Have you ever wondered if the hot mix asphalt (HMA) supplier in your area lays awake at night thinking about you? Have you ever considered purchasing the lowest-priced asphalt regardless of quality just to get the job? Have you ever driven past one asphalt producer to get to another supplier because they made you feel more welcome?
My guess is many paving contractors would answer "Yes" to each of these decision-making questions because each question affects your firm's ability to build profits by building relationships. Most HMA suppliers want you to know that they are thinking about you and your success, they want to hear your opinions on quality, and they want to make you feel at home so you remain their client.
Communicate your needs and expectations
To provide you with the best service your HMA supplier needs to know more about you. Start by developing a short, easy-to-fill-out one-page summary of your 'must have' needs. Material needs should include items such as mix temperature, consistency, and workability to name a few. Pick-up "musts" can include a list of equipment supplied to you or needed by you to make truck cleaning and tarping easier. Also tell him about the clarity needed of the load ticket printout system for your records.
Then, several times a year, let each supplier know how he stacks up against his competition. Grade him and show him the results: Drop him a line, write a brief memo, or simply stop in to talk with your sales representative. Show him the average time it takes you to get in and out of his yard, let him know if you think he is flexible enough with price and with payment. (It is often cash flow problems that drive HMA suppliers and their clients apart, so see if a reasonable payment plan exists, especially when working on larger projects.)
Cover your flank
Tell your supplier what your needs are up front to ensure that your productivity and reputation are not compromised and that profits will remain stable. Ask your supplier to become your partner each new construction season. Tell him your goals and expectations and let him promise to deliver or not. Everyone's goals change from year to year and that is okay, just be prepared with Plan 'B' if things go wrong.
Plan for the uncontrollable. Things happen that your supplier can't control: traffic delays to and from your project and the plant, plant breakdowns, and utility failures. If the supplier's plant breaks down on a large project and you do not have a second-best price, you run the risk of delaying a project excessively or being forced to complete the project with higher-cost mix. Address these unplanned concerns and let your supplier know that from time to time you might be forced to use a different supplier but you don't want that to affect your relationship. Best profits are typically achieved through long and lasting relationships. Make sure you are clear with them that this is your intention.
Attend open houses
When your supplier has his annual "How We Do Things" open-house, plan on attending or send your superintendent. Take advantage of the opportunity to network with the competition and listen to what is being said. Don't be afraid to take notes and find out all you can about how other suppliers are treating your competitors. Demand respect and ask for nothing less than your supplier is willing to give your competitors.
Ask pertinent questions: What time do you open and close the plant? Is there a premium charge for after-hours or weekend mix pick-up? What type of low-volume surface mix will be available most of the time (because highway mix on a low-volume project has the potential to end in total failure and the loss of a client).
By understanding your needs fully, communicating them to your supplier, and preparing yourself for unplanned events you can enjoy success and a long, profitable relationship with your HMA supplier.
Timothy R. Murphy, P.E., is president of Murphy Pavement Technology, 7649 South State St., Chicago, IL 60619. Murphy Pavement Technology teaches productivity tips to contractors, provides certification training for several states, troubleshoots from mix design through production and construction efforts. He will present "Making Your Hot Mix Supplier Your Paving Partner" at National Pavement Expo, Feb. 2-5 in Atlanta.