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August 2005

Staying Competitive

Over the years, competitive pricing has changed the way asphalt paving contractors do business. In many cases, it has made them rethink their processes and equipment in hopes of becoming more efficient and profitable.

That’s exactly what Frattalone Paving Inc. in St. Paul, Minn., has done. The asphalt paving company, which was founded in 1995, has discovered ways to keep up with the changing industry by adding compact equipment and attachments to increase efficiency. With efficiency comes saved time and money, which has allowed them to stay competitive.

How It All Began
Frattalone Paving Inc. has grown considerably since its beginnings. It was the brainchild of Frank Frattalone, a businessman with an already successful excavating company who thought the natural progression was to add an asphalt paving company. Enlisting the financial backing of four investors, he hired six employees to run the day-to-day operations of the asphalt paving company, which would come to specialize in road, parking lot, and park trail construction and reconstruction.

Today, Frattalone Paving, which is now owned by Chad Nelson and Leroy Jelen, has a total of 50 employees. Not only has its ownership changed, but so has the equipment it uses to complete asphalt paving jobs. There was a time when Frattalone Paving’s equipment fleet consisted of mostly larger dedicated machines, including dozers, loaders, and backhoes. But as newer asphalt paving companies entered the market submitting competitive bids in hopes of building a clientele, Frattalone Paving owners knew they needed to perform faster and better in order to stay ahead of the pack.

To accomplish this, they decided to look at incorporating compact equipment, thinking they could save money and complete jobs faster if they had a tool carrier and several attachments, rather than four to five separate machines on each job. So the company purchased its first piece of compact equipment, a Bobcat® 863 skid-steer loader with a planer attachment, says Gary Owen, shop manager for Frattalone Paving. “Whether it’s cleaning up or preparing the job for paving, compact equipment is a necessary thing nowadays because it’s portable and a lot more cost-efficient than the equipment we used in the past,” he says.

Owen, who was hired in 2000 to oversee the company’s equipment, says they now have a total of 10 Bobcat skid-steer loaders, including four 863s, three 763s, two 773s, and a newer S220. In order to realize the full benefit of the equipment, the company also has bought several attachments, including planers, wheel saws, pallet forks, landplanes, sweepers, buckets, snow blades, a tiller, and an auger. Owen says there isn’t a crew that goes out without a skid-steer loader and a set of attachments matched with the type of work they’ll be doing.

“We use the Bobcat skid-steer loaders for every job pretty much,” he says. “The equipment cuts down on our manual labor.”

Finding Ways to Increase Efficiency
The skid-steer loaders are most commonly used for cutting and milling, especially when doing street repair work and paving parking lots, Owen says.

Recently, Frattalone Paving crews completed a street repair project for the City of Lakeville in which they used four Bobcat skid-steer loaders with planer attachments. The crews were responsible for preparing the streets for the paving crew, which entailed using the planer attachments for milling the street edges and around the manholes. The company owns about a half-dozen planer attachments in several different sizes, including 2, 4, 16, and 18 inches in width.

“With the technology nowadays, we can actually go in there and just mill down a couple of inches because of the variable depth control on them,” Owen says. “It’s a huge benefit. We can get the exact height that we need to make it a smooth surface.”

When hired to perform street patchwork, Owen says they start off by using a skid-steer loader with a wheel saw to cut a square in the asphalt, which they then dig out with a bucket attachment. Once the damaged asphalt is removed, soil corrections are performed. “There’s usually a bad spot in the asphalt roadway for a reason, so we take out some of the bad soil underneath, whether it’s clay or some other type of soil,” he says.

If water exists under a large area being repaired, crews will use the skid-steer loaders with a trencher attachment to install drain tiles, which help prevent the water from settling under the asphalt. After the hole is backfilled and graded with dirt, Owen says crews use the skid-steer loaders to place and grade asphalt over the hole.

Even though the hole may be repaired, Owen says their job doesn’t stop there. Part of Frattalone Paving’s success has come from word of mouth and the good reputation they’ve earned for not only completing jobs efficiently and better than their competition, but for also leaving jobsites just as clean or cleaner than when they arrived. To accomplish this, each crew also is furnished with a sweeper attachment when they head out for the day. The sweeper saves time by quickly collecting and dumping dirt and debris from streets, parking lots, and sidewalks while traveling in both forward and reverse.

“We use the sweeper because we just don’t take our material and flick it off to the side. We take our material and dispose of it properly,” Owen says. “So when we leave a job, there are no sweepings on the ground.”

The increasing number of attachments that have become available in recent years has made it possible for Frattalone Paving to take on more work while keeping costs down. The attachments also help the company get more out of its skid-steer loaders. Because the loaders have an optional high-flow hydraulic system, Owen says operators have improved performance when using the planers, landplanes, wheel saws, and trenchers, enabling them to complete jobs faster.

“Our biggest money-saver is the high-flow attachments,” he says. “It’s a huge necessity for us. We can’t, and we won’t, buy a machine without high-flow hydraulics.”

Another important attachment feature is the over-the-tire tracks, which enable Owen to transform three of the company’s skid-steer loaders into track loaders. Each dirt grading crew receives a loader with over-the-tire tracks, which are especially beneficial when doing dirt grading for trail paving projects. Oftentimes, trail paving projects are located in hard-to-reach areas near streams and rivers that make for wet and muddy ground conditions. In such cases, Owen says they need the traction and minimal ground disturbance that a loader with tracks provides. “Our grading crews prefer the over-the-tire tracks because they’re always driving over various types of soils, and they need the stability,” he says.

When working on trail system and parking lot paving projects, both maneuverability and visibility become critical. Owen says they’ve found that with many trail paving projects they can maneuver within confined areas they wouldn’t even be able to access with larger equipment. The Bobcat loaders also provide above-par visibility when performing street and parking lot repairs. “Since we’re working in areas with a lot of vehicles, and in some cases, at schools with children, visibility is of utmost importance to us,” he says.

Not only is visibility an important safety feature, but poor visibility can also lead to costly mistakes. “If you’re milling an area and you cut it too deep, you’re going to have to add more asphalt to fill it up. And you’ll have to pay for that extra material, which means money is coming out of your pocket,” Owen says.

Above all else, Owen says having reliable compact equipment keeps them in business. Without reliability, you can’t be efficient. And every winter, the reliability of the Bobcat loaders is put to the test when they’re used for snow removal. Because Frattalone Paving is based in Minnesota, weather allows them to pave about seven months of the year. In the off-season, the company sends out its 10 skid-steer loaders with buckets and snow blades to remove snow. Owen says his crews are never late to jobs because the loaders start in the coldest of cold.

“The reliability of these machines saves you money,” Owen says. “You’re not making money when your machine’s sitting down with three guys staring at it.”