since Jan. 1, 1988. (Ron is vice president of Mid-South Steel
PEI Journal: What does Mid-South Steel Products do?
Underwood: We were founded as a tank manufacturer, but
we have done petroleum service since 1957. Over the years,
we have added service techs as the market has demanded and
currently have 16 service technicians that cover parts of seven
states (Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Kentucky,
Illinois and Tennessee).
The bulk of what we do is installation and service. We
install the tanks and run the pipe and set up the POS (
point-of-sale) systems. We will also give ideas on traf;c ;ow, on how
to place islands, but for the most part, we are a petroleum
subcontractor hired by the owners of the station.
We have never tried to be the general contractor. I know
it’s a trend right now, but we are just not set up for it. The
growth in ground-ups has meant that there is plenty of work
— work we do well and are equipped for — as a petroleum
We also manufacture and sell tanks that handle any
re;ned fuel, from 50- up to 40,000-gallon tanks.
The actual number of tanks we produce annually is hard
to pin down because it varies on sizes, but we produce thousands of tanks each year — we just don’t keep track of them
that way. We build our share and we ship within about a 300-
mile radius of Cape Girardeau. The manufacturing part of
our business only accounts for about 38 percent of our total
revenue. Most of our revenue comes from the equipment,
service and installations we do.
PEI Journal: Have ethanol and ULSD affected sales?
Underwood: Ethanol has not negatively affected my business
at all. In fact, I would say it has enhanced it. There are more
issues related to ;lters, true; but that only means we sell
Pretty much the water-in-the-tank issue has gone away,
and if somebody gets too much water in their tank for some
reason, you get phase separation and get cars stalling on the
side of the road, and you don’t ever see that.
We have not had any problems from ULSD (
ultralow-sulfur diesel) either. I know that’s a misnomer. But people
believe there are tanks out there with holes and corrosion
from ULSD and that’s just not true. There are tanks that have
failed because people don’t keep water pumped out of their
tanks. But the fact is it’s not as a result of that tank holding
With the introduction of ethanol, people don’t check
water as much as they used to. But ULSD has created other
things in the industry that grow bacteria on probes and ;ll
pipes. The phenomena that you see now and that everybody
thinks about when you mention ULSD was actually found
;rst in ;berglass tanks. People just assume that we have problems out there, but we don’t have any more problems than
any other tank manufacturer does.
PEI Journal: You also owned a St. Louis-based distributor
for a number of years. What made you decide to pull out of
the St. Louis market?
Underwood: It’s really not that I wanted out. I had owned
United Petroleum Services for 18 years after their former
owner left the industry in 1997, and I had bought the
I owned it until late 2014. Around that time, I was
approached by another St. Louis-area company that asked if
I was interested in merging United with their company. The
answer was “yes.”