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Seizing the Day

Ray and Edie Cantrell built their industrial cleaning business by watching for
and grabbing business opportunities

By Rosalie E. Leposky

The story of CANCO is a story of being open to — and seizing — opportunities. Its beginnings were humble, but its growth has been steady as Ray astutely capitalized on opportunities that came his way.

Located in a heavily industrialized area about 50 miles north of Columbia, S.C., and 45 miles south of Charlotte, N.C., CANCO specializes in cleaning industrial storage tanks, preventing
concrete and steel tanks from leaking, and cutting metal (including the floors of petroleum tanks) with water and abrasives.

Clients include chemical companies, feed mills, paper mills, petroleum and wood-products companies, municipalities, and utilities. “Since every bit of our equipment is on wheels, we can serve the entire southeastern United States,” says Ray.



Modest beginnings

Ray started the company after selling a convenience store he had owned for 12 years and grew tired of operating. He spent the next two years looking unsuccessfully for work, often hearing the standard line: “Sorry, you’re overqualified.”

Many people placed in a similar position might simply give up. Ray, on the other hand, turned a physical asset from his previous career into the seed of the business he owns today. He still had a small 1,000 psi pressure washer he had bought while running the convenience store. In 1993, he put it to work cleaning the parking lots of convenience stores and banks.

It happened after a friend, John McMaster, grumbled to Ray about his dirty parking lots. McMaster owned 30 convenience stores in South Carolina. “I told John he was talking to a man who could clean them,” Ray says. After that, Ray started in earnest to solicit business from convenience stores and banks with drive-through lanes.

“I’ve been grateful that I accepted the opportunity McMaster offered me,” Ray says. “Hydroblasting has been a wonderful business. Sometimes things that initially seem to be a hardship really aren’t.”

Scaling up

Ray quickly found his original pressure washer inadequate for the volume of business he could attract, so he upgraded to a 3,000 psi unit. Late in 1994, he secured CANCO’s first industrial client with the help of his son, Chris, who worked in the maintenance department of a chemical company in Chester. “Chris suggested I talk to his boss about cleaning their chemical reactors,” says Ray. “I did, and the rest is history.”

Chris now is one of CANCO’s project foremen and directs cleanup at his former employer’s plant. Its reactors have glass liners that must be cleaned about once a week, according to a schedule dictated by the amount of use the equipment receives. “With eight hours’ notice, day or night, we come and clean it,” Ray says.



“The first time we cleaned the reactor with a 3,000 psi hydroblaster, it took about 11 hours. Another company had used 20,000 psi and spent 12 hours, with equipment almost seven times bigger than ours. At the time, I didn’t know any better. I went into the tank and didn’t come out for 11 hours. I was concentrating too hard on what I was doing to become thirsty or think about anything else.”

That one-time opportunity eventually led to a whole new line of business for CANCO. The company used the 3,000 psi pumps for about two months, after which it acquired a 20,000 psi pump. “Now, with a 20,000 psi pump and the right accessories and tools, it takes us an hour and a half to two hours to clean this reactor,” Chris says.

Today, to serve its substantial industrial cleaning business, CANCO owns two 40,000 psi hydroblasters with Husky pumps made by Flow International Corporation; two 20,000 psi hydro-blasters from Butterworth, Inc. and Gardner Denver, Inc.; and a 3,000 psi hydroblaster from Tuff Manufacturing. The company also has two industrial vacuum trucks and a Camel combination truck from Super Products Corporation, and 10 pick-up trucks (nine Fords and one Dodge).

In 1997, Ray’s wife, Edie, left her job as director of marketing and physician recruitment for a local hospital to work at CANCO. Now, as secretary-treasurer and chief financial officer, she manages the office and handles marketing and public relations. CANCO also has a full-time salesman and a bookkeeper-receptionist.

Sand and snakes

When offered a challenging new job, Ray and his staff will find a way to get it done efficiently. Hydroblasting now comprises 60 percent of CANCO’s business and industrial vacuuming close to 40 percent. Projects include asbestos and lead abatement, heat exchanger and condenser cleaning, pipe and tank cleaning, reactor and confined-space cleaning, and video pipe inspection.



