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Born for the Business: Contractor Returns to Paving Firm

Tarheel Paving and Asphalt Company owner John Pace was basically born into the business.

Tue September 29, 2015 - Southeast Edition
Brenda Ruggiero

Tarheel Paving and Asphalt Company owner John Pace was basically born into the business.

“I started paving with my father when I was about six years old,” he said. “He had one of the first rideable paving machines in western North Carolina and I worked with him every day just about through the summer. He was a workaholic kind of guy, so I was right there with him every day, my brother and I both.”

Pace went on to start his own business and was able to pay his way through college by sealing driveways. He started Tarheel Paving in Hendersonville, N.C., in 1981.

“We were so small,” he said. “We used to do little patch jobs, and sealed a lot of driveways. I think the first big project I got was patching some water line cuts for the city of Hendersonville water department. And it was excruciating, because I didn’t have much machinery to do the job, so we did a lot of digging out by hand. So it was pretty tough starting out.”

However, with Pace’s help, the company was able to persevere.

“I just kept putting money back into the business, and we just kept growing and growing and growing, and every year we got a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger,” Pace said.

In 2001, Pace bought a brand new ADM asphalt plant and started running it. He was successful in getting into highway paving for the NCDOT, and did that for the next six years.

“Then in 2006, I was so tired from working on the state highways — day and night,” he said. “I loved the work, but it was just so much for me because I was by myself. I couldn’t find key help — back then, the economy was good and everybody had a good job and they didn’t want to come work for a smaller company. We were small, relatively speaking. It wore me out, so in 2006, I sold my asphalt plant and auctioned off a lot of my highway paving equipment, and started doing some residential development.”

Pace decided to come back to his paving business in 2010. A former employee had been running it until that time, and Pace took it over and began to rebuild the business.

“I’ve been working to rebuild it ever since 2010,” Pace said. “And in 2014, we had a pretty good year — the best year we’ve had probably in six years — we could kind of see a little daylight, and 2015’s been a good year also. In 2014, there were more jobs for bid. Before that every paving company in the country would be bidding on the same job, and then good jobs only came up once every two to three weeks, so the competition was just fierce, and it seemed like a lot of people were working for nothing, and it was really hard to make money. Then in 2014, we started getting more profitable work, and there were more jobs that kind of spread around, too.”

The company does mainly parking lots, subdivisions and occasional driveways.

“I’m so proud of my crew, because some of the same guys have been here 26 years — even when I wasn’t here, they stayed,” Pace said. “It’s probably the best paving crew I’ve been around, and I’ve had some really good crews. I don’t have to worry about anything — they do good work and I don’t have to go back and check up on them. It makes my job so easy to have these guys, and I appreciate them.”

Pace describes himself as a quality-driven person.

“To me, quality is very important, and I mean quality in our work and also quality in the equipment that we have,” he said. “I like to have good equipment that’s dependable and gets the job done right. As far as the company motto, we’re always putting the customer first, because the customers are the ones that made us, and over the years, we’ve been very fortunate to have a good clientele. A lot of times they just call us and ask us to pave something, they don’t even ask us the price, so we’re very fortunate that way. But with that comes the responsibility of giving the customer a good job, so with us that’s the thing that we stress and we work at. It’s the little things — are the edges straight, did you leave the job site clean, is the compaction on the mix proper — all the things that go with it.”

Pace attributes his company’s growth in part to his love of the paving business.

“I love being around it, and I always wanted to be paving on the highways, Pace said. “I love seeing the big pavers out on the highway with the trucks lined up. It’s just something that’s always intrigued me. To this day, I still love paving highways, but I’m just not up to the stress of doing it. I’m 59 years old and I’m just not up for that stress, although I do love it. It was just a natural progression for us — just kind of where things took us. So I’ve seen a little bit of everything. I’ve been small, I’ve been large, I’ve been back small again.”

When he came back to the business, Pace noted that he hadn’t really replaced any equipment since 2005, and a lot of it was getting older. He wanted to get into a purchasing plan to replace his fleet.

“When you think about it paving equipment, support and service and sales representatives are just so important, and it’s even more important now because every dollar just has to go so far,” Pace said. “Being able to have the support that Carolina Tractor offers, and Caterpillar — you can’t really put a value on it. It’s just so valuable, because if I need a part, I can make a phone call and I can have the part that day or worst case scenario the next morning. If I need help getting the part put on, I can have someone there in matter of hours. If I need any kind of servicing information about the machines, I’m able to get that. It really worked out well for me to team up with Carolina Tractor and Caterpillar.

