All Hands on Deck

Capital Asphalt & Interlock
Written by Nate Hendley

Capital Asphalt & Interlock Ltd. continues to emphasize quality and family values as it marks its thirtieth anniversary this year. The company is based in Arnprior, a small community west of Ottawa, Ontario. Everyone, especially the people who run the company, is involved in project administration, planning, and installation.

“We self-perform everything we do,” says Chris Benoit, whose father Derek and uncle Kendall Benoit co-founded the firm in 1993, the year Chris was born.

The bulk of the company’s business, about 85 percent, is from residential asphalt and interlock work, frequently in complimentary unison. Driveway sealing was initially a key part of the business, however, due to growing recognition for excellent quality asphalt installation, it became necessary to realign the team’s time optimization, the balance being allocated to commercial work.

Interlock, a hardscape material, consists of poured concrete bricks used to create patios, walkways, and garden beds, Chris explains. Paving primarily entails laying asphalt on parking areas after properly preparing the base, while sealing involves spraying a petroleum-based product on top of “asphalt driveways to bring them back to life,” he says.

Landscaping is a broad category covering “retaining walls, drainage projects, spreading soil and sod. We frequently remove tree roots and install culverts. Supplying topsoil and armor stone is something we do as well,” he continues.

Capital was founded in 1993 and remains family-owned and operated. Chris, a junior partner, says other family members, including his cousins, also work for the company.

“The number one thing with us is quality workmanship: the quality of the work, the longevity of the products, the attention to detail,” he states. Hard work and hands-on management have also been keys to the company’s success.

Ambitious but with limited funds, the brothers acquired a retired MTO truck, a 1984 Chevy one-tonne, crew cab-dump box, and modified it into what would become the heartbeat of their new company. They reminisce about it now as they frequently turned on the headlights on work trucks to keep labouring into the evening to finish their project in their early years.

Initially, Capital concentrated on driveway sealing and did almost everything by hand. In the early days, the company owned exactly one piece of heavy equipment—a roller to smooth out driveways.

Through a process of self-education, the company has grown and transformed gradually but substantially from initially focusing on small residential paves, repairs, and sealing to the present day, where the norm is being pre-booked and taking on full-scale design of entire landscapes.

Chris joined full-time after graduating from high school. He watched as the company progressed, adding employees and equipment. Capital acquired a skid steer, then a paver, dump trucks, and more.

“Fast-forward to year twenty. We check our voicemail in the morning, and there are ten messages from people requesting quotes. We would be booked up a week in advance, then three weeks, then a month. Then it was a month-and-half, two months, three months. Right now, we’re booked up five months in advance. For the size of our company, that’s quite a substantial amount of work booked,” says Chris.

The company has fifteen employees at present, many of whom have been there for years. “The number one thing I look for in any employee is a good attitude. Number two, which is almost as important, is a willingness to learn,” he states.

“Over half of my team that is currently with me came in with zero experience. A lot of guys have been with me for ten years. Now, they’re extremely skilled in the industry.”

The company is only active from early May into November. “We put in the hours in summer that most people put in their job year-round, working nine to five. We’re there at six a.m., working until six to seven p.m. every night. Myself, my father, and uncle, we work every weekend. A lot of our guys work weekends as well. Winter is a time for our people to reset, spend the time with their families that they don’t do in summertime,” he says.

Derek and Kendall Benoit remain actively involved in the company, supervising both in-the-field and administrative work. Chris is enormously grateful for the opportunities his father and uncle offered him, and the sacrifices they made to build the company. There has been a constant, calculated shifting of responsibility from father to son over the last three to four years.

Chris does Ottawa sales, site supervision, and manual labour. “If you call us for a quote, it’s likely me who shows up. I will give you an estimate for your project. When it comes time to do the job, I’m driving a dump truck; I’m on my knees laying brick at your house; I run a paver; I sweep the road,” he states.

This personal touch offers several advantages. Customers appreciate that the person consulting on the project is the same person installing the project, which ensures consistency. The crew respects the work ethic of their bosses and the ability to immediately confer with them if a problem arises. The Benoit family likes to personally supervise all projects, making sure everything goes to plan while educating and establishing clear lines of communication with clients.

“In our case, every project is overseen by the owner,” says Chris proudly.

Maintaining a professional image is also important for Capital. The owners take great pride in keeping their fleet updated, clean, well maintained, and professionally decorated. They also insist that the team wear professional safety attire which further promotes their professionalism and team efforts. Customers often compliment their professionalism and attention to detail.

Chris actively promotes the firm on social media. The company has an Instagram profile featuring photographs, videos, and posts about projects, and a YouTube channel. The latter offers videos of Chris and his crews going about their work. Clients enjoy seeing their property enhancements highlighted, and the videos give people a clear idea of Capital’s capabilities, equipment, manpower, and processes.

“I could explain over the phone what it’s like working with our company, but seeing is believing,” he states.

Like every business in North America, Capital had to deal with the impact of the COVID virus. The company was deemed an essential service as “someone could theoretically need their driveway paved due to safety or trip hazards,” notes Chris. The company took steps to keep its workers safe, providing face masks and sanitizer and taking temperatures.

It experienced an increase in business during COVID since, forced to stay at home, many people used the time to contemplate property upgrades, landscaping, and even a pool or patio. Unfortunately, material prices also rose, and Capital has faced big spikes in the prices of asphalt, gravel, fuel, and interlock.

Moving forward, promising developments are hinted at. “We may be working with some companies in the future as brand ambassadors. I can’t really release the name of those products and manufacturers. It is something exciting,” Chris says.

At present, he says “managing customers’ expectations,” is his biggest non-COVID-related challenge.

Having plenty of work booked in advance might be great for the bottom line, but popularity comes at a price. Clients might get impatient waiting for work to start, and scheduling and pre-ordering materials becomes more complicated. The outdoor nature of the business poses additional challenges. Adverse weather conditions can cause delays and other problems. To manage everything efficiently, the company tries to be “as organized as possible,” Chris points out.

Down the road, he wants to maintain Capital’s excellent reputation, while tackling interesting new projects and enhancing the firm’s social media presence. Chris is always interested in speaking with anyone interested, whether new to the workforce, trade, or skilled. A key strength for the successes of this company has been to remain focused on quality control and not get distracted with the illusion that bigger is always better.

“It’s important to know how much we care about our team,” he says. “We go to work every day. We work together in plus-30 to 40-degree (Celsius) weather, sweating like crazy every day. You work with asphalt that’s 300 degrees (Fahrenheit), cutting bricks, carrying thousands of pounds of material. It’s not an easy job but we find a way to do all this hard work and still have fun,” he says.

“I take great pride in working with the guys. We call ourselves a work family. A real family business is when the employees feel like they are part of the family… when guys who aren’t your blood relatives feel like they are,” he adds.

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