Adaptability Is The Name Of The Game

March 2012, Vol. 239 No. 3

When George Mercer’s great-grandfather started hauling pipe with teams of mules in 1910, he put a lot of thought into the business that has become T.G. Mercer. But it’s a safe bet that developing software wasn’t among the things that weighed on him.

That’s how far T.G. Mercer has come over the last century.

George Mercer got involved with the family business at the age of 15, as a truck mechanic. After college, he returned in 1983 and began handling larger projects.

In the 80’s, the business fundamentally changed with deregulation. George found himself searching for projects in a business that was shaped largely by demographics and geography. “It was like being a farmer, going from harvest to harvest,” he says. “It was always a matter of landing the next project. Some were big, some weren’t, but we always pulled through.”

In 2000’s, the business changed again. T.G. Mercer was serving markets that stretched from Florida to Arizona. When unconventional gas and shale exploration started, some of the first drilling took place within 20 miles of their front door.

The company found itself working huge projects, some with multiple sites, which posed massive logistical problems.

“We’ve always believed in leveraging technology to increase production,” says George. The company began looking for software to track, record and archive the pipe data from the field. Unable to find a suitable existing solution, they decided to develop their own.

“We figured, ‘How hard or expensive can it be?’” laughs George. “And the answer turned out to be ‘very…and very.’”

Eventually, the company produced SpreadBoss, a solution that uses barcodes and RFID readers to track not just pipe delivery and location, but also type, manufacturer, heat numbers and other data. George compares it to FedEx®, in that pipe is logged and recorded at every phase of shipment and delivery.

The San Bruno explosion in 2010 showed the need for a product like SpreadBoss. PG&E had to literally rent out a convention center to sort through paper data, in hopes of limiting liability and locating other potentially defective pipes. SpreadBoss makes such information available with a simple search.

“Integrating vertically, and providing more logistics services, will bring a big change to our business,” says George. “We can not only collect, archive and retrieve data more effectively, but also help customers achieve JIT delivery. We can work with railroads to locate staging facilities, and help cut costs by letting customers instantly see where pipe is.”

“We’ve been involved with NAPCA for a long time,” adds George. “We co-sponsor the golf tournament, and my father was a coater at one time. NAPCA has been a great source of information for us. Understanding the coaters’ problems helped us get SpreadBoss where it needed to be – like working with 3M to create a new glue for our pipe data tags.”

Although it has been some time since the company has harnessed a mule, George insists that the spirit of the company remains the same. “We’re not high-tech gurus. We’re just a hard-working bunch who try to solve customers’ problems.” And as long as they succeed at that, T.G. Mercer can look forward to another hundred years.