Each year, in addition to the weekly (almost daily) contact we have with contractors and manufacturers, Cygnus Business Media sends its editors into the field on what we call "reader calls." We visit contractors, spend some time with them, either on a job or in their office, and just talk about their business, the industry, and whether Pavement, National Pavement Expo, and National Pavement Expo West serve their needs. This is a great opportunity for us to make sure we're on the right track, to learn about new trends, learn how work is done, and to gain some insights we might otherwise not have gained without a field visit. Many of our article ideas, seminar ideas, and any shifts in program or magazine emphasis are partly driven by these visits, so we appreciate them quite a bit. And the only qualification is the people we visit have to be subscribers to Pavement Maintenance & Reconstruction. This summer three Midwest contractors took some time out of their busy schedules to talk with me a while about what they do. You'll see articles in Pavement in the coming months about Allied Asphalt, Decatur, IL; Gilliland Excavating, Bloomington, IN; and RLH Sealcoating Co., Martinsville, IN, but until then just know these were valuable visits. They remind me of how differently companies approach this business, how successful so many different approaches can be, and how the underlying tone of most of the successful businesses we write about is a concern for the customer and an emphasis on job quality. Sounds pretty obvious, I know, and how many companies out there would say they don't have a concern for customers or don't perform quality work. But some contractors, and I'd venture to say the ones who are most successful and who enjoy their business, practice what they preach, and these three reader calls provided perfect examples. Pam Darst, for example, runs the sealcoating division of Allied Asphalt, and she personally calls each of the 150 repeat homeowner customers on her contact list to schedule sealcoating. A former cosmetician, she likes to make sure their driveways look perfect when she drives off, and they, in turn, pay her on the job or leave her a check if they aren't going to be home. This approach has generated word-of-mouth growth of 20 or so customers a year. At RLH Sealcoating Bob Hamblin is in a bit of a fix. Why? Because his customers like him. They like to talk with him, trust him to do good work, and one of the most frequent questions his wife, Joyce, gets when she calls to schedule jobs, is "Is Bob going to do the work?" Quite a nice reputation to have. Don't get me wrong, his crew does just as good a job, but that doesn't matter because his customers have known Bob for years and want Bob on the job. And the same holds true for Brad Gilliland, known throughout the Bloomington area for not only tackling the tough jobs but doing a great job at them. His problem? Too much work. "I have a hard time saying 'No'," Brad says. At the time I visited his jobsite Gilliland Excavating was scheduled eight weeks out, "and that's a very big concern. Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to being busy but I'm so busy and I have so many people who want me to work for them, you can make people mad by not getting to their job quick enough," he says. "But with our quality of work we rarely have a complaint." Quality, personal touch, reliability. Look for articles on these three companies in a future issue of Pavement, but at this point suffice it to say that a contractor could do much worse than following any of the blueprints these folks have laid out.