An Interview with Innovator’s New Online Welding & Hot Tapping Manager: Preston Fleming

Beliefs & Vision

Innovator’s new online welding and hot tapping manager, Preston Fleming, comes to us with an impressive resume and more experience than anyone else in the game. You can read more about Fleming’s career history and how he came to work at Innovator here.

With unmatched experience in online welding and hot tapping, we asked Fleming to share with us some of his thoughts on the space and his vision for the future of Innovator.

What makes the difference between a good welder and a great online welder?

Online welding is a special skill that requires immense focus and determination. Not everyone can hack it in the welding world. In his career, Fleming has training nearly 100 eager apprentices. However, only about 35% of them turn out to be any good at online welding. Only about 10% of them turn out to be really proficient. You have to be strict when it comes to teaching live line welding or things can go seriously wrong. For the near-100 Fleming has trained, there are at least another 100 who attempted, but never completed the training. 

The difference between a good welder and a great online welder is three-fold Fleming says.
You have to start with a certain amount of skill that cannot be learned. That, along with the ability to understand and communicate effectively and the willingness to learn. If you can find one guy that has all three of those qualities, you can really work with them. If you don’t have the desire to learn and the ability to accept someone’s teachings, then you just can’t make it as an online welder.

What is the single most important factor missing from hot tapping and online welding providers?

Client care. You’re not looking after your clients when you’re selling them eight men for a five-man job. Client care starts before you ever step foot on the job site and should be maintained every step of the way, including after the job is completed. 

People buy experiences, and customers want an effortless experience. It’s essential to have that face-to-face interaction with them, especially in today’s age of technology. It instills confidence in your clients that you’re going to take care of this, walk them through it, hold their hand and get through this job successfully without them having to worry about anything along the way. However, it is important to have boundaries too. Your men need to stay on one side and your client needs to stay on the other. But there needs to be someone there to hold the client’s hand on their side and hold the workers’ hands on theirs. 

A pleasant experience for anybody is memorable. If you give your customers a pleasant experience, you can bet they will return. So the customer experience needs to be without aggravation and pain. If there is aggravation and pain, make sure you’re working through it together, holding their hand, communicating, not waiting for your client to solve that issue or even worse, hiding it from them. 

What does a turnkey project mean to you?

Getting a job from the client and handing it back to them completed,  all wrapped up with t’s crossed and i’s dotted. Everything should be completed professionally and with the proper tools – from bolt up to hydro-testing and everything in between.

Hot tapping and online welding have had their successes and failures in the market and there are extra layers of regulation on everything now. Clients are generally not experts in this. They expect someone to come in and take care of it, all of it, without the fine print exempting certain tasks. That’s really what true turnkey needs to be. 

What would you like to achieve with us in the next 3 years?

Number one is always safety. Assuring no one gets hurt, no line damage occurs and there is no damage to the equipment, those are the top three safety concerns. Our men watch out for each other, we watch out for the line and we watch out for our equipment. The financial side will always work out with good management. The results take care of themselves if you have good practices and values in place. 

Quality over quantity. Finding clients through the proper channels and looking after them to ensure they return rather than making the goal to do as many jobs as fast as possible. Look at clients like opportunities and make the most of every opportunity so they can foster new relationships and grow. 

Building trust and confidence with customers until it becomes more like a partnership. There is no sense of entitlement when somebody gives you the job. I like to make the effort to meet each of my customers face-to-face. I want to hand the keys back on a turnkey, shake my customer’s hand and say “thank you very much, we appreciate the work.” 

What do you think customers really want when it comes to turnkey hot tapping, isolation and online welding?

Customers are looking for confidence. They want to have confidence instilled in them by us right from the get-go. They want to feel that they are going to be looked after with confident and competent people. That is something that they measure all the way through every phone call, every site visit, etc. If their confidence drops, then they start questioning competency. 

You’re not always dealing with people that have experience in online welding or your online product, and you need to be able to show them that they are in good hands. They want an amazing product that is going to last without any problems. Whether they pay $1 or $1 million, they want to know they have a qualified team giving them a quality product. 

After providing customers with what they want, what do you think they really need?

A follow up. After you turn the keys over, there should always be a follow up. Give it a week and give them a phone call; just check in, make sure they are satisfied and ask if there is anything else you can do for them. We, at Innovator, just want to let them know that we are there for them and that we have so many services to offer them if they should need us. 

How do you see us creating value for our customers by way of execution?

Our value is created when we integrate our services to help a client be more cost effective and improve productivity on the job. Also, having the ability to perform the downstream activities like cold cutting, torquing, tension and hydro-testing, as well as the online welding and hot tapping, particularly on a line stop. 

Generally speaking, when the customer is performing some sort of a line stop, they are trying to do a tie-in. They might be trying to change out a value or do some sort of an isolation. And of course we can help them do all those things, whether it’s the cold cutting, the hydro-testing, a freeze plug, or even install the other downstream piping. We can provide value by doing as much of that turnkey, even if its a slightly separate but fully integrated crew. 

Another big thing is bypasses. If we find out the reason they are doing a hot tap is because they need to bypass a valve, we can help! We would like to do the hot tap, the line stop and build the bypass piping. It’s our job to let our customers know up front what we can do for them and then execute to the best of our abilities. 

If you were given the reins of this whole operation, what would you like to do with Innovator if you could?

I want to have a service line where we can have welders and subcontractors in-house.I want to have all the hot tap machines and capabilities. I want to have our people cross-trained so that our hot tap technicians can slide over and put on a fitting if we need to.

I want to really narrow down the costs to provide more value and profit–dial it down and fine tune it. If we can create a more cost-effective and highly-productive solution, the customer is going to save money. I think the real win for customers and for us as a service business is to be really effective and efficient. To create so much value that nobody can touch us. 

What I want to do is let our customers know that there is nothing hidden. What you see is what you get. I want to make sure that we offer it all and let them know that we can go above and beyond what other companies can offer.