"We like to develop relationships with all our vendors and our suppliers for the long term and we like to do the same with our customers," Barry says. "A project manager who has worked with a customer on a previous job knows the ins and outs of that customer, why things are the way they are, and any unique aspects about a job or customer. It makes the whole process go smoothly on both ends."
Ruston Paving also does not have an accounts receivables department to call customers if a bill's not paid.
"The project manager does that because he has been involved with the customer and the job throughout the job and has a better grasp of what has happened," Barry says.
Ruston says each project manager approaches each job differently, eschewing a "one size fits all" formula for customer service.
"Every customer is different and you have to treat them differently," Ruston says. "For new construction we're often acting as a subcontractor and our customer is the general contractor. But on rehab work we're working for the property owner so the approach is very different."
Retaining employees speeds growth
A crucial aspect of Ruston Paving's ability to expand so quickly and successfully into four markets over 10 years is its approach to its employees, particularly field employees.
"Our ability to retain our field employees and the skill level of our field employees allows us to be very productive, which enables us to remain competitive in each of our markets," Ruston says.
Ruston retains employees "because we pay them well," Ruston says. "We don't chase employees with dollars but we do pay them well."
Ongoing training, including in-house pre-season paving and grading seminars, Blaw-Knox schools, weekly Toolbox Talks, and defensive driving classes play a role in retention, as do bonuses. Drivers receive monetary bonuses based on hours driven if they make it through the year without any accidents, and employees receive gift certificates if they work the year without any lost time due to injuries.
Included in all its programs is an emphasis on "positive attitude," and employees even view a video program, which is reinforced through discussion afterwards.
"We try to emphasize that their attitude, especially on the job and with customers, is very important because you can bid a job and be awarded the work, but all it takes is an employee or a crew to sour that relationship with the customer, which we have worked hard to establish," Ruston says. "So we try to make sure our employees understand how important they are to us and to our relationship with our customers. They are salesmen for the company just as much as anybody else — probably even more so."
Ruston says one of the company's goals is to break down any division between the office and the field.
"And we're pretty successful at doing that," he says. "It's very evident from the carpets in our offices."
In addition to hands-on field participation from project managers, who make frequent visits to each job, Ruston hosts company events — picnics, parties, and group training — to bring office and field personnel together.
But before Ruston can bring employees together it has to find them. In addition to standard hiring efforts, the contractor has successfully relied on an employment link on the company's website and has hosted its own open houses as job fairs.
"We market them as job fairs so the people that visit are looking for work," he says. "We hold them in the off season so all our management is there and it gives them an opportunity to mingle and talk with prospective employees. Those have been very successful."
And then there's the baby blue.
"We are so prominent out there, so visible with the color of our trucks and equipment (internally referred to as "Ruston Blue") that we get calls all the time," he says.
"Ruston Blue" leads marketing effort
Ruston Paving makes a strong marketing effort, beginning with the highly recognizable blue equipment.
"We're very visible out on the streets with our Ruston Blue trucks and equipment. Now it's a conscious effort to maintain that image but it didn't start out that way."
Ruston credits his father with the high-impact baby blue motif. At some point his father bought a used 10-wheel dump truck at a municipal auction and it happened to be pale blue. The next year Ruston Paving bought a red truck at an auction.