Infrared-only Start-up Thrives

Puddles ’n’ Potholes infrared repair company proves what’s in a name matters

Marty and Johanna Pfenninger, Puddles 'n' Potholes
Marty and Johanna Pfenninger, Puddles 'n' Potholes

For 30 years Marty and Johanna Pfenninger ran a full-service commercial and residential paving company, and for 30 years they would get the same phone calls.

“People called and said they really liked their driveway but that it had puddles here or there after it rained,” Johanna says. “They didn’t want to repave their driveway for something like that, they wanted repair. And the same is true of paving contractors. It drives pavers crazy because puddles are the first thing people can see even if the rest of the driveway is perfect.

“So when people would call we’d ask them, ‘What’s your problem?’ The answer was always ‘puddles’ or ‘potholes’.”

In 2016 the Pfenningers decided it was time to semi-retire. They still wanted a business, smaller with less work and less stress, so they sold the equipment from their 12-person company and started Puddles ‘n’ Potholes, Stockton, NJ.

“Being a full-service paving company we knew there were always the little repair jobs that nobody wants to do. So we figured that was a great niche for us and we figured it was perfect for semi-retirement,” Marty says.

And Puddles ‘n’ Potholes has taken off better than the Pfenningers expected.

“We think it’s the name,” Johanna says. “The name just came to us because that’s what we do.”  

Infrared Only

And they tackle the niche in a unique way: Puddles ‘n’ Potholes might be the only company in the U.S. that repairs pavement using only infrared equipment – it’s the only equipment they own. They run a trailer-mounted KM International infrared unit, a KM International recycler and hot box on a dump truck, and a Kasi infrared machine and a hot box on a service truck.

“When we had the paving company we had our own infrared machines to do repairs on our own paving work, but we never made much money doing infrared repair,” Marty says. “We just used it for ourselves to make our work better.”

Marty says 70% of Puddles ‘n’ Potholes’ work is for homeowners and 30% is for commercial pavers. They perform small crack repairs, level depressed areas near garages, repair birdbaths, fix potholes, and have recently begun constructing overlays on small townhouse driveways – and all using only infrared machines.

“We can fix all of that pretty efficiently,” Marty says. “People have learned that it’s a lot less expensive for us to come in and repair a driveway than it is for a big paving company to come in and do it – if they can even find a big company to come in and do a small job.”

Marketing the Start-up

Johanna says that having been in the paving business for 30 years they relied on their reputation to start Puddles ‘n’ Potholes and “had quite a customer base already and people trust us.” They used direct-mail marketing, social media, and Facebook ads to get the word out, and they also ran ads in local newspapers.

“We just replaced the ads we used for the paving company with the ads for Puddles ‘n’ Potholes. We switched the name but kept the same spots in the paper from the old to the new ads,” she says, adding that they make it a point to demonstrate to prospects that they are neighbors.

“We always show ourselves to be in the neighborhood; we’re your neighbor,” she says. “We want people to know that we face the same trials and tribulations they face.”

Teaching Infrared

Puddles ‘n’ Potholes has been successful in the residential market because Marty knows how to explain the infrared process.

“We take the time to explain what infrared is and people have really embraced it,” Marty says. “I tell them it’s like a weld, that it’s like you’re welding old asphalt to new asphalt and they seem to understand that pretty well.”

He also makes clear when infrared is not the process they should use.

“I tell them we can use it on transverse cracks if they want but those cracks are going to come back. And if a driveway is too bad I’ll tell them it’s too bad, that they should put their money toward a new driveway. They appreciate that. It’s better to be up front with them that’s for sure.”

That approach, Johanna says, gets them so many referrals they almost don’t need to advertise. She says Puddles ‘n’ Potholes now does 10-15 jobs a week, which is more than the semi-retirement they’d planned.

“The business is really developing,” Marty says. “We started it with one thing in mind – to give us a little something to do in semi-retirement -- and it starts taking off. It’s very gratifying that it’s a hit – at the same time then you have to keep up with it.”