Running a full-service paving and pavement maintenance company is a far cry from farming, but 20 years on the job proves that Brent Weiss knew what he was doing when he started Asphalt-Associates Inc. in 1987.
"I was a farm kid all my life, but in 1986 I got work on a paving crew, and after a while I decided this was something I could build a business on," Weiss says.
This year the 28-person Asphalt-Associates celebrates its 20th anniversary, working throughout a 20-mile radius of its new 15,000-sq.-ft. facility in Roberts, WI.
Starting with a box paver and paving 200 driveways its first year, Asphalt-Associates grew slowly until 1999 when Weiss decided the market needed a full-service pavement maintenance business. So he bought cracksealing equipment, pavement repair equipment, and a 1,500-gallon sealcoating spray rig - a big rig for a beginning sealcoater - and he was rewarded for his leap of faith.
In 1999 they generated 45% of sales from residential work and 55% from commercial work. "But we found that the residential market could only take us so far. So to get the growth where we wanted it to be we had to pursue the commercial market more," Weiss says. Within two years the numbers were 80% commercial and 20% residential.
Weiss credits the employees first and foremost for his success. "We are able to succeed because of the people we hired," he says. "That's the most important aspect of this company. We just couldn't do what we do without the people we have."
But an emphasis on job costing and customer education helped. He says contractors who don't know their job costs hurt the industry as much as they hurt themselves. "Many contractors don't add travel time to their job pricing, and some don't add equipment replacement costs," he says. "The result is that some of those guys are working too cheap."
So beginning in 1999 he started tracking costs and crew productivity, eventually developing a productivity chart that is at the heart of Asphalt-Associates bidding and job costing today.
He and his estimators know how long each step in the paving or pavement maintenance process takes, and estimators use that information to bid more quickly and accurately.
"Job costing made us much more competitive, especially on the bigger jobs. As a result of that we're winning more bids, and we are more profitable on the jobs we're getting," Weiss says.
And they're getting more jobs at least partly because of the way they approach their customers. "We try to help people get more out of their pavement investment. The more education you can give a customer the better decision he can make."
Some of the information is provided in a sales packet, including a special pamphlet on how to care for asphalt pavement. But there's more to it than handing out pamphlets.
"Whether we're talking to a homeowner putting in a driveway or a property manager constructing a parking lot, the investment they will be making in the pavement is a big one," Weiss says. "We try to teach them a little about what they're buying so that they can make it last as long as possible. We can help them as the years go by, but we try to teach them about it from the start."
Dave Johnson, commercial sales and product manager, says Asphalt-Associates doesn't look for one-time customers. "We tend to talk that way when we meet with them, whether they're homeowners or property managers. We tell them this is not the last you'll be hearing from us. We try to build relationships with people, that's very important to us."