How Technology, Relationships Drive Big Sky Sealcoating

Brad Rathbun has seen the pavement industry progress from sealing deals with a handshake to integrating a variety of technological management tools. Rathbun, owner of Big Sky Sealcoating located in Kalispell, MT, is celebrating the company’s 30th anniversary.

In 1982, Rathbun’s father opened the company in Missoula, MT. Soon after, Rathbun moved to Kalispell where he opened a second office.

Currently, Big Sky has a service area of western and northwestern Montana. With five employees, the company completes 50% sealcoating, 20% cracksealing, 20% striping and 10% asphalt patching. The clientele is comprised of 50% commercial, 35% residential and 15% government work.

With his years of experience, Rathbun has seen a significant change in the time management between receiving calls and completing the bids. “When I started out, it was basically on a handshake,” he says. “The big thing now is having to be prompt because of technology. When you get a call, you need to be out there and to the customer’s door within a 24-hour time frame. People demand that kind of attention even though you might be strung out over a 100 mile area.”

Because of technology, Rathbun faxes his foreman directions from Google Maps to the projects for the day. “Technology has been a huge factor in time and savings on my part,” Rathbun says.

Rathbun believes it is important for contractors to interact with other contractors in their area. One benefit to forming relationships with larger companies is the opportunity to complete subcontracted work. “I’ve done work for a bigger general contractor in the area for years,” he says. “The joint effort between big and small businesses has helped me. Having the aid of not just my own business, but being tied to other larger businesses has helped make it over the years.”

Between managing a large service area and a heavily tourist area, Rathbun has successfully managed these challenges. Rathbun believes that contractors in his area must be able to handle various sized projects. “We are set up to do big as well as small projects because that is part of being in Montana — you have to do it all to make it in a year’s time,” he says.

Another unique aspect of work in Rathbun’s area is working around the summer tourist season. A lot of the businesses they work for have a short season, so down time is critical to them. Big Sky Seal Coating does everything in house rather than using subcontractors which reduces scheduling conflicts with subcontractors and helps keep the down time as short as possible for the business.

Big Sky also completes work at homes on and around Flathead Lake. “We work around a lot of million dollar homes located on steep hillsides,” Rathbun says. “We get into a lot of challenging projects as far as location.”

To complete such projects, Rathbun continuously updates his equipment. “To complete that work we use a laydown machine,” he says. “We have to stay up-to-date on laydown equipment because we work on steep, rugged terrain that is hard to get to.”

Rathbun also has a reliable, local crew that completes all of the prep and sealcoating work while he and his wife, Debbie, complete the striping. Rathbun believes his crew is a large part of producing quality work. “My crew has been with me a long time. They know where the customers are, and we have a lot of repeat customers so they have already done work for them,” Rathbun says. “I really feel that having a good, happy, quality crew ends with a good, happy customer.”