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Surviving The Days of A Dying Skilled Paving Craftsman

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Speed, efficiency, and tight margins are contributing to the death of the skilled paving craftsman.

There is a growing consumer trend in paving that favors the fly-by-night paving company. As our economy continues to worsen, it seems that the consumer is focusing less on the quality of work and more on the overall price of the work to be performed.

For paving work in the Chicago market, the shift started more than ten years ago. On the consumer side, a person shopping for paving services wasn’t overly concerned with small birdbaths, roller lines, and razor-straight edges. Years ago, quality of work was the first focus, and many customers wanted to see examples of your work before signing with you. With quality being the first focus, there used to be a higher standard to which pavers were held. There was also a higher probability of a customer signing with you, even though your price may have been higher than the next bid. Today, bids are all about the overall price and not so much concerned with comparing apples to apples.

On the contractor’s end, to offset the quality shift, contractors have had to “streamline” their paving operations. Speed and efficiency have replaced the days of leaving a roller man and tamp man behind to ensure perfection on the job. Leaving two men behind on the job to spend an additional half hour to re-roll the paved area and tamp the corners and edges one more time is not feasible. In a directly competitive market and in this economic downturn, margins are tighter, and a contractor has to be highly efficient in order to survive.

Surviving this trend as a contractor is a careful balance. Trying to balance speed and remaining committed to quality is a tough task. Having the right paving crew is crucial. A great paving crew is like a well-oiled machine. They work like a clock and can have the speed turned up on them with minimal conflict. The paver operator can pick up one pull, confidently sit down for the next, and start paving, all the while knowing the crew is working feverishly around him.

Another important aspect of survival centers around the person who “sells” the job. The best paving salespeople have been pavers themselves. With the right people skills and paving experience, the salesperson can properly sell “quality” against the shift. Getting the customer to understand they are paying for your company’s commitment to quality is not an easy task.

The balance of speed and quality must be ingrained throughout the company from owner, to salespeople, to the crew that will be performing the work. We can only hope that when the economy improves, the trend will include the survival of the skilled paving craftsman.

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