Thursday, May 13- Scott Landes with Infrastructure Resources and Rhino Marking and Protection Systems joins the show to discuss all things damage prevention.
Jim Schauer: Good morning, everyone, to this week’s edition of "Coffee with Jim and James." James and Scott, before we get going, as usual, I’m going to tell a quick story.
When trailing the South Pacific seas in my schooner… You all know about my Schooner. I was on my way from Manila to Perth and then it hit me that there are rhinos down there. I looked it up. I ask people, they said, "Borneo has rhinos."
I started asking people, asking people then sailed weeks down the seas to Borneo. Got off, ask myself, "Where can I find a rhino?"
They’re like, "Oh, you know, go east." Travel the east days. Found a village. They said, "Go north." Traveled, kept asking for where the rhino is. Finally, I’m in the middle of the jungle, and I mean, I’m out there. It’s been months on the road and in the schooner as I’m going through the jungle.
All of a sudden, I see a shimmer and I’m like, "It’s got to be the rhino they’ve been talking about. It’s up here." I peel back the jungle, and what was in front of me? Well, it was yellow. Look like it was in still good shape that said, "Dig safely. Rhino Markers."
That wasn’t the rhino I was looking for, but I was amazed that Rhino Markers were throughout the world. See what I did there, James?
James Cross: I did back up. I did. I saw it. Unfortunately, I saw it.
James: Scott Landes is joining us today. Well, it’s too technical for me to break down, so I’m going to let Scott break it down of what his role is currently for Rhino Markers and also Infrastructure Resources. Scott, welcome to the show.
Scott: Great. Thanks, James. Thanks, Jim. Glad to be here, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip on the schooner. [laughs] Sorry for that [inaudible].
James: Infamous schooner.
Scott: [laughs] I am currently with the Rhino. I’m president and director of market development for our bigger entity that we’re now a part of, which is the Presco family. I am still the president of Infrastructure Resources, so I got into the damage prevention universe after getting my master’s in damage prevention…
No. Actually, a friend from college badgered me for a few years back in the early ’80s to come to work for his dad’s company, which at the time was Carsonite, who had introduced fiberglass pipeline and cable markers. Everybody had been using metal posts. I moved to Carson City.
I spent eight years there in Minneapolis with with Carsonite, so I kind of got immersed. When I gravitated towards, because Carsonite’s in the highway industry with flexible delineators and in the trails industry, which I got involved with a little bit, but also in utilities. I just gravitated to the utilities, and particularly the one calls. That got me into the industry.
Then they were kind enough to fire me back in 1990, [laughs] which turns out to be an awesome thing. Then I started Rhino from scratch. Although our official name was RepNet, Inc, because when I started, just me and I had no money. I had debt and two little kids, and thankfully a really supportive wife who had a job.
I knew something about was manufacturers reps in the utility industry, so I thought I could act as a sales manager for a bunch of companies who maybe they make 100 products and they think a couple of these could be in utilities. You guys know. They think they can go make a call on your alma mater, Jim, CenterPoint.
Certainly, I’ll just show them my traffic cone and they’ll start buying, right? Well, yeah, maybe two or three years later after a hundred other calls. It’s a long, slow cycle.
My idea was to go to these manufacturers and say, "Hey, look, you’re going to pay me next to nothing unless we sell something, and you’re going to pay part of the expenses. If you’re willing to wait a year or two, we may get you in." That was the impetus behind RepNet, which is why the name was that. It was short for a rep network.
That’s how I started back in 1990. At the time, I said I know one thing for sure, I have no interest in getting in manufacturing. I don’t know much about it except I watched it. I’m not going down that road. Of course, I was vocal about it. You know as soon as you start saying that, that’s what you’re going to end up doing, right? [laughs]
Scott: Anyway, as things evolved, we started finding and doing contract manufacturing or having contract manufacturing done. We started in a guy’s warehouse in Lakeville, Minnesota and then a guy’s garage in Savage, [laughs] Minnesota. Then the Senior Citizen Center in Waseca did a lot of assembly for us, which is a town about 70 miles south of Minneapolis. Then we ran out of space.
