Why does it seem like such a common occurrence that while out in the community I hear constant horror stories of diluted mix, no show contractors and outrageous pricing?
I am sure that this exists out in other industries, but it seems as though it is happening at an alarming degree in the pavement sealcoating and driveway sealing industry. These so called “gypsy’s” travel around, knock on an unassuming door and either offer a spectacular price or phenomenal product and are unable to deliver. It has become a bit of an epidemic in our industry, and has greatly reduced the legitimacy of pavement preservation in regards to sealing.
My First Experience with the Gypsy Sealcoater
I was working as a project engineer for a heavy civil road contracting company out of Juneau Alaska. My main duties included estimating and scheduling for all “small jobs” that may arise throughout the season. This meant that I was a regular around town meeting with homeowners and business owners alike on their paving projects.
I received a call one day from a frantic homeowner who said that a local paving contractor had severely over bid a project and under delivered on the product. He wanted me to come out and provide a quote for the project if it had been done by the company I was working under. This immediately stuck out as strange due to there being only one paving contractor operating in the Juneau area at the time, us. I also knew that mix was hard to find and usually only sold to the bureau of Juneau, so it seemed unlikely that a contractor had moved in to town. set up shop and began paving right under our noses without us knowing.
Regardless, I agreed to meet with the homeowner and made my way “out the road” (aka the only road leading out of town, which ultimately dead ends at mile 48) and found a middle aged man standing beside a 30′ x 20′ parking area which appeared gray in color. The man explained to me that the home belonged to his elderly father, who had been approached by a contractor earlier that week. The contractor implored to the man that he was in desperate need of unloading some extra mix he had from a previous job. This would be considered a fire sale and the best deal the man could get. The situation sounded too good to be true and the elderly man happily agreed and cut a check in the realm of $8,000. This project would have cost around $2,500 if done by a reputable contractor.
The gypsy then proceeded to the bank to deposit his check as his crews ran to the property to spray a layer of watered-down sealer on a dirt parking area. The contractor left town on a ship the next day and I am not sure what ever came of it.
This example of robbery stuck with me as I continued in my professional career. It amazed me that people could be so bold as to maliciously seek out and then swindle an elderly member of the community. It was also my first indication that the paving and asphalt industry may have some fringe subsets that wish to capitalize on the large dollar industry that can be asphalt paving.
What I See Now
After starting YPS and trying to make a name for ourselves, I found many instances of weary homeowners not trusting of any sealcoating contractor showing up at their place of work or business. It is hard to convince people that our practices are sound, our products are legitimate and up to all specifications and controls and that we are, in fact, a small business wishing to provide a service that is widely used in both the commercial and residential world.
I have seen the trucks rolling up and down the freeways, carrying a crew of three or four rough looking characters who are looking for the next town to make a quick buck in. I’ve never talked to them, so I can’t say for certain where they are getting their material, but I have talked to suppliers who will sell them product.
What the Industry Needs to do
The sealcoating industry needs to take responsibility for what is actively going on throughout the states. There needs to be one centralized committee in charge of standardizing the industry. That is, there needs to be specifications that all sealcoaters adhere by and a code of ethics that is implemented. If one issue is that home and business owners do not trust the water content being put in to an emulsion before placement, then this governing body needs to do their due diligence by researching contractors and inviting them in to their society knowing that they are ethical and trust worthy. The contractors will then be able to display this stamp of approval, which will be conveyed through advertisement and lobbying by the governing body, to prove that they are the right choice contractor for people to use. This is common throughout many industries, including the paving industry with NAPA, but has not been fully adopted by the sealcoating industry.
By bringing forth more of a legitimacy to the industry, I believe that all sealcoaters will benefit as long as they play by the rules set forth. We will all have to be held to a higher standard. This solution would also take out the “undercutting contractor” who waters down product to try and soak up the market, that we have all dealt with.
Seal coat producers will also have to be cognizant of those who they deliver their material to. Most producers that I have spoken with will not offer any sort of a warranty because they aren’t sure how the product is being placed. If the industry adopts a set of standards, then asphalt emulsion producers can be confident in their product.
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