First came National Pavement Maintenance Expo in February 1986; the first issue of Pavement Maintenance and Management, "The International Journal of the Asphalt Aftermarket" followed in October. Since then, through ownership (and title) changes the goal of the magazine, National Pavement Expo, and NPE West has been to help contractors improve their business through improved production, better management, and most appropriate and effective selection and application of equipment.
Throughout 2010 in the magazine and on our website (www.pavementonline.com) we will be documenting and discussing some of the changes the industry has experienced in the last 25 years - with an eye toward what those changes might mean for the future. As always we will be assisted with insights from many of the manufacturers, contractors, and consultants who have helped us over this quarter century. We will also go out on a limb a little bit and take a look at what the future might hold for paving & pavement maintenance contractors.
So to start, we take a look back at the industry as a whole: at the market itself, the contractors, and their customers. Not surprisingly many changes the industry has undergone are connected, or perhaps a better word is intertwined, because changes in the way contractors approached their business resulted in changes in the way customers made buying decisions, and those changes in buying habits resulted in more contractors changing the way they approached their market and sold their services.
Starting with Contractors
Contractors are the focus of this magazine and NPE's conference program, the focus of all the manufacturers who produce equipment and materials, and the driving force in the industry. In the early days, well before this magazine's first issue, paving and pavement maintenance businesses were started by people, usually men, who were adept in the field and who had learned their skills while working on someone else's crew. Eventually many of these people decided to use their technical knowledge to start their own company.
Sealcoating, striping, sweeping, repair, and even paving generally were generally sold by price and bought by price on an as-needed basis. Bids were often scrawled on a piece of paper, if they were written down at all, and jobs were just as likely to be completed by contractors who were, if not a fly-by-night business, at least a business not in it for the long haul. Job quality, customer satisfaction, and professionalism were not the basis for selling or buying.
Once a company reached a certain level - and it's a level that varies from contractor to contractor and service to service - many owners realized they needed to do something if they were going to continue to grow their contracting business - or if they were even going to survive. So they began to look away from the technical, how-to-get-the-job-done side of the business to the management side.
Marketing was often the first step they took, which often resulted in development of logos, brochures, advertising, and even changes as simple as having a crew wear the same color and style of shirts and painting the trucks the same color. (In fact for years the best-attended seminar at National Pavement Expo was the Basic Marketing session.) The overall impact is that as contractors began to pursue marketing, many contractors looked more professional and more reliable, and even if the job quality hadn't changed the image of the contractor (and the industry) had. Suddenly those companies had raised the standard for what it meant to be a contractor in the paving and pavement maintenance industry; paving and pavement maintenance had become a business, and those who did the work were increasingly looked at as professionals.
"More and more people in this industry view themselves as professionals, and I don't know that was always the case," says Brad Humphrey, Pinnacle Development Group. "Years ago a lot of people figured if they had enough money to buy a bass boat or a new hunting rifle at the end of the year then it was a good year. I don't think the contractors running these businesses view things in those terms anymore.