TrenchTech Keeps Contractors Safe in the Trenches

Thu May 06, 2021 - Northeast Edition #10
CEG


TrenchTech’s partial listing includes aluminum and steel trench boxes, slide rail systems for major excavations, aluminum hydraulic shoring, build-a-box shielding systems, road plates, manhole shields and fall protection barriers.
TrenchTech’s partial listing includes aluminum and steel trench boxes, slide rail systems for major excavations, aluminum hydraulic shoring, build-a-box shielding systems, road plates, manhole shields and fall protection barriers.
TrenchTech’s partial listing includes aluminum and steel trench boxes, slide rail systems for major excavations, aluminum hydraulic shoring, build-a-box shielding systems, road plates, manhole shields and fall protection barriers. While TrenchTech does not fabricate shields from scratch for customers — three full-time company welders repair inventory as needed — Efficiency Production engineers and welders in Michigan can design and build products for contractors with special shoring needs. TrenchTech has a $40 million inventory of tenching and other shoring products in its three Northeast and mid-Atlantic locations.

Trench shoring products don't make the heart flutter, unless you find safety alluring. People in the trenches do. Workers below ground level have a special place in their hearts for shielding that protects them from collapsing earthen walls that can bury them in a few terrible seconds.

"Safety is the number one priority," said Jay Kerrigan, founder and owner of TrenchTech Inc., which supplies shoring and shielding equipment across a large market in the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic states. "Our goal is to offer customers solutions, sometimes two or three solutions on a job, options they can choose from to pick the most efficient system for a particular project — always keeping safety in mind."

The focus on safety is appropriate. Gravity doesn't take a day off, so danger looms whenever someone in a hardhat descends a ladder into a lower-level construction project. On average, 18 to 20 trench workers in the United States are killed each year in cave-ins, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Trenching contractors used to combat this danger with timber barriers erected on site. However, that began to change 30 years ago about the time TrenchTech was founded. Renting of prefabricated steel and aluminum shoring equipment transformed the situation. Contractors were introduced to ready-made in-the-trench shields, hydraulic shoring and expandable slide-rail systems.

Today, TrenchTech has a $40 million inventory of these and other shoring products in its three Northeast and mid-Atlantic locations — all available for quick dispatch along the Interstate 95 highway corridor running the length of the Atlantic coast. For rent or purchase, the equipment has a common underlying purpose: preserving life.

Jay Kerrigan didn't exactly grow up in trenches, but he spent some time in them as a young construction worker. He later worked for a distributor whose product lines included then-relatively novel pre-manufactured shoring, which Kerrigan saw as a product with growth potential. In 1990, he was given a chance to open an office for a manufacturer of hydraulic aluminum shoring products and launched TrenchTech in Toms River, N.J.

The company initially offered other construction tools along with trench shoring products. By 1996, however, the company had become a shielding-and-shoring-only firm and Kerrigan had moved his office to Philadelphia.

"We were doing a tremendous amount of business in the eastern and northeastern Pennsylvania markets," he said. "A Philadelphia location made us more central to that market as well as to our New Jersey accounts."

By that time, Kerrigan also had ended his representation of the manufacturer that had spawned his business and exclusively offered the equipment line of Efficiency Production. The Michigan manufacturer dates to 1971 and was the first manufacturer and distributor of trench shields in the United States and Canada. It is considered the leading shoring products manufacturer in the country.

"Pretty much anything manufactured in the pre-fabricated shoring industry is available through TrenchTech," Kerrigan said of his lineup.

A partial listing includes aluminum and steel trench boxes, slide rail systems for major excavations, aluminum hydraulic shoring, build-a-box shielding systems, road plates, manhole shields and fall protection barriers. "We carry virtually every available product."

While TrenchTech does not fabricate shields from scratch for customers — three full-time company welders repair inventory as needed — Efficiency Production engineers and welders in Michigan can design and build products for contractors with special shoring needs.

Six years after moving the office to Philadelphia, the owner moved it again in search of more office and warehouse space — the welcome downside to business growth. The new office in Conshohocken, a Philadelphia suburb, served well for several years, but Kerrigan uprooted the operation one more time in 2010, moving to the current headquarters in Morrisville, Pa.

The Morrisville location has a feel of permanence about it because the property was purchased. "We'd always rented before and there are limitations when you rent. From a management standpoint, the location is a much more efficient operation."

Situated on 18 acres, the office is in a 15,000-sq.-ft. facility adjoined by a product maintenance shop. The expansive acreage lets the company store, display and load shoring products more conveniently and safely.

