Brad Bargen grew up in the construction industry, and when he started his own company in 1981 he had a goal. "I told my wife that someday I'd like to be respected in this industry by all the companies we do business with," he says. "And today we are. We work with some of the biggest and best pavers in the area."
No small feat considering Bargen Inc., Mountain Lake, MN, does much of the prep work, primarily cracksealing and patching, before pavers even get to the job. In fact, Bargen could be considered primarily a cracksealing contractor as almost 40% of its revenues are generated from the asphalt maintenance division. But as Bargen, president (and also half-owner of Midstates Equipment Supply) explains, the contractor offers a full slate of paving and pavement maintenance repair options, which makes it a valuable contractor to do business with.
Started as Bargen Roofing and Asphalt Sealing in 1981, Bargen Inc. currently employs about 60 people in three divisions: Asphalt Maintenance, Commercial Roofing, and General Construction. The Construction Division operates independently of the rest of the company with about 10 employees and its own equipment, all managed by Bargen's brother Bryan. The other two divisions employ near 50 people at peak season, including six full-time salespeople who cross-sell for both the pavement maintenance and roofing divisions (and who also sell for Midstates Equipment Supply), and a four-person full-time office staff.
Cracksealing leads the way
The Asphalt Maintenance Division includes two highway crews that do primarily cracksealing, one parking lot crew that does cracksealing and sealcoating, one striping crew, and two patching crews that do both infrared and cutout patches. Asphalt maintenance crews perform some residential work but primarily work on parking lots and roads.
One highway crew works for between 80 and 100 municipalities a year; the other highway crew focuses on county roads and airports. Bargen covers all of Minnesota, eastern North Dakota and South Dakota all the way to the Canadian border, and Iowa. Bargen says that all in all the Asphalt Maintenance Division completes about 500 jobs a year, making scheduling "somewhat of a nightmare." He and Michelle Quintero work together to schedule the work, grouping the jobs geograpically. Work is not scheduled based on the type of customer (public or private) or tye type of service needed.
Almost half of Bargen's work involves crack repair, which the contractor did in traditional ways using traditional technology. But two years ago Bargen switched from the traditional block of material, boxed in cardboard that had to be removed before placing the block in a melter, to Maxwell Nuvo, which is a self-contained block that can be placed in the melter, container and all.
Bargen says the manufacturer cut back on the polymer contained in the cracksealing material itself, using that same amount of polymer in the "box" the block of materials comes in. "When you throw the entire box into the melter the 'box' melts and the proper amount of polymer is melted into the material," Bargen says.
He says this new approach to material is safer for employees, who no longer have to shake the material out of the box, and its also saves on man hours because the contractor is not paying a laborer to cut the boxes open, stack up the blocks, and flatten and stack the empty cardboard.
"I think you can eliminate one man on the crew, or you keep that man out there and increase your productivity," Bargen says. "We've kept that guy to increase production."
Creating repeat customers
If Bargen had one overriding reason for success it would likely be the contractor's efforts at retaining customers. Other factors - job quality, productivity, attention to detail, making the proper problem-solving recommendation to clients, and taking care of its employees - all contribute. But all of those elements work together to generate repeat customers.