Maclean says that 25 years ago, for example, contractors looking to buy equipment had much less to choose from. "Contractors looked to equipment manufacturers to help them become more productive and some designs did so a heck of a lot better than others," he says. "There are more and better choices today."
And even though manufacturers consider sealcoating a mature industry, they agree there's always room for new people and new businesses.
"Just as with any industry there's always room and a place for small and mid-sized businesses, they're just not as prevalent as they used to be," Vance says. "Most contractors today are established and they've got a good hold on their little region. Fifteen or 20 years ago you'd go to an NPE show and there would be tons of 'mom and pops' and father and sons companies there, and that's not the case anymore."
Lowis agrees the industry is mature but says that in the Surface Coatings market that hasn't stopped people from starting up a sealcoating business. "It's interesting that we get one or two people every year in our market who come in, want to start up, and think they can do it better than the guys who are already out there," Lowis says. "So there's still room for that, but on the whole it's a very mature industry."
He adds that the industry is getting younger, which also points maturity. "The last five or 10 years we've seen more young people getting into it, and I was wondering whether that was ever going to happen," Lowis says. "It's good to see young people who are energetic and enthusiastic getting into it. New companies can bring a fresh perspective."
Lowis adds that a significant change many sealcoating contractors have made is adding paving or large-scale repairs to their services. "It used to be the door of entry into the market was sealcoating, but people now looking at the business are looking to enter the pavement maintenance industry instead of just the sealcoating industry. That's a great opportunity for manufacturers and dealers who today produce and sell a lot more crack filler and other products than we did 20 years ago."
Producers Ramp-up R&D
One of the points each manufacturer emphasized is their increased emphasis on research and development of new materials.
"We ramped up our R&D in 2006 and add to that commitment each year," Maclean says. "It's something we feel, based on our experience in 2006 [when the industry experienced a coal tar shortage] that we had to do. We feel it would be irresponsible to not make a significant investment in R&D; and what we have under evaluation today, both in quantity and quality, far exceeds what we had then."
Vance says Vance Brothers has worked on developing different sealcoating products for years. "But for the last four or five years in particular that's been a big explosion in our company, the R&D side. We're constantly looking and prodding and tweaking our products, whether they are asphalt, polymerized emulsion, refined coal tar etc.," Vance says. "R&D is a bigger part of our company, and we realize it needs to be. We have to have products that compete with the other products out there, and that means more R&D.
"That's another sign of a maturing industry, high-engineered products - the new stuff," Vance says. "People are always looking to have something bigger, better, stronger, faster and that really dovetails with the maturation of the industry."
Maclean says that R&D involves more than just finding a material that can be used to seal pavement. He says the new material must be durable, it must be inexpensive, and it must be something a producer can make a lot of quickly."Every year people come to see us with new and different resins but finding one that performs similarly to coal tar is still elusive. There are acrylics that make a very tough coating, but they are expensive."