Last year when Western Paving bid the site work at Forum at Gilbert Ranch, a mixed-use development in Gilbert, AZ, its bid was almost exactly what the general contractor, Renaissance Co., had allocated for the work. A pretty nifty feat considering the 15-acre parcel included 10 separate building pads, an underground parking garage, and a considerable amount of parking lot space meandering through the development.
"Our numbers hit right on the money they had allotted for the work," says Western Paving owner Chuck Cassise. "Then, after we'd finished the job, we realized we'd hit pretty much right on the money with our quantities and our profit."
Contractors looking to improve the quality and efficiency of their operations often turn to new technology in the form of equipment improvements or equipment upgrades. Contractors involved in grading and site preparation are no different, but the improvements in their earthmoving operation can come from something other than their scrapers and motor graders.
Where Western Paving had performed all its take-off and estimating work in the traditional manner - through a slow, painstaking, and potentially error-prone process by hand - current technology is available to not only speed this work but improve the accuracy of the final estimate and ease the work at the jobsite, too. And Western Paving used it.
"On the Forum job we did the take-off in four hours, and it would have taken us a day and a half doing it by hand," Cassise says. "What we used made it quicker and it was more accurate."
Paving opens the door
A contractor who started his business eight years ago after 27 years grading and paving highways, today Western Paving employs 30 people and runs two paving crews, two patching crews, and two grading crews.
Cassise started his own company intending to focus on paving. "About half of our paving business is paving and patching as a subcontractor for other contractors in the valley," Cassise says. "We started the business in that direction, and that was our focus for the first couple of years. We have a pretty good client base that relies on us for asphalt paving."
He says Western Paving's patching crews spend the bulk of their time doing work for utility companies. "We keep a couple of crews busy doing nothing but utility work," Cassise says. "It's our bread and butter for us because there's always something going on in that area."
Bread and butter or not, one of the best decisions Cassise made was to add grading work to the company's services. Today, half the contractor's sales result from paving and patching and half result from grading commercial properties and residential subdivisions.
"For years 75% of our work was in the residential market and 25% was in the commercial market. But in 2007 our business switched to 60% commercial and 40% residential because of a shift in the local economy to commercial construction," Cassise says.
And Cassise saw that shift coming.
"About two years ago we decided that commercial work was going to be the next area of growth and we wanted to get ahead of that," Cassise says.
And "getting ahead of that" meant finding a way to streamline the take-off operation, improve the accuracy of the estimate, make the work on the jobsite easier for the crew, and have a better handle on the job profits before the job gets started.
Software is a solution
So like many contractors, Western Paving began looking at software, eventually selecting Quest from Maxwell Systems. Cassise says he sent several employees to classes to learn how to use the software program, then they practiced it in the office.
"We practiced on some projects we'd already completed to see if we came out with the same totals," Cassise says. "It was a great way to learn how to use it because if our results were different we could double check and see why because those jobs were already done."