The company also does some surface preparation. “We prepare mostly steel and concrete for coating with substances that make them impervious,” Edie says. A recent CANCO project was to vacuum sand out of Cone Mills Corporation’s Carlisle Finishing Plant pumphouse on the Broad River. “It has to be done about once a year, depending on how much rain we have and how high the river gets,” Ray says. “This was CANCO’s first time to do this job.

“When the river overflows, about three feet of sand gets into the pumphouse. So do snakes. Someone has to remove them. Our crew knew how long it took the previous company to vacuum the sand, and knew about the snakes. We were determined to do it faster and safer than our competitors. No snakes were going to get in our way. We also knew that there are not a lot of poisonous snakes in the area.

“We sent four men to do the job under Wray Skipper, our project supervisor, who has been with us for seven years. We don’t mind working hard, but no ones likes to vacuum up snakes. We just capture them along with the sand. Since the sand is clean river sand, we can dump it back outside. The snakes are not hurt.”

Specialized equipment

Sometimes a new job requires CANCO to acquire specialized equipment or training. Here again, Ray seizes the opportunity. CANCO client Clariant Corporation (formerly Celanese Corpor-ation), is a specialty chemical company with several plants in North and South Carolina. “We hydroblast their storage tanks and clean drain lines for them with the right accessories and nozzles,” says Ray. “We have to special-order from Australia the right nozzle to clean the zinc from their heat-exchanger tubes.

“Over the years we’ve worked with Scott Boos of Blasters Inc. in Tampa, Florida, to design special hydroblaster nozzles and accessories. Different applications require different tips. Rick Schmalz, at Flow International Corpor-ation (in Kent, Wash.) has been helpful with technical information and advice on specialty accessories. Flow’s engineering technical staff has visited our job sites on more than one occasion. We’re considering the purchase of their 55,000 psi hydroblaster.”



A South Carolina chemical company called CANCO to remove a batch of noxious chemicals from a formaldehyde storage tank that holds more than 100,000 gallons of product. By accident, someone had pumped another product into those tanks. “Removing the chemical mixture required a lot of special handling procedures and precautions,” Edie says. “Before we started, the client’s employees and environmental specialist met with our staff to discuss special precautions for handling the chemicals.

“We make sure that all of our employees receive OSHA training in handling hazardous materials, and that they use protective clothing and equipment.”

CANCO provides positive-pressure headgear to its staff. “These helmets have an air supply that cools the helmet, lowers the temperature of the wearer’s head, and makes the whole body feel cooler,” says Edie. “This is particularly helpful while working with a 40,000 psi hydroblaster in very hot chemical tanks. It helps the men stay cool.”

In addition to chemical reactors and petroleum-storage tanks, CANCO cleans and siphons contaminated tanks at food-processing plants. “We also clean heat exchangers at Weyerhaeuser Company pulp manufacturing plants in the Carolinas,” says Ray.

Learning to delegate

The new task that has been hardest for Ray to learn has been how to delegate authority. On February 5, 2001, Ray became ill leaving a job site. “Fortunately Chris was not far away,” says Edie. “Ray thought the bad taste in his mouth was a reaction to the zinc dust on the job site. He stopped at a convenience store for a soft drink. He saw Chris at a stoplight and motioned to Chris to follow him back to our shop. Chris took one look at his father and insisted that he go to the hospital where I used to work. Ray never imagined he was having a heart attack.

“The emergency room doctor, a friends of ours, recognized my husband and knew something was very wrong. Ray went into cardiac arrest in the emergency room. Today Ray is on a special diet, and he has taken his first vacation in our married life. Ray also has given more authority to our project managers (Chris Cantrell and Wray Skipper).”

Recently CANCO moved into a new 15-acre complex in an industrial park, with 14,250 square feet of office and shop space. Its old 3,000-square-foot facility, three miles away, is being retained for Chris’s CANCO-sponsored racing team. He races four-cylinder modified Toyotas on local dirt tracks on Friday and Saturday nights.

CANCO welcomes new challenges and opportunities and ways to grow and diversify its services. Says Ray: “We see ourselves as a partner and ally of our customers, and we try to figure out what is necessary to do a job.”

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