The Man Cave: Redrock Camps redefine the work camp
Troy Ferguson’s desire to make work camps better places to live has landed his company at the top of this year’s list
by Tim Querengesser
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Photo by Ryan Girard
Troy Ferguson planted trees in Ontario, then in B.C. and then in Alberta. And it was in these places, or more specifically in running the bush camps provided for the planters to live in, where Ferguson says he learned everything he needed to know to be successful as president and CEO of Redrock Camps. Ferguson, who started Redrock in 2006 with his wife, Lois, as well as financial partners who have now left, says he “cut his teeth in remote logistics – taking care of people in the middle of nowhere.” But perhaps a better way of putting this is that in the bush he realized what was wrong with work camps and how he could offer something better.
By doing that, he’s growing a business at a breakneck pace. In 2010, Calgary-based Redrock had revenues of $9.6 million, but by 2011, its revenues had more than doubled, to $25.6 million. Last year they had nearly doubled again, to $43.6 million. As a first-time Fast Growth 50 applicant, Redrock tops the list for 2014. It had a revenue growth rate of 71 per cent growth rate over its previous year. Ferguson says the energy industry has been stronger over the last year, which has contributed to some of his increased revenue. But he feels the service that he’s built into Redrock’s offerings is a key driver, too. “We’ve graduated to taking care of larger camps and each project is bigger revenue,” he says. “We’re the new kids on the block and we’re able to offer more of the boutique environment.”
The word “boutique” has likely not crossed many lips when describing energy-industry work camps in remote locations. But a Redrock camp, Ferguson says, aspires “to be a man cave” rather than one with the standard institutional feel. That aspiration isn’t because Ferguson has a pent-up desire to live in his basement watching hockey, but rather, he says, because 90 per cent of the company’s customers are men. To make them feel more comfortable, Redrock has removed the linoleum floors and replaced them with hardwood-look flooring. The near universally hated fluorescent lights from its trailers are gone, replaced by softer lights that are also dimmable. In the work cafeterias, the awful round, gigantic tables that make dinner feel like it’s in a mess hall have disappeared and Redrock has introduced restaurant-style booths, hunting-lodge-style accents, with antiques as decoration and darker paint on the walls. They’re little touches but evidently they work.
There’s a deeper wisdom in this position, however. As Ferguson sees it, the oil industry changed after the recent economic recovery. Where the mid-2000s boom made camp logistics simply about efficiency – providing workers with a place to sleep and eat as quickly and affordably as possible – or, as Ferguson puts it, “a clean camp and a good steak on Saturday night,” what’s now important is employee retention. “Now it’s turned into more of a labour retention and risk management industry,” Ferguson says. Labour is the limiter for economic growth in most sectors in Alberta, and finding ways to keep your workers has become paramount.
And so, when Ferguson explains that he has two clients – the oil and gas companies that pay the bills for the camps, and the workers themselves who use the services – it suggests that he’s got his business figured out. “Companies realized they had to provide a nicer environment for the guys working. And that’s a big part of Redrock’s success. We’re positioned well. Everybody thinks that way of Redrock.”
But despite the rapid growth, Ferguson says profitability, while strong, isn’t following the same trajectory as revenues. Two years ago the company had net income of $6.9 million, while last year it nudged up to just more than $7 million. But behind this lack of movement are several points that give Ferguson some comfort. For one, he’s been growing his asset portfolio, from $4.1 million two years ago to $9.8 million this past year. And for another, he’s planning to see growth over the long term. “We’ve taken the fast growth and invested it,” he says. To that end, a $250,000 enterprise resource plan has been put in motion to better track business resources and commitments. “I’m setting Redrock up for exponential growth,” Ferguson says, noting his banker mentioned that companies of Redrock’s size usually don’t do the hard work that an enterprise resource plan requires. Ferguson feels it’s essential. “As your business grows, it’s like throwing a slinky out ahead of you down the stairs. The problem in business is the back end can’t keep up. You get all these sales instead of finding your sins as a business. What I’ve done is gone ahead of the curve and said we need to get our back room in order. I think the boldest thing I’ve had to make a decision on is put the ERP in place.”
What this all means is that Ferguson has some big goals for Redrock, which has offices in Grande Prairie and Edmonton as well as Calgary. “We could certainly take this thing up to a half-a-billion dollar business with what we’re putting in place,” he says – though he expects only to get to $200 million in revenues in the coming few years.
Still, along with the boldness, there have been failures. Last year Ferguson spent $600,000 on grey water treatment equipment in a bid to offer more services for his camps. The lesson he learned was to stick to his base. “I shouldn’t have gone away from what I know how to do,” he says.
Competition for Redrock, which employs between 275 and 425 people depending on the season, comes from companies in two categories, Ferguson says. At the top are larger camp companies that operate on volume, and offer the big-fish in the oil industry a level of risk management that they require for their big operations. At the bottom are Ferguson’s smaller competitors, which like him operate more on building relationships. While he is ambitious, he is more comfortable in this realm, as it allows Redrock to stand out.
“I see a much different camp [in the] future,” Ferguson says. “We’re in this world of do-it-yourself, of people having choices. The camp world has traditionally been like ‘Here it is: here’s your one option and this is how it’s going to be.’ We’re headed in a direction where the people sleeping in the beds have some choices in that camp – anything from entertainment to learning to different options to eat, with something like a marché. The companies that will succeed in the camp business will be those that cater more to the person sleeping in the bed.”