Customers in Action

Sam Sisneros Operations


May 26, 2016

“Komatsu blew the other brand out of the water”

Sam Sisneros Operations

For Sam and Debbie Sisneros, the last decade has been like a roller coaster ride – filled with ups, downs and nervousness – but also a lot of fun. It began in 2005, when they started their own construction/roustabout business, Sam Sisneros Operations, to work in the energy industry in their hometown of Trinidad, Colorado.

“I had spent many years working for contractors and, at the time, was the manager for an energy company’s Trinidad operations,” Sam recalled. “I was working myself half-to-death and finally concluded that if I was going to work that hard, I might as well do it for myself. I had a lot of contacts and a good reputation from my previous work experiences. All the companies knew what I could do and had urged me to go out on my own. Also, all the operators and laborers I’d worked with in the past had said they would join me. Still, it was a scary step to take.”

Scary because it required Sam and Debbie to cash in all their savings to make it happen.

“It was a big gamble for us and not something we undertook lightly,” said Debbie. “It started out as Sam with a truck and a trailer. After about a month, he rented a blade and hired another person. Pretty soon, we were doing pipeline work, roads and building locations for two gas companies operating in the area. We went from two employees to about 85 within a matter of a few months.”

Sam Sisneros Operations did a majority of its work in the Trinidad area for a few years. When gas prices declined and the southern-Colorado industry slowed in 2008, the company branched out into Arkansas to work the Fayetteville Shale, which was starting to boom. At its peak in Arkansas, the company employed about 150 people. In 2011, as work there was slowing, Sam Sisneros Operations returned to Trinidad.

“We had always retained a presence in Colorado, even when most of our work and workers were in Arkansas,” said Sam. “When we came back, natural gas activity was still in the doldrums, so we scaled back to between 20 and 25 employees, which is where we are today.”

There are still wells that are producing in the Trinidad area, but due to the low price of natural gas, there are no new wells being drilled at this time.

“The energy companies have significantly scaled back their operations here,” said Sam. “Despite that, they still account for the vast majority of our workload. Our energy work consists primarily of erosion control and road maintenance/replacement. We also install pit liners and do a lot of pipeline and water line work – a result of new water regulations affecting the natural gas industry in Colorado. In addition to the energy company work, we also do some small jobs for Las Animas County.”

“Unfortunately, the natural gas decline occurred at the same time as a slowdown in coal mining, another local industry the Trinidad area relied on,” said Debbie. “It’s kind of a double-whammy on the local economy. As a result, there’s been little-to-no private development work, either residential or commercial, in this region in recent years.”

Family business with top employees

Sam Sisneros Operations is very much a family business. Sam and Debbie are co-owners and equal partners. Sam is typically out in the field running a job – often operating a machine or driving a truck. Debbie performs office/ administrative duties, handles hiring and oversees the company’s safety program. Their sons Carlos and Samuel have worked at the company and will likely continue to do so after they finish school.

“We consider longtime employees to be like family as well,” said Sam. “We wouldn’t be where we are without them, that’s for sure. They’re the ones out doing the jobs, and they represent us well. We have the best operators in the Raton Basin, and I think that’s pretty well-known by everybody that matters.”

“We try to take care of the people who take care of us – our employees,” said Debbie. “We treat them with respect and try to do our best for them. Sam also works side-by-side with them, so they know he’s willing and able to do everything he’s asking them to do, whether it’s drive a truck, operate a machine or dig with a shovel. I think they appreciate that, and it’s one of the reasons we have such high-quality employees.”

“As soon as word got out that I was going to start building roads and pipelines, all the operators that had worked for me in the past came to me for a job,” Sam recalled. “So getting quality hands when we started up was not a problem. I was lucky in that regard. Of course, some of the top operators who came on with me have since left to work directly for the gas companies, but I still have a really good group, most of whom have been with me since about 2007.”

The end result of the combination of family involvement and motivated employees is quality work.

“Our goal is to give our customers what they expect, what they want and what they need on each and every job,” said Sam. “If we have to work weekends, we work weekends. If we need to pull an all-nighter, we pull an all-nighter. Whatever it takes to get the job done, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Komatsu machines and Power Motive support

Sam Sisneros Operations

When Sam Sisneros Operations was in Arkansas and employed 150 people, it had a large fleet of equipment. Upon its return to Trinidad four years ago, Sisneros sold almost all of it. Today, the company’s primary machines are Komatsu units from Power Motive Corporation. It has three Komatsu hydraulic excavators (two PC240s and a PC290) and a Komatsu GD655 motor grader. When he needs additional machines, Sisneros typically rents them from Power Motive and Sales Rep Bob Young.

“I spent a lot of years as a die-hard user of another brand of equipment,” said Sam. “After my first Komatsu machine demo, I learned how stupid I was for having had that attitude. I quickly discovered that quality- and production-wise, Komatsu was just as good and more fuel-efficient. But the real differences for me were the added features that came with Komatsu – specifically, KOMTRAX, Komatsu’s remote machine-monitoring system.

“The other brand might have had something similar, I don’t know, but with Komatsu, it was free,” he noted. “Beyond that, Komatsu was really helpful in showing me how to use KOMTRAX to improve my equipment owning and operating costs. I use it to see where my machines are, if they’re running and how much they’re idling. Things like that add up and make a big difference to our bottom line. When it came to useful machine features, frankly, there was no comparison – Komatsu blew the other brand out of the water.”

Sam likes Komatsu machines because of the production and reliability they provide. His operators like the productivity and the comfort. Beyond the benefits of the equipment itself, he says the support he receives from Power Motive is very important to his company’s success.

“Power Motive goes above and beyond with its support. We were working on top of the Sangre de Cristo Range, and the only access was a tiny mine road that was a little hairy to drive. We were renting a D65 dozer and the blade lift cylinders stopped working. This happened on a Saturday at a job where we were going seven-days-a-week, so downtime was going to be a major problem for us. Power Motive got two service technicians up there the next day – a Sunday – and they got us back up and running. I don’t think we would have gotten that level of support from any other dealer.

“That’s the type of emergency service Power Motive delivers, but equally important to me is the routine maintenance it provides,” he added. “With KOMTRAX and Komatsu CARE, I don’t have to keep track of service intervals. Power Motive takes care of them for me at my convenience. We still have the three-year, 2,000-hour Komatsu CARE warranty on some machines, but even after that expires, we’ll keep using Power Motive, because I want them taking care of the Tier 4 engines. I also like the fact that they inspect the machines at the same time. We see real value in our relationship with Power Motive.”

Top service at a fair price

When he started the business in 2005, Sam was nervous because it was a big step to go out on his own, but he was also optimistic.

“In those days, the sky was the limit because gas was booming and the economy was strong,” he said. “I don’t know that we’ll ever see that level of natural gas activity around here again, but I do think prices could go up to the point where it would be worthwhile for the energy companies to start re-fracking wells. When that happens, we’ll grow to meet the demand. Until then, I think we’ll continue to have a lot of pipelines and water lines to install, as well as the road work, so we feel we’re in pretty good shape as a company.”

“As the economy here has struggled, a lot of people have left the Trinidad area,” said Debbie. “That’s sad, but I think we’re here to stay. We tried Arkansas. We prefer Colorado. It’s home to us. We’re fortunate that we still have enough work to keep us busy, and we can stay here. We take a lot of pride in the work we do. As long as we continue to give our customers a top service at a fair price, we’re optimistic about our future here.”