years. Our name is on the side of our trucks. We take it very seriously,” added John.