Delivering High Quality Helps Contractor Win Union Pacific Railroad Sealcoat Job

"My theory is you promise less and you deliver more," says Jake Sikes, owner of Sikes Asphalt Group, Santa Rosa, CA. "We're very service driven, in 2008 we did no advertising, and everything was all relationship based."

Not surprisingly, then, most business is from customer referrals, and that's just how Sikes Asphalt got an opportunity to bid the huge sealcoating job for Union Pacific Railroad profiled in the upcoming March/April issue of Pavement Maintenance & Reconstruction. Sikes Asphalt Group had done a large project for the Port of Benicia repairing, sealcoating and striping a staging area for cars. That job had a $50,000 penalty if Sikes missed the deadline, but they completed the job on time, the Port of Benicia liked the work, Union Pacific Railroad rented space from the Port, and that's how Sikes got the lead and the opportunity to bid the job.

"I had a track record of doing other bigger jobs, and that enabled me to sell it to them," Sikes says.

That, combined with his approach to estimating and sales, gave Union Pacific the confidence to hire a small contractor for a very big job.

Sikes says his planning for the job - and for every job - begins with the estimate. "When I walk a job for an estimate I assume I already have the job and I stake it out and paint the pavement as I walk with the customer," Sikes says. "While we're walking we talk through the whole job from A-Z, from when we start until when they can drive on it."

He says that while doing the estimate he works through a checklist that provides a detailed analysis of the condition of the pavement. "We can tell by the time we get to the end of the list what kind of shape the parking lot is overall, so we have a very good handle on what's involved in that job." And he's already starting to formulate plans on how to attack it.

At every estimating opportunity Sikes takes photos of the site to help coach employees. Photos are downloaded into the computer and copies are printed out for each person on the crew. "We meet and talk about how the job is going to go, what's involved, where to put everything, and we mark on the photos to help make everything clear to them. 'This is where we're going to barricade, here's where we stage, this is where we start and stop the job, here's where we get out,' things like that," Sikes says.

"I'm really strong about looking at a job. I look at it as if it was my own house," he says. "I let the customer tell me what he wants and then I give him ideas on how I would do it if I was spending my own money."Sikes says that often engineers and architects recommend repairs or improvements that really aren't necessary, and his customers appreciate it when he gives them another perspective.

"I tell people it's not a Ferrari, it's asphalt," he says. "I explain that pavement doesn't generate rent so don't get carried away with what you spend on it. On the other hand, I make it very clear that preventive maintenance is the key to extending pavement life, so taking care of it the right way at the right time will help them get the most they can out of their pavement investment."

Union Pacific asked Sikes to bid extensive asphalt repairs and paving, but Sikes had other ideas.

"We took a close look at the repairs they wanted and we knew we could use Gator Patch and some edge grinding to save them some money in some areas. Then we decided that fabric overlays (as opposed to digging out 30,000 sq. ft.) would save additional money. Follow that up with a real good cracksealing job and two coats of sealer and we figured that would save them $100,000 while still prolonging the pavement life until their next budget."

To learn how Sikes Asphalt Group tackled the time-constrained 2.7 million-sq.-ft. sealcoating job (plus the other repair work Sikes did) keep an eye out for March/April Pavement Maintenance & Reconstruction, which mails March 23.

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