If Arrow Asphalt had a theme song it would be Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" — because that's how the company's crews do their job.

From three locations the company's 36 employees work 11 months of the year traveling throughout the eastern United States, keeping equipment productive, keeping themselves on the payroll, and keeping cash flowing in — all without having to fight the highly competitive pricing that can afflict a local market.

And it is largely this willingness to travel, combined with the company's proficiency at juggling job schedules, equipment, and hotels — while keeping in mind the employees' family lives — that has enabled Arrow Asphalt to grow from a $45-a-day summer sealcoating job to a place in Pavement's 2005 Sealcoating 100.

Arrow Asphalt President Fletcher Christie says the full-service pavement maintenance company has averaged more than 30% growth over each of the last three years, outgrowing two facilities, most recently a 6,500-sq.-ft. operation, with plans to move into a new 10,000-sq.-ft. building next spring.

"It's been a matter of doing a good job and being willing to go where the work is," Christie says. "It's not as easy as it might sound, but it sure has been effective."

Started as a sealcoating company in Youngstown, OH, Arrow Asphalt today works out of two additional locations: Kitty Hawk, NC, and Pittsburgh, PA. A fourth operation in Tampa, FL, is scheduled to open this year. The sales mix varies from location to location, but on a companywide basis 85% of sales are to commercial and industrial customers. Sealcoating accounts for 45% of total sales, 45% of sales are paving, 5% are cracksealing, and 5% are striping.

Diversification and service

Fletcher says that he became a full-service pavement maintenance firm simply because he wanted to sell "service" to his customers, providing them with any pavement maintenance service they needed.

"Diversification was important, but sealcoating is what has worked for us and we're going to keep it that way," Christie says. "The paving, cracksealing, and striping has all come along because of the sealcoating, so we're trying to stay focused on what has helped our company grow and allowed us to be prosperous."

Because of its dedication to customer service and it's willingness to go where the work is (crews have worked in every state east of the Mississippi except for northernmost New England), Arrow Asphalt handles a variety of jobs from an established stable of high-profile customers including CSX Railroads, Toys 'R' Us, State Farm Insurance, and Roadway Express.

"Our approach is to give our customers the best of everything — materials, service, equipment, and employees. So we educate our employees on just how important the customer is. The customer is our bread and butter and we try to exercise extraordinary care in dealing with a customer. That's something I'm very proud of," Christie says.

"We're small enough to be flexible enough to handle that kind of work — at the same time we're large enough to handle the bigger jobs. And that's the niche we want. The big contractors can't fulfill that niche — but we can."

"Living large" on $45 a day

But getting to this point took a little doing, as Christie started in 1982 sealcoating a neighbor's driveway.

"I remember getting the money and thinking '$45 a day. I'm living large!'" Eventually he added a 300-gal. unit; a 1,000-gal. spray truck; "sweated" on a 500,000-sq.-ft., two-week job; added a used 2,000-gal. spray unit in 1994; and in 1995 took on a "make-or-break" 4 million sq. ft. job from Polivka Surface Engineers. "I was as nervous as can be," he says, but he completed the job in eight days. He says it was at that point that he began to consider what kind of pavement maintenance company he wanted to run, and he received some help from his sealer supplier.

Fletcher Christie (right) and Larry Rich, owner of the local SealMaster, who suggested that Arrow Asphalt continue to travel for jobs.

"SealMaster's Larry Rich guided me," Christie says. "He said 'You might want to consider traveling the way you have been. Why would you want to beat your head against the wall battling local contractors and their competitive pricing?'"

And that's what he's done, opening Kitty Hawk in 1995 and Pittsburgh in 1999. Christie says virtually 90% of the work in Kitty Hawk, managed by his father Bill Christie, is recreational-type work such as tennis courts. "There's virtually no work in the summer there, it's either the fall or the spring," he says, which gives Arrow an opportunity to move personnel and equipment there and do work into November and then move back again in the spring.

While Kitty Hawk is not a staffed location, Pittsburgh and Youngstown operations, both managed by Fletcher Christie, are fully staffed, doing residential, commercial, and industrial work. The Tampa operation will be managed by Frank Buffano and will be staffed and modeled after Pittsburgh, which has a sales mix of 65% sealcoating and 35% paving.

Taking care of the crews

"In an operation like this your people are absolutely key," Christie says. Arrow Asphalt runs a full-time residential crew that stays local, and several production crews that travel to where the work is. "Most of the time we'll have a crew out of town 10 days or so then they'll come back and work seven to ten days from the main office. We try to trade-off on trips like that and also on weekends."

Responsibility for juggling crews, jobs, hotels, and other assorted tasks fall to his best friend of 20 years, Carl Dohar, operations manager.

Arrow Asphalt's operations foremen and operations manager Carl Dohar (far right).

"He's the backbone of our operation," Christie says. "He gets us up and running and he keeps us up and running. I don't know that I know anyone who has a more thorough understanding of this business and how to work with the people in it. We wouldn't have the degree of success we've been having without him."

When on the road the company puts employees up in hotels and provides daily meal money in addition to the employee's salary. Because some jobs are quite a distance away from "home," employees also are paid for their traveled time.

"I want everybody who works with us to make money. I feel you get the best out of people that way," Christie says. In addition to paying its employees better-than-average wages, Arrow Asphalt provides medical and dental insurance, an IRA plan that includes a company match, one week paid vacation — that can be taken during the busy season — after the first of the year (two weeks after five years), and end-of-the-year, performance-based cash bonuses that are handed out at the annual Christmas party.

Christie says his goal is for Arrow Asphalt to reach $10 million in annual sales. "We'll work to get there and then we'll work to keep it there, just keep it steady," he says. "At that level I don't think it will be unwieldy or out of control. You know what they say, 'pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.' I want to keep it manageable and that means to keep it the way we're going.


 





 

 

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