The retired farmers were just awesome. They could really only sit. A lot of the work was standing. It was pretty funny. We leased space in what used to be this EF Johnson. They were like the kings of CB radios. I don’t know if you remember that. A half a million square-foot building — we got 5,000 square feet out in their big open area. It was very well-protected. They had barricade tape around our 5,000 square feet. [laughs] That’s all we had.
We got to use their forklift. Then, in the meantime, we started actually building a building across the street and moved into that. I don’t know. It was probably around that time when we were starting to confuse customers because we’d go on sales calls. "RepNet" didn’t sound like a manufacturer. At one point we had a rep called RepTech. I’m going on a sales call with RepTech and RepNet.
The customer was saying, "Well, who actually makes anything here?" [laughs] We rebranded. Of course, it was really sound logic to the rebranding. I actually had a patent on a garment-bag cover so that you could check your garment bag, and they wouldn’t destroy it. You could shove extra stuff in and all that. When I did that, I was shooting for the Banana Republic thing in my life.
Scott: Yes, right. Fortunately, my wife was a super-talented graphic designer, which she did for a living. She made this awesome logo. We came up with the name "Rhino Garment Bag Armor." It was super-cool logo. This is back when you actually had to draw it. It was a big deal to do a logo. Then I’m thinking, "Well, I got this logo that says Rhino Garment Bag Armor. Rhinos are tough. Our markers are tough." I just changed it [laughs] like damage prevention, basically.
All I had to do was swap out the marking and protection systems with the travel armor and boom. We had a logo. That’s how we ended up with Rhino. It’s a different logo now because she made me upgrade it to get with the times, although I still like the classic. Anyway, it was kind of…
Jim: James is all about rebranding.
James: [laughs] We just went through the same thing with our company. It was some of the hardest days.
Scott: It’s emotional.
James: You put those old logos [laughs] to bed and bring out those new looks, but I get it, for sure. We did it ourselves this year.
Scott: That’s nice.
James: Scott, that’s awesome. When we were in the pre-show, Scott asked, he said, ”How far do you want me to go with that story?" I think that was perfect. Who knew we were going to get the entire origin story…
James: of Rhino market. I think it’s awesome. I’ve always been a fan. I met some of the guys out on the road and, of course, Nick. What y’all have done in the video side of things has been awesome to see. Very refreshing. That’s what I like about it. Just different and brave. We talk about being brave a lot. I think that was very brave, that part.
Scott: I thought it was brave of me to let them…
James: That’s what I mean. I’m talking about you. Acting is a whole ‘nother…I don’t even know if that’s brave or what, if that is…
Jim: The dead-body one where [laughs] they’re going to call before they dig and bury a dead body, that one just about had me in stitches. I’m like…
James: There were several.
Jim: I’m like…
Scott: That was pushing the limit. Well, Spencer’s our creative genius and…
James: Heard that name, yup.
Scott: Oh. He would come in with ideas. I’d have to filter them, just the general idea. We only had to do a little bit of editing, but what you’ll notice is Nick, and Chris, and Dan, and Tom. All of our damage prevention consultants, they’re just awesome actors.
You will notice you don’t see me because I suck. I am not a good actor. [laughs] Spencer tried a couple times, and then he realized A, I don’t want to do it, and B, there’s a reason. I’m not good.
James: We made Jim act over the holiday season. We did an internal video. It turned into a production. We had to do it all remote. It was all on Zoom type of thing. Jim has a whole new respect, I promise you, for actors and their profession.
Jim: Oh my goodness. [inaudible] the retakes. The worst part is in that environment, it’s good it’s being recorded, then I’ll edit it together. In this, if I make a little blurb, it’s not a big deal. We just keep going. Where there, I would get 90 percent of the way through then say the wrong word. James is like, "You didn’t say energy." I’m like, "What did I say?” Do it over.
