Asphalt Specialists, Inc. of Pontiac, Michigan, is a paving contractor mainly serving the state’s southeast. This sizable operation was launched 35 years ago by brothers Bruce and Dan Israel. The Israels owned a pavement striping business in the late 1980s, and, looking for different ways to grow the business, bought an asphalt paver before selling the striping business and beginning ASI Paving in earnest.
From only a few employees, ASI became a company of 350 to 400 employees over the ensuing three decades and is forging ahead today. Since its previous feature in Construction in Focus in 2021, ASI has been making a concerted push to streamline all administrative processes through computerization.
Company President Tim Baugher reports that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on software to move activities like logistics, paperwork, payroll, bidding processes, and more away from pen-and-paper mode and into digital.
The operation is still on the ground floor and requires much work on multiple fronts, but Baugher is glad to report that the company-wide reaction to the change couldn’t have been better. “[There’s been] no drama in getting this accomplished. And so far, so good – it’s pretty seamless right now.”
Alongside this new endeavor, the company’s focus remains steady as its core business operations thrive.
Baugher notes that even amid uncertain times for the North American market, the company has handled over 600 jobs within a calendar year, from smaller, $5000 jobs to multi-million-dollar projects.
In the last four years, the company has secured a beachhead on the local and municipal road markets with regular projects north of $2.5 million. These are projects that require different types of planning and strategy, enlarging the company’s bank of experience and stretching its capabilities.
This aspect of ASI’s operations has grown over the past few years, becoming profitable recently and finding its place in the overall growth strategy. Emphasis is being put on bringing in further road work while still focusing on the private market, a specific niche in which the company excels.
Another critical area of concentration for ASI has been its commitment to safety.
Baugher recalls how, around three to four years ago, the business invested in software and cameras in all its trucks, allowing improved monitoring of its employees’ habits while driving and their care of the vehicle (Baugher further offers that ASI was the first company in the market to do this).
Across its 200-plus fleet of trucks, this resulted in a steep decline in safety incidents, traffic incidents, and incidents involving EMR (experience modification rating). Baugher also credits the hiring of two safety directors, one for business and one for trucking and painting, for the stepping up of safety awareness and training, further resulting in an outstanding 0.7 EMR.
Baugher and the company see safety as not an initiative or goal, but as a culture in itself. Safety measures are passed from the top down with every effort to never compromise its importance, and the future of the business will no doubt involve the continued bolstering of safety practices.
Recruitment is another ongoing concern that ASI itself continues to find ways to deal with. To address this more directly, the company has hired a full-time, in-house recruiter, as well as two hiring managers to handle both the company overall and its trucking side specifically.
Baugher believes that the key to recruiting new employees is to be sure never to lose established employees. He adds that the company promotes from within at every opportunity to access the decades of knowledge accrued by its long-time employees.
“Our goal is to protect, develop, and empower the staff that’s here now,” Baugher says. Using tools like a Skillsoft software module (just one of the processes improved through ASI’s recent digitization endeavors), employees can complete management and leadership training modules monthly.
This has been brilliantly successful at helping retain the acumen and skills of existing staff while taking on new people that are a cultural fit with ASI, providing them with the tools of success.
Baugher feels that the state of the construction industry today is overall very positive. The Detroit market itself, from a construction standpoint, is purportedly the healthiest it has ever been, with business infrastructure being continually reinforced.
As far as the contracting sectors go, the number of contractors in the market is relatively stable and there remains a strong demand for contractor services; however, the supply has not risen to meet this, so the difficulty is currently in performing desired work efficiently and at low cost, made more difficult due to outside circumstances like inflation.
Baugher doesn’t anticipate that these challenges will end soon but, in turn, doesn’t expect that the market will hit any huge changes, either.
Growth is a keen focus for ASI moving forward and, with inflation and other external influences affecting the business in 2022, it will likely be achieved solely through price increases. The core business focus will remain central for now, as efficiencies in operations are further achieved to mitigate the headwind of inflation.
Top line growth is likely to occur over the next year and a bit, while beyond that, further outward growth through acquisition is in the planning stages.
Baugher explains that ASI will soon be actively looking at acquiring a smaller company or two to bolster the construction arm of the business. As ASI is primarily concerned with asphalt paving, there is still room for it to spread its wings into concrete and maintenance areas and more ancillary construction activities en route to becoming a full-service contractor.
ASI looks forward to expanding its footprint out of Detroit in the upcoming five years. With the world around changing at a rapid pace thanks to fluctuations in the market and the continued evolution of COVID-19 and responses to it, the goal for ASI is to stay cool and avoiding spreading itself too thinly across uncertain ventures.
When it comes to 35 years of business for Asphalt Services Inc., Baugher and the other company principals emphasize that it couldn’t have been done without its long-established group of very skilled and special people. A good number of both staff and leaders have been with ASI for over 30 years, with the company deeply thankful for the loyalty, hard work, dedication, and drive for improvement of its employees.
Of contracting businesses hitting the 35-year mark in general, Baugher observes that many either dry up or dabble outside their lane for middling results. At ASI, however, employees and management alike feel that the business is stronger than ever, with every chance to continue its momentum for another 35 years and then some. ASI’s aim is to develop a unified culture that promotes growth, passion, and freedom among its workers as it becomes a full-scale construction company with best-in-class service on a global scale.
“Our best days are ahead of us,” Baugher says.