"The original owner before was a one-man show," says Heath Whitney. "He started from scratch in college out of his house. The company has grown big but he wasn't doing anything internally in the company and he wasn't doing anything to allow it to grow. The potential for it to grow was there but he just wasn't allowing it to happen.
"Before we'd spend three or four hours in the office just figuring out what to do, and that just wasn't cutting it. Now with four people in the office we can have crews that just go out and paint every day. But he laid a foundation, developed a great reputation, and we're building on that."
Retaining quality workers
That "building" resulted in the loss of some employees and restructuring of crews, among other changes. But the impact is evident.
"When we took over we did a little revamping of the staff. We wanted people that wanted to come to work, who wanted to be around, and who had the work ethic we were after," Rottinghaus says. "Eventually we found them, and now we have a crew we like that's coming back. I can't say enough about them, the pride they have in their work, and their dependability."
Rottinghaus says two employees have been with the contractor six years with the remainder of the staff having been with them either two or three years. In 2008 all the contractor's 2007 employees returned so crews were up and running full bore right from the start.
"And it appears it will be the same this year," Rottinghaus says. "Everyone's coming back and that makes it so much easier when people know where everything is, how everything needs to be done, and how it all works."
Whitney says that reducing what had been a high turnover rate has improved productivity, job quality, and even made scheduling easier. "It takes time to train people and that slows down work, especially at the start of the season," Whitney says. "It takes a good one to two years to learn everything and to understand it all and understand what's going on and how to go about making adjustments. There's a lot to remember and with so much turnover it was very difficult to be as productive and efficient as we wanted to be."
Impact of crew size
Arrow Striping usually starts the season running three or four crews, eventually working up to six crews. Typically each crew will work its own job, enabling Arrow to handle six jobs simultaneously. Whitney credits a switch to three-person crews from two-person crews with making the company as flexible and productive as it is.
"The previous owner operated only with two-man crews but that just wasn't efficient," Whitney says. "Two people were needed for layout but when the layout was done one person was just standing around. Now with three people on a crew two can do the layout and one person can paint while the layout is being done, and once the layout is finished the painting is almost done. It cuts down on the time it takes to do each job, and when as much as 40% of the work is out of town the less time you spend on a job the less hotel and per diem you have to pay."
Whitney says that he sends out three-person crews to about 40% of the jobs, sometimes cutting a crew to just two people depending on the size of the job. But depending on the size of the job Arrow will double up crews. On a recent job requiring 30,000 lineal feet of striping they sent out two crews who were able to complete the work, excluding arrows, in two nights.
Whitney schedules as many as 15 jobs a day, acknowledging that scheduling can be stressful. "But after doing it for 10 years it gets easier," Whitney says. "Knowing how long a job should take really helps. It comes down to knowing what the different jobs involve and knowing your guys and what they are comfortable doing. If it's a simple layout, for example, I can send out some guys who are not experienced with big jobs and they won't get spooked like they would on a big job."
He says that when possible he schedules jobs in the same area of town "so if we have three jobs to do the crew isn't driving all over town, back and forth, to get them done."
He says matching the crews to the different jobs is an important part of Arrow Striping's ability to make life easier for the contractors it works for.