"Early on I was in the field to do the work; I wasn't in the field to sell. So about 80% of our work was as a subcontractor and I'd sell the other 20% for us," Harris says. "It's better for us now because we have more control and no one makes promises we can't keep."
Harris says a few years ago North Suburban Asphalt was subcontracting patches 20 ft. x 20 ft. and larger to other contractors, but he found they were very busy and the work wasn't getting done as promptly as he wanted. So he bought a larger dump truck so he could haul more mix and handle the larger patches himself, providing better and more prompt service to his customers.
And while he doesn't pursue much work as a subcontractor he says North Suburban Asphalt generates as much as 25% of its sales by subcontracting work, usually paving and larger concrete work, to other contractors.
"Could we do it? Yes. But why? Our sealing crew is so efficient at what it does that it's cheaper and more cost-effective to do it this way," Harris says. "It's more manageable and more profitable for me to do it this way, and I can get it done at a very high level of quality."
Right equipment on each job
But it's the equipment North Suburban owns, and the crew's ability to operate it, that enables North Suburban Asphalt to produce as effectively as it does.
"If you have the equipment it's easy to get the work to keep it busy," he says. So he has the equipment including: one large dump truck, a 550 dump truck, Wacker rollers, a 200-gal. Cimline cracksealing melter/applicator, a 200-gal. SealMaster melter/applicator, two 1500-gal. sealcoating rigs, two 1000-gal. sealcoating rigs (both with spray bar and hand wand), one 550-gal. sealcoating buggy, two 8000-gal. bulk storage sealer tanks, four routers, two walk-behind concrete saws, six custom-made banding carts, and three 300-gal. squeegee buggies. He says that every year he replaces a truck and adds a piece of equipment, and every year he buys new blowers.
Whether he has one big job ahead of him or several smaller jobs, Harris makes sure he doesn't run out of anything at the jobsite. On every sealcoating job his crew takes a minimum of one spray tank and one squeegee machine. "Even on just a 50,000-sq.-ft. job we still bring the 1,500-gal. tank and a squeegee machine," he says. "The 550-gal. machine rarely goes out because we can do most jobs more efficiently with other equipment."
"Efficiency and automation is what really sets us apart from our competition," Harris says. "We have the equipment we need, we have people who know how to use it, and we know when to use it - and when not to use it."
An obvious example, he says, is sealcoating on a windy day. "You can't spray if there's a whole line of cars or buildings down wind. But because we take both a squeegee machine and a spray machine to every jobsite we can squeegee certain areas and not be slowed down at all. We aren't forced to spray a job because that's the only piece of equipment we own."
Depending on the size of the job they also bring a material truck, and he'll bring a stake truck to haul more than enough cracksealing material so he doesn't have to drive off the jobsite to replenish supplies.
"You can never take too much material to a job. You can always take too little though," he says. "When I started I had to go back and forth to get material as I ran out because I didn't have the equipment to bring everything I needed to the jobsite. That took time, it took more labor, and there was a lot of waiting around. It was not an efficient way to run a job or operate a business.
"Now I don't run out of anything. That's why my guys can do the kind of square footage we do in a day, because they have everything they need on site."
Cross-training the crew
Harris says North Suburban Asphalt Maintenance is a nine or 10-person company including himself and two office staff. That means a full-blown crew would consist of six or seven people, all of whom are cross-trained on all equipment.
"Everyone can step in where someone else was working and get the job done," Harris says. "Of course some guys operate one piece more efficiently than others, but we're talking maybe a matter of seconds or minutes, not hours."