It wasn't that long ago, especially in the Midwest, that rare was the highway that relied on raised pavement markers to improve safety. But as research showed the impact raised markers can have on keeping drivers in their lanes, and as technology improved so markers are now "plowable," many states began requiring raised markers on their state roads, in addition to many federal highways.
In Indiana (as well as Illinois and Kentucky) that frequently means that M.A.S. Markers gets the job. Owned by Michele Johnson, president, M.A.S. specializes in installing, removing, and replacing raised pavement markers. Michele's husband, Steve Johnson, is operations manager and he says that virtually all of M.A.S.'s income is generated from the markers that delineate the center of roads, lanes, and in some cases the pavement edge.
Steve Johnson says the raised marker installation business is extremely competitive, with six competing contractors in Indiana, five in Kentucky, five in the Chicago metro area, and five more throughout the rest of Illinois.
"But we specialize in this business," he says. "Most all the contractors we compete with offer traffic control services (as a subcontractor) and striping in addition to marker installation. But marker installation is all we do. It's what we know."
And over the years it's what M.A.S. Markers has become known for, perfecting what had at one time been a slow, labor-intensive, and unsafe operation.
From highway safety to marker installation
M.A.S. Markers is an outgrowth of the James Drew Corp., an Indiana firm that specialized in signs, lighting, traffic signals, and guardrail installation. Steve Johnson started working at James Drew in 1985, the first year the company entered the marker business, and he started as a foreman of a crew installing markers. By 1990, James Drew had three crews installing pavement markers and several crews replacing reflectors in existing markers.
In 1997, James Drew Corp. decided it wanted out of the marker installation business and offered Steve Johnson a chance to buy that part of the company. He wasn't interested, but Michele took a closer look at the operation and thought it was a business she'd like to take a crack at running. So she acquired that part of the company, and with Steve as operations manager they were installing and replacing markers right from the start.
And rather than make cuts in equipment or staff to inflate the bottom line, Michelle took a long-term view. The first thing she did was invest in the operation, improving existing equipment and buying new equipment.
"When she bought Drew Corp. out she had enough capacity equipment-wise for two marker installation crews and two reflector replacement crews," Steve Johnson says. "Today we have the capacity for four marker installation crews and four reflector crews."
Steve says M.A.S., which uses markers from Ennis Paint, currently has the capacity to install "every single raised marker in all of Indiana and Kentucky. And we have the capacity to change all the reflectors in all of Indiana, western Kentucky, and the southern two-thirds of Illinois."
Since 1997, M.A.S. Markers has tackled jobs in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas. And business in 2008 was good, with 25 jobs carried over from 2007. Michele Johnson says M.A.S. completed more than 120 jobs in 2008 and carried another 40 accepted bids into 2009.
Johnson says 75% of M.A.S. Markers' work is done on state highways, 20% is done on interstates, and the remaining 5% is done for cities and counties. It's customer base is virtually entirely public agencies at the local and state levels. In the peak summer season M.A.S. typically runs three crews of five people each, but last summer the contractor added a fourth crew to help finish out the season.