By Emily Delzell
From its beginnings as a specialized hydraulic repair service company operating out of a van, American Hydraulic Services has expanded its scope to better support and take care of its customers.
“While hydraulics remains at the core of what we do, we do so much more than when we started,” says Vice President Randal Blankenship. “As a result, we’ve changed our name to AHS-KY for our Kentucky location in Catlettsburg and AHS-OH for Ironton, Ohio.”
AHS serves construction, maintenance, and repair needs for all industries with its hydraulic systems, which use pressurized fluid to make things work. The power of liquid fuel in hydraulics is significant and, as a result, hydraulics are commonly used in things such as airplanes, elevators, construction equipment, railroads—and even barber chairs. From that base, AHS has expanded into areas including:
- Plant maintenance
- New construction
- Certified welding and fabrication services
- Power plant services (fossil and hydro)
- On-site mobile and stationary equipment repair
- Line boring
- Flange facing
- Bolt torque and tension
- Hydraulic flushing
- Preventive maintenance programs
- All component repair and replacement (pneumatic and hydraulic):
- Mill maintenance, decommissioning, and rebuilds
Blankenship says the company will continue to explore additional areas for expansion to ensure it can meet all of its customers' needs.
Jeremiah Fulks founded AHS in 1995, and a year later, he brought on Blankenship, who he first met at age 14 when they played on opposing baseball teams.
“We’re living proof that partnerships do work,” Fulks says.
Fulks’ focus is on finding ways to expand the company’s reach.
“A lot of the success we’ve had is because of Jeremiah, who has driven the diversification of our services,” says Blankenship. “Jeremiah has no boundaries, so we look at everything coming and going. Our philosophy has been, ‘Don’t put yourself in box and say, ‘This is what we do.’”
Blankenship, meanwhile, focuses on the engineering.
“Randall has schooling in the hydraulic business, and he takes care of 99 percent of the engineering,” says Fulks. “He came up with an idea for a system for dynamic testing of hydraulic cylinders in their full range of motion up to 600 tons. We can put a load on a cylinder as it’s being tested, and that is a real selling point for our customers. We can’t find anyone in the country, other than the federal government, that can do what we do.”
Breaking new ground
The ongoing diversification that has helped the company deploy new skills and acquire major clients, including a Fortune 500 company, meant that by 2016, AHS was quickly outgrowing its 15,000-square-foot facility in Catlettsburg. Fulks and Blankenship saw an opportunity to purchase a 65,000-square-foot facility in Ironton, a site they say was a perfect fit due to its location, its size, and the fact that the previous owner hadn’t done anything with it since 1980.
With the building as a blank slate, they were able to revamp it to their specifications. The facility came online in March 2019 looking brand new and is being used as a testing facility for vertical and horizontal process pumps, says Fulks.
Huntington helped make the facility a reality, he says, because its bankers had both the insight to understand the opportunity and the responsiveness to help AHS act quickly.
“Having great people doesn’t just mean your employees; it means your banker, your CPA, your attorney, and we have been blessed to be associated with great people,” says Fulks.
He says Huntington bankers reached out and stepped up to help AHS succeed.
“They shared our vision, understood the urgency, and were exceptionally proactive in making things happen,” he says. “They have been great from day one, and we are excited to have them on our team.”
Building a high-quality team
While diversification has been critical to continued growth, the most important component of the company’s success has been building a high-quality team of people who share a vision for the future, which includes negotiating deals with major America and European railroads—something that will add a substantial number of jobs for the company and the tri-state area, says Fulks.
And when it comes time to add to AHS’ workforce, he says the company will take the time to make sure it hires the right people.
“The most important insight I can offer another businessperson is to surround yourself with great people, both employees and professional people, who will support your business success,” he says. “You cannot be successful and not have great people around you.”
And once it finds the right people, AHS takes steps to ensure it retains its great employees.
“We pay our people very well,” he says. “We let the employees do the work and create a corporate culture where they have autonomy to make decisions. We are growing by leaps and bounds because we take care of our people.”
For more information, visit americanhydraulic.net.