One of the best things about attending National Pavement Expo -- or any industry event for that matter -- is the opportunity to connect face to face with many of the people who make the industry work. These informal in-the-hallway, on-the-exhibit-floor, or at-the-bar meetings provide for frank exchanges and can give a sense of what contractors and exhibitors from throughout the country are experiencing.
Here's just some of what I learned last week at NPE in Memphis:
* Preseason estimating is up. I can't tell you how many contractors told me they were doing more estimating earlier than they'd done in years -- and there is a good deal of optimism. Is this a sign of a resurgent economy? Property managers waiting as long as they could to get work done? A ridiculously mild winter? Opinions varied on that but apparently there's a lot of work under consideration.
* 2011 wasn't great -- but for an awful lot of contractors it wasn't all that bad either. I talked with well over two dozen contractors -- sweepers, sealcoaters, stripers and yes, even pavers -- who said they had either their best or second-best year ever last year. Some of that resulted from competitors going out of business, some of it was from an internal shift that refocused the contractor on a new niche, some of it resulted from intensified marketing.
* Many contractors already have work in the pipeline for this year -- and that's something we haven't heard much of for the last few years. Some contractors said they were bidding earlier and getting results earlier, some said it was work pushed from last year. But work in the pipeline is always good news.
* Contractors are planning to increase or change their marketing. NPE offered four marketing-specific sessions and three of them almost sold out (one did--Mike Musto's "Marketing Secrets for Paving & Sealcoating Contractors" was SRO). The fourth ("Marketing for Contractors -- By Contractors" by Vinny Engongoro and Nick Howell) was half full on Saturday morning but those in attendance were awed by the examples and discussion.
Hopefully these few examples are pointing the way for a solid 2012 with a decent amount of growth.
More insights from NPE will follow in the coming days.