Besides Morrisville, two other fully stocked and staffed TrenchTech locations are located in Beltsville, Md., and Hackensack, N.J. From the three offices, TrenchTech caters to markets in the District of Columbia/northern Va., Philadelphia and New Jersey-New York.

Yet its customer base extends beyond those metropolitan areas. "We are strategically located on the I-95 corridor so we can very quickly serve any contractors from southern New England to North Carolina and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ohio Valley," said Kerrigan.

What does "very quickly" actually mean? "Once a customer selects a solution for a project, we spring into action," he said. "We make a lot of same-day deliveries and next-day deliveries. Delivery is as needed. There are very few times that we cannot respond to a contractor's need within a 24-hour period."

The engineered steel shields and shoring systems are the face of the business — the heavy structural steel panels and sturdy spreaders and thick plates that practically shout, "Tough!" Yet not everything about TrenchTech can be measured in tensile strength and soil pressure resistance. TrenchTech is more than hardware.

Kerrigan said the rest of the company story is measured in people and knowledge.

"The number one reason you want to use TrenchTech is that we have an unbelievable team. I would stack up our support staff — from back office to yard to welding to delivery and to our sales team — I would stack them against anyone in the industry. I actually tabulated our combined experience and came up with well over 100 years," Kerrigan said.

"We are known for being a solutions-based company. We don't just drop off equipment to people and hand them directions, say ‘Good luck' and leave. We get involved with folks, beginning in the pre-bidding stage. We look at plans with them. We try to help our customers right on through construction, help them to be more efficient, help them to get a job done more quickly and safely."

Company employees total 35 — shop labor, office personnel, drivers and salespeople. Not on staff but sometimes just as critical to customer satisfaction are consulting engineers to provide site-specific engineering sometimes required by Occupational Safety and Health Administration project overseers. "The engineers are there for us when our customers need them," said Kerrigan.

The knowledge component of the company is evident in services offered by its "Trench Safety University." The program covers general safety in trenches as well as fall protection and air quality issues in confined spaces. Upon completing the course, each participant is awarded a certificate to verify the transfer of safety knowledge.

A "competent person" awareness course offered by the university is an exacting review of OSHA rules and expectations for a project's safety supervisor, with accompanying guides and checklists. It delves into such matters as soil mechanics and classifications and offers tips to the course-taker on the safest and most cost-effective methods of completing a trenching job.

TrenchTech's software also is a key to its success, its technology platform speeding and smoothing the customer experience. Kerrigan said the pandemic, which interrupted normal face-to-face customer service routines, showed again the need for businesses to be technologically proficient.

"We have been investing in our technology platforms for 11 years. This has made us able to respond in a much more streamlined and efficient way to customer needs — from initial contact to completion of a project to billing. In this day and age, people expect for service companies to respond in that fashion."

Kerrigan said the company has "made a really, really heavy investment in technology to be responsive in this way. We now have a very robust e-commerce platform and website."

The president credits team members with guiding the company toward fuller utilization of 21st-century technology.

TrenchTech is proudly family-owned. Jay Kerrigan saw a developing market 30 years ago and founded the company to take advantage of it. And, like every successful entrepreneur, he hung on through turbulent economic times and steered the company into smoother waters. Now a second generation of Kerrigans has joined him in the venture.

Oldest son John Kerrigan Jr. grew up around the office and began working for his father in summer months when he was 12 years old. Today, he is the company vice president and "ready to step into the leadership role whenever they decide to get rid of me," said the founder.

Meanwhile, Connor Kerrigan is contributing to company growth as an upper-level regional sales executive based in central Pennsylvania. From there, he is overseeing TrenchTech sales in areas of Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey.

Turning over the company helm to his sons is a pleasant prospect for Kerrigan because he believes the future of the trench shoring industry is "very bright. There are obvious infrastructure needs in this county. We have more need for infrastructure improvements than we have ever had and a lot of that is underground work. Utility work. The electrical grid. Gas lines. Potable water lines. Sewer lines. Storm sewers. Those are critical needs in the country right now."

As the virus threat recedes, he foresees a coming surge in business opportunity for TrenchTech. "Coming out of the pandemic, there's bottleneck of work. Jobs that should have happened or were scheduled but didn't happen because of the pandemic — all of that is beginning to happen now. We're seeing it start to emerge. That backlog of work finally is on track to get done."

The company president looks forward to the boom, but then he generally looks forward to interacting with customers regardless of the state of the economy. Kerrigan simply loves the shoring industry.

"I really enjoy the challenges that arise every day, working with people who are in need of solutions. Every day something different pops up and I learn something different. I tell people that all the time: I have been doing this for 30 years and each day I learn something new, something that I didn't realize was part of this industry, and I love that." CEG




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