By Brian Hall
In thinking about this month’s article, I considered a couple of different topics, many of which have been hashed and re-hashed over the last couple of years. But after attending this year’s World of Asphalt, I scrapped it all and said that it’s time to turn the corner on pandemic and politics and get back to the real issues. As a vendor at a trade show, the biggest question we all have every time is “What will the overriding theme be?” All the marketing and planning means nothing if there is a cloud over the contractors and the outlook is grim.
I believe that World of Asphalt will be remembered as the great comeback of this odd time. Even before the doors opened, the overwhelming feeling in the air was exciting to say the least. Speakers had new ideas and contractors were exciting to learn. For quite some time, I have presented a seminar at World of Asphalt. The first question I asked was to raise your hand if this was your first World of Asphalt. To my surprise, about 75% of the room raised their hand. This tells me that the contractors are investing in their people, not only with a nice trip to Nashville, but with an intentional purpose to learn new techniques, sharpen their skills and, as an added bonus, see the latest in asphalt technology.
The show floor was exciting as well, taking on the enthusiasm of ConExpo. Not only were the booths busy, the attendees came with a briefcase full of questions, ideas and stories of upcoming success. Manufacturers and other vendors came with their latest innovations, eager to impress the masses. Both went home satisfied. Was there one magic bullet that made this happen? Probably not. Just a brew of pent up anxiety, a busy economy and a meeting of the minds that hasn’t happened in a couple of years. Top it all off with some wonderful nightlife and that’s a recipe for success!
After everything left town, we are all left with some thoughts to begin the heavy paving season. On the purchasing side, contractors will still be left with some decisions. Manufacturers are still hampered by supply chain issues and surcharges. Contractors will be faced with some tough decisions in the upcoming months. Planning for purchases will be the biggest challenge as lead times grow. As we all know, the best plans get thrown aside by unforeseen circumstances. As a contractor, the first rule is to never panic and buy a piece of equipment without doing the required due diligence. Work with the dealer or manufacturer to determine a solution for your predicament. Perhaps they can suggest another resolution that would pay bigger dividends in the future that never occurred to you. In many cases, these new answers could be a money saver and open new door in the future.
I met with a paving contractor last week and asked him what keeps him awake at night. Was it the fact that his trucking cost just went up 25% per hour? Or that the trucking minimum went from 2 hours to 8 hours? Possibly the continually rising fuel prices? Nope, it was keeping good employees. OK, maybe that wasn’t the biggest surprise you heard today, but I’ll bet you’ll agree. This contractor had developed a military style rank system based on tangible actions. Being cross trained got you a higher ranking as did earning your CDL license. Learn to speak another language? Get a higher rank.
What if you had 20 years in the business? Sorry, prove yourself here first. My bet is that all of those “first-timers” at World of Asphalt had something similar at their company. If not, why?
We are still in unprecedented times. Yes, there is work out there, no, you can’t do business the same way. This is true for the contractor, manufacturer, laborer, service team or anybody. The opportunity is there for advancement in the industry. I always hope that the full spectrum of the industry reads the trade publications, but I believe that now it is more important than ever. Today’s “new guy” could easily become tomorrow’s foreman with just a little foresight and ambition. Remember, today’s owners were yesterdays “new guy.”
Brian Hall, LeeBoy Territory Manager. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org