Last year Mifflintown, PA, contractor Mike Cleck took a chance. He quit his job as a paver operator to expand his weekend sealcoating business into a full-time paving operation. After a full season out on his own, Cleck says the change was successful.
“This year has gone very, very well. I don’t think it could have gone any better,” he says. “The crew worked together very well, the materials we worked with were high quality, the equipment worked out well, and the jobs we did turned out the way we wanted them to.
“The jobs we performed led us to new jobs. People saw our finished projects and saw our clean, professional looking equipment out on the jobsite, and we got a lot of jobs by word of mouth because of that.”
The venture was a financial accomplishment, too.
“I wasn’t really expecting a lot because it was my first year, but I did better than I had expected,” Cleck reports.
“I really like to pave”
Cleck got his first paving job in 1986, learning the industry from a Vietnam vet who was tough on Cleck but a great teacher. Since then, Cleck has worked as a laborer for other paving contractors. In 1994, Cleck started a weekend sealcoating business, working part-time sealcoating on the weekends and continuing full-time on a paving crew during the week.
A few years ago, changes at the paving company Cleck worked for prompted him to think about setting out on his own.
“I really like to pave,” Cleck says. “I like to sealcoat, too, but I’ve been paving for 18 years. Of all the jobs I’ve ever had, I like paving the best. Starting a paving company is something I’ve always wanted to do, but I didn’t always have the collateral and equity that a bank wanted. I was finally in the financial position to do it, and I decided that I would start a company on my own.”
When Cleck’s former co-workers found out he was starting up his own paving business, three of them asked Cleck if they could join the crew. Cleck was happy to bring on three experienced pavers he worked well with, but had one reservation.
“The people I hired weren’t just employees, they were my friends,” he says. “My biggest fear was whether I would have enough work for them.”
First season preparations
Before he laid his first mat as Mike Cleck Paving, Cleck had a lot of prep work. The first step was finding some equipment.
“Being around paving equipment and paving manufacturers for so many years, I had a good idea of what I wanted to buy and what I didn’t want to buy,” he says. “I couldn’t buy new pieces of equipment, but I knew I wanted a paver and a roller that were fairly new, because next to your employees, those are the two most important elements of a paving operation.”
Cleck purchased a 2002 LeeBoy 8500 paver, used but in good shape. He also found a 2003 Bomag 120 roller lease model with very low work hours on it, two Mustang skid steer loaders, a 1995 International triaxle dump truck, a 1987 Ford 9000 triaxle dump truck, a 1980 GMC single axle dump truck, and a 1972 Huber M600 motor grader. “For an older machine, it works great,” Cleck says.
After collecting his arsenal of paving equipment, Cleck painted up most of the pieces in company colors with name and contact information prominently displayed. He makes an effort to keep his machines clean on the job site for a professional operation, and stays on top of maintenance.
“If there’s something wrong with the equipment, we get it fixed right away. I want all my equipment to be safe to work with,” he says. “I’m a big believer in safety and maintenance. And maintenance also prolongs the life of your equipment.”