Fire Proves Road Bump for Asphalt Solutions

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – On the morning of March 20, 2015, Bob Roth and his business partner, Justin Bishop, met for breakfast. The biggest item on the menu that day wasn’t bacon and eggs. It was a frank face-to-face discussion on whether to dissolve the company they spent more than 16 years building.

“We asked ourselves whether we wanted to keep doing this,” Roth recalls. “It was the most productive meeting of our lives.”

As they talked, fire hoses were still cooling the heap of rubble and embers of what was left of their business, Asphalt Solutions, the day after a devastating fire had swept through its offices and operations garage on lower Market Street.

The blaze started inside a vacant house next door and spread within minutes to engulf the garage and $1 million worth of equipment, trucks and tools.

“The fire destroyed everything,” Roth says, noting that of the company’s fleet of 14 trucks, only a pickup and dump truck could be salvaged. “But, Justin said that the business was still there. Our name and brand were there. The only thing we didn’t have was equipment.”

By the end of their meeting, the two committed themselves to rebuilding the company. “We put our stamp on it,” Roth says. “We had a focus right away. We were going to make this happen and we were going to show everyone we could do it.”

And they have. In 2014, the asphalt paving company realized $3 million in sales, but dropped to $2.2 million the year of the fire. “This year, we’ll be back to the $3-million mark,” he says.

Roth says what he, Bishop and employees of Asphalt Solutions achieved in the months that followed the fire is nothing short of remarkable. “We went from nothing to something again in six months,” he says.

But much to their dismay, insurance covered just one-third of the damages, leaving the pair to figure out how to restart on a shoestring budget.

If there were a silver lining, Bishop muses, it’s that the fire occurred in March, two months before the asphalt and paving season begins. “Had it happened in June or July, we would’ve been finished,” he says. “This at least gave us time to recuperate, and we had two months.”

Within a month, the company had leased space at the former B&R Wholesale Tire building on Meridian Road and bought the equipment needed to restart the company, Roth says. “The first thing we had to do was to go over what equipment we needed to get running again,” he says.

That meant first securing crack-sealing and line-striping machinery – there was no time to wait for whatever insurance money would come in – because these operations are usually needed before the weather turns warm enough for seal coating work. “We had everything in motion before the money even came in,” Roth says.

Finding seal-coating equipment proved the greatest challenge. “All of our trucks were custom-built,” he says. “So, we had to buy from other sources,” traveling to Kansas City, Mo., for one. “These were not our first choices, but they got us to a point.”

The measures sufficed to keep the business alive through the summer and enough time to retool the following winter, Roth says. Although the business lost some customers – many thought that Asphalt Solutions had closed in the wake of the fire – “Our biggest accomplishment is that we lost everything and actually still had a very good year,” he reports.

So good, in fact, that Pavement Magazine ranked the company among the top 75 asphalt contractors in the country that year for seal coating, line striping, paving and pavement repair services, Roth says.

The company’s goal is to reach $5 million in sales by the end of 2017.

Ironically, the fire helped Roth and Bishop fine-tune their business model and forced them to rethink management strategies. Since the fire, Asphalt Solutions has added an operations manager, an estimator, a maintenance manager and an office manager, Roth says. The company also upgraded its software system and today can produce some of the most technically enhanced proposals in the industry.

Roth and Bishop started the company in 1999 when both were in college – Roth pursuing a graduate degree at Youngstown State University and Bishop his undergraduate work. Initially, the two limited their business to residential driveways, but then moved strictly to commercial properties.

“We borrowed $500 and put a small tank on a trailer,” Roth says with a laugh. “We made very little money.”

Then, an acquaintance of Roth’s asked whether the company would pave some parking lots for a handful of commercial properties his boss managed. “We went from doing little driveways to 400,000-square-foot parking lots,” he says.

Eventually, the company diversified into other services. Among them were crack sealing, line striping and asphalt repairs.

About 90% of the company’s business is done outside of the Mahoning Valley, Roth says. A sub-office in Columbus serves that market as well as Cincinnati and Dayton, while the office in Austintown handles the northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania markets. The company uses about 100,000 concentrated gallons of asphalt sealer a year.

Today, Asphalt Solutions employs about 20 and has a customer portfolio that includes Wendy’s, FedEx, Home Depot, Sears and Kmart, Burger King, Arby’s, and Steak ’n’ Shake, Bishop says. “One of the biggest challenges is finding good, qualified employees,” he says.

Bishop says the partners are comfortable with the company’s rate of growth and are not under any illusions of developing into a large, 100-employee corporation. “We’re realistic,” he says. “We like our size and we want to manage it.”

Pictured: Business partners Bob Roth and Justin Bishop started Asphalt Solutions in 1999 when both were in college.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.