Scott: My one video that I was in was pre-Spencer when Whitney, who’s now on the infrastructure resources side, who’s awesome, made some good videos with zero training. They decided we’re entering a CJ video contest. Of course, they wrote all the script and they told me the story.
I said, "OK, that sounds great." They said, "Yeah, but you actually have a part here." Oh, now I’m not as sold. It was a "Back to the Future" theme. I got to be the guy with the messed up, the professor, whatever his name is. I said, "Oh, great." We were shooting it, Tom Preston, one of our telephone damage prevention consultants, garage with this old car.
Whitney is just awesome. Creative, best personality, and [inaudible] and real straitlaced. I knew this. She’s filming. I can’t remember what my first line was. It was something about the car. I looked right at the camera that she’s holding, and I used some colorful language that she was not expecting. Oh, her eyes just got that big.
Scott: It scares me because that’s out there somewhere. I hope it never surfaces.
James: The blooper reels are something else that we got out of that. Jimmy, I’m going to let you jump in to the next round.
Jim: Thank you. You touched on something just a second ago, infrastructure resources. All three of us live, eat, and breathe where we have at conferences and networking, and all those good things. Infrastructure resources is quite a mainstay. That is one of your, I’ll call it “babies.” Give us a little highlight about that as well as what’s going on for 2021 and maybe beyond.
Scott: Thanks, Jim. It started back when I was in the early Rhino days. I was working with Underground Focus Magazine writing a column on identification, which seems crazy that anybody would read it, but he wanted me to do it. Our industry didn’t have a trade show back then. There was a one call symposium that had gone away and a couple things.
I had a buddy who had a trade show company. I went to him and said, "Hey, what are you thinking?" He said, "I think you might be right." Then I said, "I don’t know how to do all the content." I went to the owner and publisher of Underground Focus at the time, Ron Rosencrans, and said, "Hey, this would be great for your magazine to get the visibility. You know how to put the content together."
I married them all together and it was called the Damage Prevention Convention.
James: Man, I like that one. I would definitely bring that one back. That’s my cup of tea right there. I’d make that logo.
Scott: It turned out it was really good. I was kind of the industry consultant, which got us cheaper booths. In theory, I got a percentage of the profits. That’s when I learned that trade shows don’t frequently have a lot of profits. My percentage of that was not very good, but it was basically about getting the industry together and the passion.
That went on for, I don’t know, five years, four years. Then my friend had the audacity to sell the business. What was he thinking? [laughs] He stayed and it was fine. Then he left and another company bought it. Basically, they were just a trade show company. They could care less about damage prevention and the industry.
I had to separate myself from them and they just went away. They sunk their own ship. In the meantime, I was still working with Underground Focus, which was then owned by Mike Parilac and still is. Great publication. Mike has a great locating Staking U program. He was just kicking off his new location for Staking U.
We ended up teaming up and doing an outdoor conference. I shouldn’t say conference. It was all a demo expo kind of thing. Super cool, but it was literally in a neighborhood that used to be the Funny Farm, honestly, just south of Chicago. Mike said, "When you were bad when you were a little kid, your parents would tell you, ‘You better shape up or you’re going to end up in Manteno.’"
We were doing all these demos in yards and in the boulevard. It was great. Again, I learned the people who attended loved it because they watched all this stuff live, but there was no conference part. The only revenue came from the exhibitors, which meant we lost money. At the end of it, Mike just said, "I never even want to hear the word ‘trade show’ again."
I said, "I think I like this." I did the other one. I paid off the loss and I bought the show and gave him back my phantom stock that I had in the magazine. Did the live event a couple more years, but we had to move it because being in the neighborhood had a lot of minuses too, like kids running around.
My goal was to replace the Damage Prevention Convention. I had to have sessions. We ended up at the LA County Fairgrounds and had indoor sessions and still the live demos out in their race track. A funny Damage Prevention aside to that is I ended up there because my uncle used to be the operations manager there. He told me about it. I said, "Awesome." He had retired.
Now we call in locates and do all the right things. I go to the fairground I said, "Out in the middle of this track infield, it’s a big deal. It’s the biggest county fair in the country. There must be some buried stuff." "No, there’s not." I’m looking around at these lights all around the track and going, "Mm, I’m thinking there are."
