As business ideas go, David Pfleegor's was so simple it was sheer genius.
Pfleegor opened a cleaning business, Rigmaids, marketed specifically for energy companies in Pennsylvania's northern tier, an industry whose workers spend 12 hours or more per day on the job, two or three weeks at a time.
"It's nothing crazy different," said Pfleegor. "It's not a great invention or anything, we're just kind of doing it in a different way. We started a cleaning company, but the way we are different is we have all the insurances - it's amazing to think a maid service needs a couple million dollars in insurance, but that's what we needed. And we got workers' compensation for our employees, safety equipment and clothing, and the training to go with it.
"Our thing is, we're not some mom and pop business rolling up in our personal vehicles. If anything ever happened, we'd be in a lot of trouble if we didn't have all the contracts and agreements in place. Because of the insurance policy I have in place, we were able to go out and sign a Master Services Agreement, that's a big thing - it's a contract to work in the gas industry. It's not like we're inventing the wheel, we're just making it turn a little faster. It's kind of crazy to go out and purchase a $3 million insurance policy for a maid service, but that's what you have to do if you want to work in the drilling industry. It's what we did."
Pfleegor's Rigmaids, in fact, has all the documentation in place to do business with the shale industry plus it's built good word-of-mouth. Those two things make growing the business easy.
Rigmaids' first location, in Williamsport, Pa., has been held up as the model for entrepreneurial-wanna-be's looking for a slice of the shale action. Pfleegor is currently opening a second office in Carnegie, Pa., to tap into the southern tier, and a third in Cambridge, Ohio, to capitalize on the Utica play.
"I think it's just mainly a novel idea, and it filled a need," said Jefferson County Progress Alliance Director Ed Looman, who said for months he'd heard business leaders in Pennsylvania communities describe Rigmaids as a kind of entrepreneurial benchmark. "It's one of those things where you think about what will work, what do they need, and the person who started the company hit on a real need. It's grown, the business seems to be doing very well. The novelty of the niche they look for, it really paid off in this particular case. And if you look hard enough at the industry, there's going to be other niches that pop up and people will fill them ... you don't know until you start to explore the needs of these companies what niche might need to be filled."
Looman said he's hoping area residents will show the same kind of ingenuity in developing their own shale-related business ideas.
For his part, Pfleegor said it helps that he knew his way around the boardroom, even before Rigmaids. He and his brother, Adam, and father, Dave Sr., are principals in family-owned Keystone Filler in Muncy, Pa., a company that processes anthracite coal for the steel industry. The brothers represent the fourth-generation of family ownership.
''Last year the gas boom really started hitting Williamsport, where I was born and raised," he said. "It's basically the hub for the northern tier of the Marcellus shale. Our family company, Keystone Filler, is a great company and we still run it. It's our full-time business, but we saw the gas industry coming in, so we sat down and said, 'How can we capitalize on it?'"
Dave Sr. opted to start an energy management company that's done so well that he already has a location in Cambridge. Adam launched a containment business, helping process the mud that comes out while they're drilling.
"I wanted something not so capital laden," he said. "It's not like I had millions to throw into the company, this was it, and Rigmaids didn't need much financing to start."
He currently has 10 employees, though he expects that number "soon to be 12." All have been trained in the ins- and-outs of well pad safety, so they know exactly how to conduct themselves on site.
"These (oil and shale) guys work 12 hours on, 12 hours off, and get two weeks in town and two weeks out ... the last thing they want to do is come in from home to a dusty, dirty shack," he said.
"I'm definitely surprised at how it took off," he said. "We started back in February with one van, now we have four in the northern tier, two in the southern tier and two in Utica. It's been great a little overhwelming at times. It's a very on-demand business. But we're not restricted to anything. We do offices on weekends a lot of the companies we clean for onsite have corporate offices in town, so we fill up our weekends with that. As far as starting up the business, at no point in time did I think maybe I shouldn't do it. Everyone thought it was a great idea, and it kind of caught on right away. We went from one to four vans really quick, and we're looking to add more."
By March, he's hoping to have more than 20 employees on the Rigmaids payroll.
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)