Having the ability to be flexible can be a big advantage for a construction contractor looking to cash in on every possible business opportunity. But for a subcontractor, flexibility isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity. Jobs that are typically subbed out to smaller specialty companies can often come up without notice, putting pressure on the subcontractor to quickly decide whether the company has the time and means to accommodate a last-minute job offer. Saying “no” could result in more than just the missed profits from a single project. It could mean a loss of future business as well.
Subcontractors who focus on milling asphalt have this very concern in mind when choosing whether to tackle a given project. A tendency to say “yes” can help ensure steady profit flow by establishing a valuable rapport with a wide customer base, provided that the subcontractor has a milling machine that can keep up with such ambitions.
One company that has found success with a consistently busy schedule of milling projects is Gloria Jeane Hauling and Highway Rehab Inc. Based in Arlington, Wash., Gloria Jeane bears the namesake of the company’s founder and president, Gloria Tonsgard.
Beginning as a start-up oil hauling operation in 1991, the company added milling services to its offering a few years later to capitalize on an ever-growing need for road rehabilitation and other infrastructure improvements in the construction market.
“Sometimes we’ll do some dig-outs or other work on the interstate, which involves bids and contracts,” said Loren Tonsgard, general manager of Gloria Jeane Hauling. “But most of our milling jobs originate with a phone call and a handshake.”
A lot of those calls turn out to be repeat business from a number of small paving companies in the greater Seattle area.
“Several companies use us exclusively for any milling they need done,” said Tonsgard. “Often they’ll have multiple jobs for us in a week, even as many as three per day during our peak season. So we keep our milling machines busy.”
Gloria Jeane’s current fleet includes two large Cat grinders and a new Bomag MP 1000 cold planer. The company had great success with a previous version of the same model machine, so when it recently came time to get a new mill, Gloria Jeane decided to stick with what had been working.
The MP 1000 features a cutting-width of 39.6 in. (100 cm), which meets the standard cutting specs for jobs in western Washington. Prior to purchasing its first MP 1000, Gloria Jeane had run several other machines from various manufacturers over the years. Although the previous units did a solid job, the company immediately noticed an improved level of performance from the MP 1000.
“The smaller machines we used to run had a rear cutting drum, which worked fine for dig-outs and stuff like that,” said Tonsgard. “But trying to plane on a slope or really any kind of grade cutting presented some problems. Since the drum is in the middle of our Bomag mill, it planes nice and straight like a big 7-foot machine. It doesn’t track sideways like our old units did at times.”
Dan Jones has been a milling machine operator with Gloria Jeane since 1997 and has been doing milling work in some capacity for 15 years. Having had the chance to run numerous mills throughout his working life, Jones has experienced and seen enough to be genuinely impressed with the design of the new mill.
“The big thing from an operator’s perspective is the rear steering feature,” said Jones. “A lot of other machines only have front steering, so when you’re turning a corner a lot of asphalt gets missed on the curb and gutter. With the Bomag I can steer the front end and the back end at the same time, go right around corners and just keep going right down the street. About eight-out-of-ten times I get that cut nice and close without leaving a bunch of asphalt behind, and always without damaging the curb. It speeds up the overall process a lot.”
Jones said that the MP 1000 has been a big part of the reputation Gloria Jeane has developed for delivering fast and efficient asphalt cutting. In some situations city workers will jokingly complain about the inability of their traffic controllers to stay ahead of the mill. In other cases Jones has had to wait for trucks to haul out loads and return before getting back to work.
“I only have so many trucks to work with,” said Jones. “And when you’re digging fairly deep and doing 50 feet a minute, it only takes a minute or so to load a truck.”
While precise cutting and speed are two key benefits that the company has found with using the MP 1000, another advantage is the machine’s ability to grind when going uphill.
“Most of our jobs are on flat ground, but we run into a few hills from time to time,” said Tonsgard. “On one job we were dealing with a 12- to 15-percent grade, and we were very impressed with how well the machine grinded uphill while staying right along the curb.”
One recent uphill project occurred in Somerset, Wash., on a subcontracting job for Potelco Inc.
In business for more than 40 years, Potelco is a provider of power line construction, natural gas distribution and fiber optics. While multiple construction companies are typically called upon to handle the installation of such services, Potelco specializes in laying the entire gamut of utilities — from gas to electrical to telecom — in creating what the company dubs “unity trenches.”
Gloria Jeane’s involvement with Potelco illustrates how milling subcontractors today are experiencing business growth not only because of failing roadways and streets, but also because of the need for improvements to the aging infrastructure of cities across the country. Because Potelco’s work almost always involves tearing up existing asphalt to create unity trenches, it has resulted in a lot of business coming the way of Gloria Jeane.
“They use a trencher to dig down about two or three feet deep and a foot wide,” said Jones. “Usually they’re putting in the fiber optics and other utilities all week, and then we go in when they’re finished. How it works is that we’ll straddle their trench with our milling machine and take the surface down about 7 or 8 inches. That way they can get a paver in there to pave it back. Including milling and loading, we typically grind 1,500 feet for them within 3 hours.”
Making itself constantly available for projects is a big reason why Gloria Jeane was able to initially land Potelco as a customer. Running efficiently on the job with the MP 1000 has helped sustain the business relationship for the past three years.
The company also helps itself out when it comes to the overall efficiency of its milling projects by providing its own clean-up crews to follow the primary work of the mill.
“We’ve got the full complement of sweepers, backhoes and dump trucks,” said Tonsgard. “It’s just another element we added to our company to improve the overall appeal and value of our operation.”
To see the value contractors have found from working with Gloria Jeane for their milling needs, and the profits Gloria Jeane has realized from using the MP 1000, look no further than the unseasonably busy milling schedule the company experienced during the past winter in Washington. “The machine works year round for us,” said Tonsgard. “It only had two weeks off over the winter, and that’s very unusual. All of our customers are really happy with it and they keep calling.”
Gloria Jeane has developed a solid reputation as a quality subcontractor and continues to expand its customer base — just a few by-products of being able to say “yes” when called upon and having the right equipment to get the job done smoothly.