“Flexibility” would describe the approach, and the career, that Barry Goldsher has shown along the path that has seen his offerings win acceptance in Permian Basin.
By Paul Wiseman, special contributor
For a number of years, Connecticut-based ClearSpan has provided affordable and easily-moved buildings for oil companies in the Permian Basin. And while the company’s fabric structures are well suited to the oil patch due to their low cost and the fact that they can be deployed and redeployed quickly, the company’s beginnings came from the farm.
“I grew up on a farm,” said ClearSpan founder, president, and CEO Barry Goldsher. “So my experience in farm-building construction and housing animals kind of got me started in the business.” When the farm added livestock, poultry, and equipment, all of that had to be sheltered somewhere. The fact that his was not the only farm with such needs gave the budding entrepreneur an idea.
“I saw an opportunity to transition from farming to supplying farmers,” he recalled. At the start his business supplied fans, heaters, and replacement parts for existing farm buildings. The business that became ClearSpan was started in 1979.
“Then it was a natural complement to design and build livestock structures. So we were building fabric buildings to house livestock,” he continued. From there, he noted that other entities needed buildings, too, including businesses, municipalities, and the oil field, including the oil field known as the Permian Basin.
With headquarters in South Windsor, Conn., and a 300,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Dyersville, Iowa, the company ships buildings across the United States. Of the firm’s 400 total employees, 300 are in Iowa and the rest are in the Connecticut-based sales, marketing, design, and finance office. Dyersville is in northeast Iowa, a few miles from the Field of Dreams movie location.
Their first connection with the Permian Basin came from oil companies searching on the web for buildings that could be set up and moved quickly from well site to well site and across other locations. “To supplement that we started to advertise in the magazines in those areas,” Goldsher said.
ClearSpan’s oilfield connection is relatively recent, having starting only about five years ago, but has quickly become a significant part of their business. The company began by doing projects for equipment storage, mess halls, and other structures for workforce housing locations. They’ve also done both insulated and uninsulated structures, permanent and portable, in the area. And they do business in other oilfields, from the Houston area to Wyoming, and other places around the nation. [For more on ClearSpan activity, see page 32.]
All buildings are offered only for sale—ClearSpan does no rentals. Any moving of structures is done by oil company personnel, but ClearSpan can provide a supervisor, on a per-day rate, to oversee the work. Alternatively, ClearSpan can send a crew to do the entire job. If a customer wants to do the entire job themselves, they have access to complete instructions and to the cell number of a construction manager who can answer questions and give advice.
Some might question whether a fabric building could withstand the West Texas winds, even with a steel truss structure, but Goldsher is certain that the company’s experience with hurricanes in Florida has well prepared them to contend with springtime in the Permian Basin. “The highest wind rating that we’ve had to engineer for is 175 mph. It takes a hell of a structure and it’s very expensive, but we still do it.”
In the Florida environment the challenge was compounded by the fact that the soil was sandy. They secured the buildings with helical pile anchors, somewhat like huge screws, that went 15 feet into the ground. Goldsher said the crews fought over who got to go to Florida to do the installation.
When asked if fights ensued over a Texas assignment, he said the Iowa crews do indeed look forward to coming here in the fall, winter, and spring.
The Florida building challenges highlight for Goldsher the things that are his company’s strength for the oilfield—designing the structure to make the building secure in extreme conditions, yet inexpensive enough and simple enough to assemble and disassemble to make it useful in multiple locations over many years.
For the engineering aspects Goldsher relies on those with such degrees, although he admits he learned a few things about structure down on the farm.
“I was always entrepreneurial. I’ve really worked since I was 8-9 years old, on the farm actually, making 25 cents an hour when I started, from my family. I just never really wanted a job, I never wanted to work for anybody.”
As the company, in the early days, began to expand from parts sales into building design, Goldsher hired an engineer. They how have six engineers on staff.
When hiring new engineers, he said, they typically take a recent college graduate and train him or her on the unique requirements of fabric buildings. “There are just not a lot of manufacturers [of fabric buildings], so we weren’t able to ‘poach’ a good engineer from a competitor,” he laughed. Many of their engineers come from the University of Iowa and Iowa State, near their manufacturing plant. He said the company has also worked with the universities on other projects.
The current situation wherein all employees are concentrated in two locations may be about to change as the company considers the value of face-to-face communication.
“We’ve done all our sales over the telephone, and we don’t do a lot of field travel,” Goldsher said. “So one growth initiative that we’re actually recruiting for now is field sales. Texas is a top-10 state for us in revenue—California is number one—so probably a presence to penetrate more where the action is” will be on the horizon. He hopes to have people on the ground within the next six months or so.
After doing all sales on the phone for 30 years, he acknowledged that this will be a big change, but that it will level the playing field against competitors that do have local salespeople.
He noted that it’s not just Texans who like face-to-face contact with sales people. The company has had great telephone sales people in the past, but he feels that if they had added field sales people 10 years ago, “we would easily be double the size we are now.”
To handle the growth expected from the deployment of field personnel, the company has added new computer systems, manufacturing space, robotic welders, and other features that will boost their manufacturing and customer service capabilities, for the Permian Basin and beyond. “Now I think it’s time to turn the corner and get on the growth track again.”
A freelance writer in Midland, Texas, Paul Wiseman has written extensively on the oil business and on business in general. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.