Tough economy, increased competition, slimmer margins - and plenty of work. That seems to sum up much of what we've heard from contractors over the year, and it's likely to carry through most or all of 2009 as well. So if those characteristics are similar to what your business experienced this year, what can you do to make the most from what 2009 will bring? How about improving the main reason you're inbusiness - your profit margin.
The biggest factors in your margins are material cost and productivity. Much of the reason for slimmer margins this year was the result of skyrocketing material costs - from hot mix asphalt to specialty additives which helped drive sealer and crack repair material costs up. Some of those costs have come down but many haven't, and there's no reason to think we've seen the last of price spikes. So cost of material is one area where you can have little impact (though establishing a relationship with your supplier and buying in bulk can help).
But productivity is another issue, and that's where this 2009 Showcase issue comes in. Assuming your crew is proficient at what they do (if they aren't, you need to start by helping them become proficient), the best way to improve your production is to improve your equipment. In some cases that means breaking it down to rebuild and repair it; in other cases it means looking for a new piece of equipment that can do what you do a little quicker, a little easier, and maybe even a little better.
And make no mistake, improved equipment is out there, and it's all through this issue (plus we provide year-round updates on www.pavementonline.com). Too often contractors - without taking a close look at improvements manufacturers make on a fairly regular basis - figure a paver is a paver, a roller is a roller, and that the sealcoating tank they've had for 15 years is just as good as what's on the market. But that's just not the case.
Whether you're talking about systems that move material more smoothly and accurately through a sealcoater, paver, or striper; ergonomic developments that reduce fatigue of roller or skid steer operators; or improvements that make a sweeper more effective at picking up minute particles, quieter, or more fuel efficient, there's plenty out there to take a look at, and plenty out there that can have an impact on your business that is anything but marginal.