Jack Lane has become an expert at getting oversized, several-thousand-pound components through a narrow door, up a stair or over a ledge.
His challenge these days, though, is taking his million-dollar business from subcontractor to contract winner.
Eco-Battery Inc., a company Lane and partner Brian Martin founded five years ago as a battery-disposal service, has grown to transport and install the uninterruptable power supply batteries that keep Web sites and telecommunication systems going when power fails.
Now, the company, which has installed these systems on the Baltimore subway system, is poised to expand once more. In addition to applying with the Small Business Administration for designation as a disadvantaged business - a move that will help it compete for government contracts - the company also is focusing on battery sales, which could increase profits.
"We're sub[contractors] primarily. We're trying to change that," said Lane, of Columbia. "From sub to prime, that's what we're working on. That's Eco's goal."
Eco-Battery works in an industry estimated to have been worth $1 billion in 2000, and that is expected to grow to $1.6 billion by 2004, according to market research and strategy firm Venture Development Corp.
Eco-Battery has increased its revenue from $50,000 in 1996 to $300,000 last year, making more than $1 million over the life of the business. Employees have grown from the two founders to nine, and Lane said he expects to hire four more workers this year.
Many of the employees are young men from West Baltimore, men Lane and Martin sought out to teach a trade and show the world.
"We went to college thinking we would get to these great places, but it was the batteries that took us there," Martin said, noting that the company has performed jobs across the country, for high-security agencies such as the Pentagon.
Eco-Battery has offices in Columbia and a warehouse in Glen Burnie, where the several thousand pounds of lead-acid battery cells are delivered, collected and stored for transport. The company has worked with Verizon Communications Inc., the Navy and EnerSys Inc. in disposing of and connecting hundreds of battery cells to make one hefty, super-charged battery with enough power to feed communication systems for hours when electricity fails.
Lane and Martin started the company after having worked as installers and transporters for Exide Technologies. They started the business to help companies dispose of used batteries, but soon expanded.
Battery work is an art, Lane said, and the challenge is always how to get the components to the work site. When dealing with such hefty pieces - each battery cell can weigh more than 100 pounds, and it usually takes hundreds of them to make one battery - something as small as an incline at a threshold can present a problem.
"You've got to be a dreamer," Lane said, referring to the creativity it takes to solve problems.
"You can't go to Harvard and learn to be a battery guy," he said. "It's very little theory and all practice."
So far, it seems the ideas have been working well.
Lane and Martin recently returned from a five-week excursion to Miami, where they installed batteries for five power rooms for a major telecommunications company.
Mike Marris of the Michigan-based Emergency Power Corp., who coordinated the project, said he respects Lane and Martin as problem solvers.
"Eco-Battery has done a very good job," he said. "They've been very prompt and helped us rectify several problems."