“Carolina Tractor had recently merged with Arrow Equipment Co., and Doug Parton, my paver salesman of 33 years, had also made the move to Caterpillar so it was a natural fit for me to follow Doug. Being a Blaw Knox man for 33 years it was hard for me to look at a different brand of paver. I’ll give it to Doug, he never gave up.”

According to Pace, he purchased an AP655 track paver at the end of 2014, and he also had two Blaw-Knox back up pavers.

“When we first saw it [the AP655], it was so big,” Pace said. “We were looking at it for doing private work, and when we first saw it I said no, this paver’s too big. We did a demo on it and we took it back to the yard and parked it, and we weren’t even thinking about getting it. We were out on a high profile job, and we had a lot of people coming in to look at Christmas lights at this historic site, and we were doing some paving out in front of it, and we pulled our old paver out and blew a hydraulic line. This seemed to be the scenario we were going through with the older equipment. So when we blew the hydraulic line, I said that’s it, I’m done with it — go to the shop and pick up a paver.

“So we loaded the AP655 up and brought it over there, and I called Doug the next morning and told him I was going to buy it, so I kind of forced myself into getting it. But it worked out great, because it’s a great paver, and the thing that’s so amazing is we can use it on anything that we pave. It’s very seldom that we can’t use it, and it’s so contrary to what you think when you look at it on the showroom floor or when you first walk up to it. It’s so tall and it looks so massive, but the reality of it is that we can get it in places that we couldn’t get into with our smaller paver.”

One thing that Pace has been most impressed with is the machine’s maneuverability.

“The tracks will spin around and it will make a circle inside its own footprint,” he said. “It’s just a real versatile machine…I’m really surprised at how versatile it is. Had I known that, I probably wouldn’t have had the reservations about buying it in the first place. But if you have a small paving company and you see an AP655 or AP600 and it seems like it’s going to be too large for you, I can assure you that it’s not. It will work for you. You just have to get used to the visual of it.”

Pace said that Caterpillar doesn’t really market this particular paver for a company as small as his.

“If you set your stone base up good and hard, this paver will do anything for a small company, and I think it’s important that people know that,” he said. “How many times does a small company want to buy a Caterpillar paver, but they’re scared to buy one because of the size, and the dollar value of a AP555 vs. a AP655 is very close. People need to know that this paver will work for a small company.”

Currently, Pace’s fleet includes two Blaw-Knox pavers, the Cat AP655 and six or seven different rollers, including the newest addition, a Cat SP334.

“We don’t use it on driveways and small jobs, but it’s a larger roller than what we typically use, and it’s really good for paving a subdivision or a large parking lot where we need to get density,” he said. “We bought that roller the very end of last year or middle of last year — 2014”

Pace explained that he built an asphalt plant in 2013 when a friend, Boyd “Bub” Hyder approached him for help becoming competitive coming out of the recession.

“So we teamed up and built a new asphalt plant for us — but it’s actually a used asphalt plant — it’s a small three-ton batch plant,” he said. “We put it up just thinking it would be fine for a small company, and already in two years we’ve outgrown it, so we’re in the process of changing it around and making it more efficient. We’re able to use recycled asphalt in it, and I’m thinking probably next year it will be modified into a continuous mix plant. So it’s a success in a way, because we built it in 2013, and we’ve already outgrown it in 2015.”

Pace has a Caterpillar 928G that he uses at the asphalt plant. He also has a 325 long reach trackhoe that is used to dip sand out of the creek to utilize in the asphalt. In addition, he has a Caterpillar 247 skid steer and two Caterpillar asphalt rollers — a 224 and a 334.

He noted that he hopes that going forward he can maintain his relationship with Carolina Tractor, and to eventually have nearly all Caterpillar equipment.

“They seem to be able to fill the need, whether it’s the light grading end of what we do, or whether it’s the asphalt or the compaction,” he said. “We have Caterpillar trackhoes, we have Caterpillar loaders at our asphalt plant, and we have Caterpillar skid steers, so we have a lot of Caterpillar equipment. We’re just kind of slowly trying to change over to where all of our equipment is Caterpillar.”

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