In the polished concrete world of today things are a lot different than they were, say, five years ago. The customer is getting smarter, and the market is becoming diluted on both the contractor and the manufacturing sides. The jobs are becoming more difficult because everyone (customer, architect, general contractor, subcontractor and manufacturer) is all trying in their own individual way to get the floor done cheaper. The result of this approach is a drag on the market as a whole.
As a successful polishing contractor, you have to look at your available market and realistically determine the type of customer that fits your company culture and the skill level of your employees. This may be schools, small retail, large retail, industrial or residential. No matter what you choose to concentrate on, you need to review your local market for opportunities in that sector.
There are some polishing contractors that I know that have found great markets for their services within 100 miles of their shop. If that is the case, I don’t recommend that you travel. But if, like most of us, your market is filling up with new contractors, then you should probably look at expanding your geographical footprint.
I went through this transition as a polishing contractor, so I thought that I would give you a few helpful tips and things to think about before you embark on this journey.
Traveling is not as easy as you think it would be. You need to really look at your trucks. If you have more than 150,000 miles on a light-duty truck or van, you need to make sure that you build in extra travel time to account for breakdowns. This is not an “if this happens” situation, but rather a “when this happens” situation. The same rule applies at about 250,000 miles for heavy-duty diesel trucks or box trucks.
When you are traveling it is important to take the time before your crew leaves to have them go through everything. Have a “shop day” scheduled before any trip. It is easy to get supplies at your shop or from your known local sources. It is extremely difficult to get supplies a thousand miles away in a city that you don’t know.
On this shop day, take the time to clean up your trucks and machines. Nothing looks worse than dusty, dirty crews showing up to a job site. Poorly maintained equipment will cause the general contractor to look carefully at everything that you do. The opposite is also true. Clean, well-maintained equipment gives the customer the feeling that you are a professional, and they will be less likely to pick your project apart.
The dirty word that no one wants to think about when traveling is “DOT.” Are you in a box truck or pulling a trailer with company graphics on them? If so, do you have a DOT sticker readily visible? If you have a DOT sticker visible, they look at your plates. If you have a dirty truck with out-of-state plates and company logos on the side you can almost guarantee that your crew will get pulled over.
The best option is trucks that have DOT stickers visible, but are white, unmarked and clean. My experience says that these get pulled over less than anything else.
During a stop, the two most important things the crews need to have on hand are mileage logs and insurance information. If you are missing mileage logs you can guarantee that your crew with your trucks will be sitting on the side of the road somewhere for at least eight hours.
The next thing that you need to consider is your travel pay policy. If you are paying mileage or travel time I would highly recommend using an online map service to set a mileage and time standard. If you don’t, you will be amazed at how often crews get lost and drive three hours out of the way on the trip to the job. Let your guys know the policy and repeat the process on every job. A good GPS is a must for traveling. Technology today will help your crews get to the job on time with the least amount of issues.
Another important item to consider is your contract. I have been burned quite a few times by out-of-state general contractors. I remember one national account where we went from Arkansas to Colorado to do a project for them. Upon completion I submitted my invoice as I normally did and waited 30 days. When we didn’t receive any money I called the general contractor. His exact words to me were, “I am not going to pay you. Go ahead and sue me. I will see you in court in Colorado in two or three years.” He knew that the lawyer fees for me to hire an out-of-state attorney to go after my $30,000 wouldn’t be worth it after a couple of years of his lawyer stalling. After that lesson I learned really quickly to get some of my money up front with a very clear plan on how we would receive the remainder of our payment.
Lodging is a very real expense that is hard to budget for when traveling. You want to get a hotel within about 10 to 15 minutes of the job site. There are several good hotel discount programs to be found online. I would recommend joining the rewards programs for every hotel. This way, as your guys stay, you earn points towards free stays.
Priceline.com is good for getting cheap prices, but when using them, I’ve found it difficult to guarantee two beds. Nothing makes your guys happier than arriving at a hotel at 2 a.m. only to find that the hotel has a double-occupancy room for them with one queen-size bed. I highly recommend placing one person in your office in charge of all hotel reservations. When I did this my hotel costs went down by almost 30 percent.
I hope that these points help you either in your decision-making process or in actually implementing a traveling crew for your company.
David Stephenson is an independent decorative concrete flooring consultant out of Dallas, Texas. His company is Polished Concrete Consultants. He can be reached at [email protected]