Alex Johnson grew up in the small but famous town of Williston, North Dakota. You may remember it as the place in the early 2000s where a stampede of crews and rigs rushed to the Bakken shale oil basin.
Johnson was still in high school when the boom hit. It seemed like the obvious choice of a career, so he enrolled in the school’s welding class. But when he went looking for jobs, most of the oil and drilling companies wanted welders with their own truck and rig.
Undeterred, he went to work for a company called Palmer Bit in 2012, fabricating oil and water drill bits. Working for Palmer, he refined his welding skills and also got his first exposure to how the corporate world works. But inside work didn’t suit him, so he left for a smaller company with substantial field operations, the original Enywhey Services, in 2014.
Two years later, the oil market went bust, and the original owners of Enywhey wanted out. Johnson, who by then had developed his skills and a reputation for hard work, decided to roll the dice and buy out the original owners.
Since then, Johnson has built the company into an $8 million to $10 million enterprise with as many as 15 employees doing oil and gas facility construction and maintenance, retention ponds, and helical pier installations and site work.
Wife and bookkeeper
Sarah, the one employee who stayed after Johnson bought Enywhey, was the company bookkeeper, whom he had just started dating and later married.
“I was fortunate to have her,” Alex says. “I would have been lost without her help on the paperwork side of things.” Sarah’s bookkeeping experience and business acumen allow Johnson to concentrate his efforts in the field. In addition to running the office at Enywhey, Sarah runs her own dance studio in Williston.
“I don't like doing paperwork,” says Alex. “I'd much rather be out with my guys just working, running equipment, putting stuff in the ground and being outside, even when it's 10 below.”
Piers and ponds
The two biggest services Enywhey offers are containment ponds for above-ground oil and chemical storage facilities in the oil fields and helical pier installations.
Most of the infrastructure in the oil field rests on helical piers. With the frost line in North Dakota reaching 6 feet underground, the piers are the most cost-efficient foundation.
Alex says he’s just one of several companies that install the piers and is by no means the biggest. But where he shines and takes the lion’s share of the local market is in building containment ponds and installing the liners.
Unlike the dirt berms that are typically used for containment ponds, most of what Johnson and his crews build use a spec that calls for metal sides or walls. When the supplier of these metal components couldn’t meet demand a few years back, Johnson set up his shop to fabricate his own and to keep on building. He even made a bit of money building them for his competitors. Enywhey’s shop will also fabricate the components when there’s a spec that can’t be met by the suppliers.
The metal-sided containment ponds require less maintenance than all-dirt liners, he says. It’s a more expensive solution up front, but with the risk of million-dollar fines for leaks and spills, Alex is finding plenty of customers for these systems.
Enywhey has an outstanding record for safety. In addition to using ISNetworld as a safety resource, the company has a 0.834 Experience Modification Rate and a lost-time incident rate of exactly zero. “We’re proud of that,” Johnson says.
ISNetworld takes a lot of the paperwork burden off Johnson and gives the company the certification and credibility it needs to work for drilling and oil companies. Enywhey’s safety program is audited and includes monthly safety meetings, daily safety jobsite analysis, and drug tests (pre- and post-employment) as per oil company requirements.
But in addition to following all the rules, Johnson has an intuitive sense of what makes a worker, crew or a jobsite safe that goes beyond the letter of the law.
“You get some kids out of high school, and they're super ambitious,” says Alex. “They have a great work ethic, but sometimes you just got to slow them down and explain safety procedures to them. They have to understand why we require them to wear their safety glasses, steel-toed boots and hardhat all the time.”
And then there are the older workers. “They've been doing this job every day for years,” says Alex. “But a lot of time it's the older guys who get into accidents because they've been doing it so long. They don't even think about it anymore.”
Customers have noticed and appreciate the company’s safety professionalism. “Safety is number one in their eyes,” says Preston Binde of Riverside Welding. “They make sure everyone is on the same page and communicates with other contractors about what they’re going to do.”
Top line equipment
Driving helical piers into the ground can require enormous torque, so Alex buys the most powerful skid steers he can get his hands on. When he was first starting out, he bought used equipment but buys new now.
“With the used equipment we'd have downtime and warranty issues. So now I prefer to run new equipment,” Johnson says. “We don't have to worry about fixing it. We're doing two-year leases and turning it over and getting new equipment after two years. That way we always have a warranty, because it's not cheap to fix equipment.”
Enywhey does not have mechanics; rather, the operators take care of daily and routine maintenance. Anything more complicated is handled by the dealer. Johnson’s dad, Bill, retired in 2018 and came to work for him, running the shop, doing minor repairs, feeding the cats and taking care of deliveries and such.
Early lessons learned
Johnson grew up on a farm and like many farm kids learned a thing or two about machinery, construction and hard work. "Being around that atmosphere, obviously, you learn how to work at a young age,” he says.
And right out of high school he kept his eyes and ears open and learned a lot about how to run a business. “One of the owners at Palmer taught me that it’s better to work on your business than in your business,” says Johnson. And while he enjoys the field work, he knows he has to put in time managing elements of the business from his desk in the office if he’s going to keep it going.
Eric Glasser of Asset Guard Products says, “They’re always there, never any excuses. They always do the job right. They don’t promise one thing and do another. It’s always above and beyond service.”
There are about seven construction companies that do installation services for the energy companies in Williston, says Jeremy Majerus at True North Steel. Enywhey is considered one of, if not the best. “I’ve been on many sites with him, and he treats his employees just fine,” says Majerus. “He jumps in there with them and doesn’t just bark orders. He treats everyone as he would like to be treated. He leads by example.”
Enywhey Services was a finalist in Equipment World's 2022 Contractor of the Year program.
The program recognizes contractors who display the highest standards of business acumen, equipment management expertise, attention to safety and community involvement. Each year, 12 finalists receive an expense-paid trip to Las Vegas to participate in roundtable discussions and an awards ceremony.
The 2023 program will coincide with ConExpo-Con/Agg, North America’s largest construction trade show.