Learning the Hydroexcavation Business on the Go

Advance planning is helpful, but you can’t complete a business education that way. At some point, you have to take some risk and go for it, as seen by how Black Hydrovac got started in the industry.

Learning the Hydroexcavation Business on the Go

Lawrence Richey uses a digging wand while Annamarie Fagnani operates the boom with a remote, while Kristy Black looks on. Black says all of her crew members have bought into her can-do mindset when it comes to getting jobs completed.

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Starting a business is always a learning experience, not least of which is learning to cope with the unforeseen. When Kristy Black launched Black Hydrovac in 2020, she did so cautiously, though confidently. Even so, on-the-job experience taught her a few things.

To enter the market, the owner of the northern Virginia company bought two trucks with mid-sized air excavation units mounted. That was a reasonable approach, going neither too small (a trailered unit) nor too large (a full-sized, full-capacity truck). Still, looking back, Black now says, “I would not have purchased the equipment, putting off that initial investment.”

Consequently, when Black added three full-sized hydrovac trucks during the first successful year of business, she went the rent-to-own route.

“That has been much better for us,” she says.

Lesson learned. Black also rues entering business at the beginning of winter with frozen ground and cold working temperatures posing seasonal challenges. Another speed bump had to do with the onset of the pandemic.

“In July of 2020, when I first infiltrated the industry, everyone thought COVID was beginning to go away. It didn’t. People kept working from home and so there was no networking going on. I depend on a lot of networking,” Black says. “But there never is a perfect time to start a business. I would like to have started earlier in the year, but COVID delayed us. We couldn’t keep waiting. At some point you just need to decide that you are going to do it.”

The just-do-it philosophy successfully carried the company through the first year of business, with employees and management learning on the go. This included maintaining company machinery. While the company has a commercial yard where it parks its vac trucks, it does not yet have a maintenance facility.

“We do a lot of maintenance work in the yard,” Black says. “We have learned to be really scrappy and innovative in figuring out how to do the little repairs and, sometimes, the big repairs, too.”

Black has a business management degree, which she acknowledges is an advantage. Her former career in the nonprofit sector has also proved advantageous, she says.

“I took from my previous professional experience the skill of hiring people who work together well and have other people skills, and that translates into success no matter what the industry.”

Nevertheless, Black admits, she had to “reinvent” herself as she changed careers and started her business.

“I did a lot of research and a lot of legwork before I started this business and then decided to do it. I had to muster up a whole lot of bravery. I thought, I don’t know if it’s going to work and there probably are a lot of reasons I shouldn’t do this, but I’m going to do it anyway. I’m really grateful that it is working.”

Watch for a full profile about Black Hydrovac in a future issue of Dig Different magazine.


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