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Alabama Paving Company Diversifies, Survives Recession

Mark Alexander proves the old adage “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Tue April 28, 2015 - Southeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Never does this old proverb ring more true than in a recession. Just ask a business owner who has survived his share of low times.

Mark Alexander, owner of Alexander Sealcoating & Striping Inc. in Montgomery, Ala., knows all too well the heat a recession brings. Having pushed his paving and sealcoating business through the recession of 1992 and the 2008 economic dip, he knows the ins and outs of running an efficient company. To keep his business afloat, Alexander employs crewmembers with integrity and passion to do good work, all powered by a fleet of high-quality, reliable equipment.

Alexander Sealcoating began in 1959 as a parking lot paving company focused on residential and commercial asphalt jobs, such as paving, hot tar crack filling and parking lot layout.

Alexander took the business over from his father in 1989 and purchased a trailer-mounted 550T sealcoating machine from Neal Manufacturing to broaden the company’s offerings. He chose Neal because it was in close proximity.

But it was more than convenience that sold him on purchasing his next Neal machine, and the one after and the one after that. His experience with Neal matched what he had heard, and the product quality and level of customer service led him to loyalty with the company.

Alexander didn’t know it at the time, but adding sealcoating to the company’s offerings would significantly grow the established business, and ultimately keep it running.

Integrity, Quality Workmanship

Although Alexander describes it as a “nothing special small business,” those who have benefited from the family-owned company’s work disagree. With years of experience in traffic flow and close attention to quality control, the company maps out what makes the most sense for each business. Alexander looks at not only the end result of a new parking lot, but the construction phase, as well, to ensure stores can stay open through the project with little interruption.

The typical job is about 11,000 sq. yds. (9,197.4 sq m), which mainly encompasses parking lots for shopping centers, apartment complexes and military bases.

This expertise and reputation is what gives Alexander the confidence to guarantee the company’s work. But, until it offered sealcoating, it couldn’t complete the entire job for its customers.

Without sealcoating and striping, Alexander said they weren’t getting as much business as they could have overall. And, although the sealcoating portion of the business is only about 20 percent, it had a bigger impact when it came to booking jobs. Plus, transferring to a full-service company meant Alexander Sealcoating could potentially be the only company working on each parking lot project in his area.

“When you offer sealcoating and striping, property owners are more likely to call you to do the other jobs,” Alexander said. “We didn’t want businesses going to anyone else for parking lot-related work in this city and beyond.”

Spreading Out

Just as he suspected, adding sealcoating to the company’s scope made Alexander Sealcoating a full-service parking lot company and helped them seal the deal — literally and figuratively — for more clients.

Since the expansion in 1989, Alexander has kept up with the growth by purchasing two additional Neal 550S skid-mounted machines, and a DA-350 dual applicator, which can apply sealcoat with both squeegee and spray systems. The Anniston, Ala., based company even fabricated a one-of-a-kind unit into the back of one of Alexander’s trucks. It uses an auxiliary motor so two of the hydraulic-powered piston pumps run independently from one another. This way, crews always have a backup pump. Finally, Alexander purchased a 5,000 gal. (18,927) skid storage tank with an electric super sand pump.

“The ESSP is crucial to our success, and it’s the reason I buy Neal. There’s no alternative,” Alexander said. “Diaphragm pumps aren’t even on my radar because of the maintenance and rebuilds they require, and I don’t like downtime.”

Neal’s ESSP has 75 percent fewer parts than traditional air pumps. Leather cups tightly seal the plates to prevent material from leaking. While diaphragm pumps require daily flushing to prevent the rubber seals from degrading, operators can run as much as 200,000 gal. (757,082.3 L) through before Neal’s leather cup seals wear, depending on the sand load. Further, users only need to flush them once a year, which can save up to 30 minutes per day.

Aside from the easy cleanup, Alexander said these units help the crew work more efficiently.

While diaphragm pumps can handle as much as 2 lbs. (4.4 kg) of sand per gallon, Neal’s pumps easily move as much as 8 lbs. (3.6 kg) of sand per gallon. Since they can move more mix through faster, the team is able to put down more than 150,000 gal (567,811.8 kg) per year on residential and commercial projects. The skid and trailer mounted units also are capable of transferring as much as 100 gal. (378.5 L) of material into the tank per minute, which is the fastest transfer rate on the market.

With the 5,000 gal. (18,927 L) storage tank in the fleet, Alexander can mix material overnight. The crew hauls it to the site the next day to fill the truck and sealcoating machines to save mixing time on the job.

“We still have to spend the time mixing the materials, but we can do it when the project closes down for the night,” Alexander said. “That way, the next day we can be as efficient as possible, because our seven hours of mixing materials is already done.”

Surviving the Struggle

Aside from overall efficiency, Alexander recognizes the livelihood of his company came down to the 1989 expansion. Without the addition of sealcoating, it’s not likely the company would have survived the recession of 1992 or 2008.

Alexander said the company has always had good financial planning and a solid work ethic. Even so, he said, getting through the 2008 recession was the most difficult time the company has seen.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve done. Only one out of every four companies in our industry made it. We were losing 50 percent of our gross income. It was extremely tough to make it work,” Alexander said. “If it weren’t for those low-maintenance Neal machines and the sealcoating aspect of our business — we wouldn’t have made it.”

All five Neal machines and the storage tank are still in operation today — even the first unit Alexander bought 25 years ago. He and his crew continue doing each job well, with a dedication to quality work and keeping customers updated on each job’s progress.

“Success, to me, is a repeat customer,” Alexander said. “That’s what we work for doing a really good job to get hired again in the future.”

In other words, seal the deal. Every time.

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