I call my uncle and he goes, "Oh, God." He said, "There’s high voltage cables. There’s fiber. There’s everything under the sun."
Scott: I went back into a current operations manager and said, "OK, here’s a piece of paper. You’re telling me there’s nothing out there." My uncle says, "There is, so you’re going to sign here saying, ‘You’re assuming 100 percent of all liability’ if we hit anything." Well, magically, he found a map.
Scott: Luckily, because when we were doing a demo, a vac ex truck came up on the high-voltage cable and had we not known it was there, it would have been a nightmare. Anyway, that eventually morphed into what’s now our Global Excavation Safety Conference, which we’ve been doing since 2006.
It’s been a long, fun road with that. We did a conference in Australia two years ago. It was supposed to be again this year, because we were doing every other year. That was fascinating. We had a partner down there, PelicanCorp, and the one-call system down there, which is Dial Before You Dig.
I tell you, from a damage prevention standpoint, first of all, Australians are just awesome to start with. That just makes it all fun, right?
On top of that, they had never had anything in Australia, ever, where they had brought all the different stakeholders together to talk, which was crazy.
Their one-call center’s going out and talk to them all individually and communicate it, but they’d never all been in a room. [laughs] Listening to all those Australians and New Zealand people talk about how awesome this was to all get together and talk…
Scott: it was fun. It felt really good.
James: That’s awesome to hear. Jim, I’m going to jump into something.
Jim: Good, brother.
James: I think he’s primed and ready. He’s got a couple tangents under his belt. This one should be good.
Scott, we ask a question to all of our guests. I think this one is going to ring even better with you. Do you love what you do, Scott?
Scott: Yeah. There’s no question about that. I’m pretty passionate about it. You have to love it with Infrastructure Resources because we probably haven’t any money for about three years. If you don’t love it, it wouldn’t be a good idea.
James: Sometimes that’s your driving force. I’m going to ask you one follow up to that. Then we’ll get out of here, Jimmy.
You obviously love what you do. Give us one of your most rewarding parts over your whole career.
Scott: It’s a good question, James. It’s hard to put in an exact thing around it, but I see it with the Rhino team, having grown and have this group of unbelievably passionate people out there about damage prevention.
They’re not salespeople. They’re all damage prevention consultants, and they believe that. Then, the people at our plant in Waseca take such great pride.
The awesome part is I did sell, I still have a small part, in March. I could because it’s rolling. They honestly don’t need me. I can still contribute, but they don’t need me.
That was, combined with the Infrastructure Resources, bringing the whole industry together at these conferences and seeing what our team does to put all these sessions together and the impact it makes.
At Infrastructure Resources, our mission is saving lives through education. It’s one of those things where everybody’s got a mission. We actually live and breathe that mission, and it’s fun to see this thing going on.
If I get hit by a bus on the way home, it’s going to keep going and they’d do a great job. That’s probably the most rewarding thing is to see what we do for the industry.
Jim: I love that. I absolutely love it. Scott, I’m sitting here and your passion when we’re together in person flows out of you. It’s still flowing out in even this virtual context. You can still see it, hear it, understand it.
Look at your facial expressions. You absolutely do love what you do. You love our industry. You love making things better and keeping people safe. That’s absolutely wonderful.
Thank you so much for being our guest today. We are absolutely honored.
James: It was awesome to meet you, Scott, for the first time.
Scott: Absolutely, a pleasure.
James: Hopefully out in the wild soon we will meet again.
Scott: I hope so. [laughs]
Jim: Looking for that Rhino?
Jim: Audience, thank you for tuning in this week to another great episode. Scott was fantastic. Join us next week on "Coffee with Jim & James" for another very special guest.
Until then, do hit the Like button. All those likes and followers do make a difference. Until next week. Have a great week and above all, as I always say, stay safe. Take care everybody. Have a great week.
Scott: Thanks, guys.
Jim: Thanks, Scott.