You would think that with the opportunity to speak with so many pavement maintenance companies, there could only be so many stories about how companies, all in the same industry, got started, or what their approach to the business is. Initially, as the editor for the magazine, I thought that way too, and it's a fair assumption to make. The only problem is that it's total bupkis.
What separates every story is usually in the granular personal details of how a company came to be, what motivated the founders to jump into the industry, or how they were first introduced to it. While there are always similarities, you'll never cease to be surprised by the real human nuance behind the paths that people's lives took to bring them to where they're at today. Such is the case of National Pavement Partners (NPP).
Not Just A Summer Job
Like many pavement entrepreneurs, Zach Milewski's (CEO, NPP) grew up in the industry. His parents started a paving business around the time that he was born, Sealco Asphalt, and his dad had previously worked for a company called Thompson Valley Sealcoating, and Sterling Companies, which later became Martin Marrietta. They grew it into a well-oiled, small, family-owned enterprise and Zach was there working from a very early age.
It wouldn't come as a big surprise that as he became a teenager, he started working on the jobsites, initially doing striping work. However, this wasn't just an exercise in learning the work the family business was doing, but learning about the business itself.
"I started striping for my parents when I was sixteen years old," said Milewski. "I worked on their crews doing crack fill, sealcoat, infrared, and got into some paving too." However, this is where things took an interesting divergence of him. Rather than being content to have their son pick up some pocket money, they helped set him up as a legitimate business whom they would actually sub work out to.
"They helped me set up a small business at a very young age and helped me kind of get going. I had a small LLC," he said. "It was cool! I pulled my friends in on it after school, on the weekends, and during the summer. It was a good time, but it was a grind too. I learned a lot."
While these early business days helped serve as a real-world business school for Milewski, another all-too-common phase in his story could have thrown everything off its track.
Another Familiar Tale
The family company was bought, and then resold to another company based out of Chicago. Not sure what to do, Milewski decided to go and work for the parent company. That decision turned out to be for the best, when he was exposed to a whole other level of business development.
"I learned business to another degree with with them," he said. "I had the family business experience before, but this was different somehow, like business-business. I dealt with budgets, marketing, company perception, and how building a brand was important." After working there for three-and-a-half years, he decided it was time to strike out on his own and test all the knowledge and skills he had learned.
In 2015, he broke away from the company he'd worked for, and started National Pavement Partners. At the beginning, they were judicious in what offerings they could handle, and what they should sub contract out as they grew.
"We started with infrared repairs. because we knew the margins were really strong," he said. The company's reputation and portfolio grew rapidly from there, as they simultaneously subbed out less and less work, doing it themselves. "We got into sealcoating, and then ended up with a mill, and then we started paving in-house. That led to us adding another mill and then we brought on concrete crews." The pace of growth was, at times, hard to comprehend. "I remember one year we went from thirty employees up to seventy within a week. It was insane."
A Major Plot Twist
During the year 2020, the company hit an inflection point. It's growth continued to exceed expectations. It was then that Hayden Cortez, CFO of NPP and co-founder of the estimating tool SpotOnSite, who was working for the company in sales, along with a handful of estimators recognized there might be an unconventional and risky opportunity to make the company more efficient, while possibly improving the quality-of-life for others in the industry at the same time.
"We had a good process down, everyone was using iPads, taking pictures, and turning out effective sales presentations," Cortez said. "The problem was that it took about fourty-five minutes to-an-hour depending on the size of the property. If we assigned two bids a day per estimator, and there were some days I would send out five, and multiply that by two hundred fifty bidding days in a year, that's a lot of time just creating proposals."
The solution they came to was to build their own pavement job estimating app: SpotOnSite.
"Going from asphalt construction to tech is a big swing. Originally, it was just going to be for us, as like our trade secret if you will," said Cortez. "But the more we developed it, the more we realized there's a lot of guys across the country doing something similar that could really benefit from the time savings like we did."
The addition of being a software company, with its continued platform development demands and issues, has been a challenging one. However, after it's launch, approximately eighteen months ago, the app has users in twenty-four states across the U.S. (as well as two provinces in Canada) and counting. Along with the many unexpected hurdles that come with this new digital territory, something else occurred they hadn't expected. As the user base grew, they heard more and more from contractors that were in need of, not just estimating help, but other types of help and community concerning their businesses.
Cortez and Milewski decided to venture into another new territory: podcasting.
"We heard a lot of the issues that others also dealt with," Cortez said. "Labor, job sites problems, customer issues, you name it. That's why we started the podcast. We wanted to let people feel that they're not alone."
With all the seeming success National Pavement Partners has seen since they incorporated in 2015, the question is: why? With all the resources at their disposal, and the steady stream of business, why invest in software development, build an app, and launch a podcast? The answer appears to be embedded in their name from the beginning, they see themselves as partners. Not just just to their customers, but within the industry itself.
"Personally, I feel like we needed to raise industry standards across the board," said Milewski. "We're in an industry where the work can be perceived just a hustle, and not a business, but we want to help change that."