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Specialty Contracting

Taking the High Road

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There are companies in every industry that attempt to offer turnkey solutions to their clients and, while this may prove difficult to achieve, the appeal is obvious from both sides. From the customer side, being able to place your trust in one company that will assist with a project from its inception right through to delivery is a very attractive proposition. From the providers point of view, having control over a project to ensure that every aspect of it meets your own high standards is always going to be something worth striving towards. However, in business there will always be challenges and, for companies in the construction industry that are trying to achieve a high standard of service across multiple divisions, the issue of staff and skilled labor will always present itself. When A-1 Chipseal was seeking to expand its services to provide clients with a more layered portfolio of options, the key was the acquisition of another company, Rocky Mountain Pavement.

“Basically, we saw a need in the marketplace so we are now a full asphalt maintenance company which means we do pretty much everything.”

Until 2009, A-1 Chipseal was focused primarily, as the name would suggest, on chip seal maintenance. The company, originally set up by Ben and Katherine Vagher, felt that business and market share was developing to the extent that the opportunity was there to grow into differing fields within the market. Josh Krueger, Vice President of the company, expands on the motivation for branching out and expanding their services. “The original owners focused mainly on chip sales and in 2009 we acquired Rocky Mountain Pavement. Basically, we saw a need in the marketplace so we are now a full asphalt maintenance company which means we do pretty much everything. We do chip seals, slurry seals, micro surfacing and all the seals to protect it. We also do all the patching to fix pavement, crack seals and things of that nature.’’ Josh feels that this acquisition is hugely beneficial to the company in that it now allows them to stand out in a crowded market by offering the widest array of services. ‘‘What sets us apart from other companies is that most companies only do one or two things, they only do chip seal, they only do patching or they only do crack seal. What we do is we offer a full array of services.’’

The acquisition of Rocky Mountain Pavement came through a specific desire to move into other areas. However, when faced with similar strategic goals, a different company may have chosen to start under its own A-1 Chipseal brand and develop additional skills and clients in an organic, and slower, way. The road they chose proved to be beneficial for a number of reasons. As anyone working in the industry will attest to, sourcing and retaining skilled workers is a perennial challenge. The opportunity to use the skills that Rocky Mountain Pavement had already accrued and developed was a huge positive in this regard. “Things are still the same today as they were ten years ago. It’s hard to find good people that specialize in our field. Anybody can buy equipment and start out but we saw a need in the market and we wanted to jump into it with employees that had great expertise.’’ The company has benefitted hugely from the skilled staff it inherited from the acquisition. Josh is eager to point out that the growth experienced since then has been proof that they took the correct route by linking up with Rocky Mountain Pavement. “We still have plenty of employees from the acquisition. Great, great employees that are still here today 15 years later. So instead of trying to start from square one we were able to get some really good employees right away. It was a really good company before we bought them and since then we’ve been able to just expand from there.’’

One interesting aspect of the acquisition is around the issue of branding. Prior to 2009, both companies were successful in their own field and, most importantly, they were both recognized names within the industry with a wealth of history and established relationships between them. This led to the decision to keep the front-facing elements of the companies separate, while sharing information and skills from both knowledge bases behind the scenes and with their clients. “When we merged with Rocky Mountain Pavement we had access to a lot more commercial properties. A lot of them use sealcoat which does very little to extend the life of the asphalt. If you put it down, you might get an extension of a year or two. So, by merging with Rocky Mountain Pavement we were able to educate the customers and let them understand that with our other products, mainly slurry seal, we are able to give you something that will extend the life of your asphalt by up to ten years. It’s a little more expensive but at the same time, it’s like painting versus putting stucco on your house. The paint is going to look good but it really doesn’t do anything long term. If you put new stucco on, it’s really going to help the life of your house.’’

“This ensured that when the company was ready to reopen, it would do so with all necessary policies in place but also, most importantly, with a reinvigorated and supported staff.”

Early in the pandemic, the company made the difficult decision to close its doors for two weeks in order to take stock, look at in-house work practices and procedures and to get a handle on the scale of the challenge facing them. However, in contrast to many other businesses, employees were kept on and given two weeks off with paid leave. This ensured that when the company was ready to reopen, it would do so with all necessary policies in place but also, most importantly, with a reinvigorated and supported staff. “At the time, there wasn’t enough education and information. We didn’t know what was happening, so we shut our crews down for two weeks. We had plenty of work and we employ up to 200 employees seasonally but we shut the company down for two weeks. Our owner didn’t want to lay off all these people, so he said, ‘I’m going to pay everybody for the next few weeks and we’re going to shut down the office so we can figure out what this COVID is all about.’’

Asphalt worker with paving machine on road

Josh is quick to point out that this decision led to the company being in an advantageous position upon its reopening. “We already have an electronic timecard app so we just had to put some extra things into it like making sure that everyone has their temperature taken in the morning. We bought thermometers for everybody so they could take their temperatures in the morning, take a picture on the timecard app and then go right to work. Another good thing is that we work outside, and most of our work, we socially distance in general. When you’re doing crack seal you’re usually six to eight feet apart from somebody else or you’re by yourself in equipment.’’

A-1 Chipseal & Rocky Mountain Pavement have used a combination of existing in-house skills and client relationships to create a service that is currently unrivalled in Colorado. Josh and the team are committed to spreading their message to potential customers. The “education’’ the company refers to is vital when sharing the potential of high quality materials and techniques to prospective clients. “We still are looking to get more and more cities and counties to realize the importance of pavement preservation. I’m constantly out trying to educate these cities and commercial properties of what pavement preservation is and why it’s important.’’ This dedication to growth and education permeates everything that the company does. With the highest level of materials and a dedication to only supplying a top quality product, it is no surprise that the company is willing to walk away from a contract instead of providing a sub-par service. “The reason that it works is because we use high quality products. We feel that is so important. We would rather lose a job than put down something that is not to our quality. That is one thing that I always say about our company. We take the high road and sometimes at our expense, we have lost jobs because somebody else used a different material that was half the price. If they are not going to do it to our level then we don’t want that job.’’

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