By TED CARTER
The oil field is a rugged proving ground for any individual. But a young Rosemary Smith just out of the Army found it a high-stakes terrain she relished traveling.
And, boy, did she travel it.
Night, day, dusk, dawn – the Raleigh, native pushed her start-up company’s lone three-quarter-ton pickup truck from Alabama to Texas in her quest to become a top notch “hotshot.”
“When they call, you go right then,” says Smith, referring to oil producers who phone up “hotshots” to bring parts and equipment to their rigs.
Drillers locate the part. It’s up to the hotshot to pick it up and get it out to the oil field, even if the part is in Alabama and the oil well is in Texas or Oklahoma, Smith says, and notes that today, hotshot work makes up 40 percent of R&R Rentals and Hotshot’s business.
Do it well and you stay in business. Cause the driller to endure shutdowns and you won’t.
More than 30 years later, Smith is still in business. Her company, R&R Rentals and Hotshot Inc., has expanded to include trucking services and an inventory of everything from mobile homes to forklifts for rent to oil field companies.
She started the hotshot part of the company in 1982, earning $56,000 in revenues that year. Last year, her R&R Rentals and Hotshot Inc. took in $6.4 million, up from $3.2 million in 2012.
So far this year, she has kept her customers despite a near 50 percent drop in the price of crude oil. “I’m not really concerned at this point,” she says. “I may be later, but we’re not facing some of the tough times other companies are faced with.”
Even in the economically miserable 2009, Smith kept her workforce intact and used the slowdown to research opportunities and gain new customers.
“We kept everything going,” Smith says.
Such success in a sector dominated by men and her day-to-day operational role in the Sandersonville-based business (she spent last weekend on call for hotshot orders) led the Mississippi Business Journal to recognize Smith as 2015 Woman of the Year. She accepted the award Feb. 18 at a luncheon to honor the newspaper’s 50 Leading Business Women for 2015. Nearly 500 guests joined the honorees at the awards luncheon at the Jackson Hilton on County Line Road.
Out on her own
It was the drillers themselves who advised Smith, a rookie in the oil filed business as a sales representative for a Laurel equipment supplier, to start her own operation. “I was working for Exxon, Texaco – the big companies. I had built a good relationship with them,” Smith says.
The producers told her they had a big need for reliable hotshot service and urged her to buy a truck. “They convinced me I could be successful with it,” she recalls
In the months and years that followed, she says she showed her customers “if they called me I was going to get it to them. I was very dependable,” she says, remembering stops at drilling sites where the ground was so cold “your feet would freeze to the ground.”
By 1984, Smith began adding workers and moved her office from the cab of her truck to her home. Today, her company has 38 fulltime employees and a couple of part timers.
Staff includes several of her seven siblings. Husband Rodney Smith, a former Halliburton employee, helps out as well. “He does a lot but I run the show,” Smith says.
She recently moved R&R Rentals and Hotshot from Laurel to a 12-acre site in Sandersonville, where the company has a 5,800 square-foot building, a mechanics shop and warehouse. “As far as I know, I’m the only (oil field) rental company in Mississippi. I do probably 80 percent of the rentals in Alabama and Mississippi.”
Homes in the oil field
Oil producers don’t want their crews too far removed from the drilling rigs. That’s where R&R Rentals and Hotshot comes in, Smith says.
“When they go in to do a drill, we furnish their living quarters,” she adds. These “are fully furnished mobile homes down to the TV and bath towels,” complete with portable water and sewage systems and trailers for trash disposal.
“We also do their communications,” she says of services to oil producers. These include satellite phones and intercom systems throughout a drilling site.
“We are hands down something they have to have.”
Senior year hardship
The death of her father her senior year of high school forced Smith to leave school for a full-time job to help support the large family. She joined the Army in 1978 to help further secure her family’s financial wellbeing, serving as a chaplain’s assistant.
Today, her success has given her the luxury of thinking about selling the business and heading into retirement sometime in the next 10 years.
In 2013, she briefly added women’s apparel shop owner to her work day. The high-end clothing boutique Quarter Century in Laurel thrived but the work it required overwhelmed her, Smith says. “I couldn’t handle both of them,” she says of the boutique and oil field business.
The buyer of the shop on Carroll Gartin Boulevard is doing well with the business, according to Smith.
The shop, she says, represented the part of her that “loves pretty things.”
But toughness is the bigger part of her makeup, she concedes.
“I knew I had a lot of mountains to climb. If you’re a woman working in a man’s world, you know things aren’t always going to be good.
“When a problem arose, I would say: ‘If I am going to work here, I better get tough.’
“I didn’t go home to cry about it.”
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