Northeastern Pavers is a Family Affair
Armed with a new plant, the Barrington family has dramatically increased production while securing long sought-after business
Aside from his faith, nothing is more important to Shane Barrington than family. The owner of Northeastern Pavers, Granbury, Texas, got his start in the asphalt business working for his father, eventually teaming up with him to form a start-up paving operation in the northeast Oklahoma town of Colcord. More than 35 years later, that company employs about 120 people in peak season and counts all four of his sons among its senior staff. Each of the young men excels at a different facet of the operation; each is committed to the business his father loves. With the replacement of an ADM 250 ton per hour (TPH) plant with a new one providing more production capacity, the entire Barrington clan is seeing Texas-sized rewards for their efforts.
Intro to Asphalt
Shane Barrington’s first encounter with asphalt production came in 2003 when, after years of working with his father and as a subcontractor to several area firms, he decided to strike out on his own.
“Throughout the 1980s, during which time we relocated to Granbury, Texas, I had been working hard to build up the business and to establish a solid reputation,” he said. “One of the firms we were subcontracting to had us provide sealcoat work for TxDOT and, by 1993, I decided that was what I really enjoyed doing. Working with TxDOT provided a lot more stability and a whole lot less chasing people to get paid.
“During this period, we enjoyed tremendous growth. But my dad decided that, largely because of the quick pace, it was time to back off and let me take the helm, so to speak. Though he was no longer with the company, he left behind a legacy that hard work and perseverance will always provide good results—a work ethic that I embraced than and continue to do so today.”
From 1995 to 2003 the company grew in sales from $1 million a year to more than $12 million. During that period, the scale of work changed as well, with the sealcoat operation being complimented by more and more hot mix work.
“To supply the hot mix operation, we worked with asphalt suppliers all around Granbury; all the large producers have a number of plants in any direction for 50 miles. As the paving operation grew, we were buying anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 tons of mix a year from those companies. By 2003, I just felt we needed to look into buying a plant of our own. As luck would have it, I found a used plant in Houston, which one particular owner had purchased but never erected because of permitting issues. So, along with a friend of mine who had recently retired from asphalt production, I drove down to Houston to see if it would work for us.”
The plant they found in Houston was a 1997 model MileMaker 250 from Asphalt Drum Mixers (ADM), Huntertown, Ind., which Barrington says could easily have been mistaken for new. Shortly after it had been purchased and erected in Kentucky, circumstances forced a change in that company’s business strategy and a subsequent sale to the Houston organization.
“When we got there, we found that it had all the books, all the plans, everything; it was like that plant had just come from the factory,” Barrington said. “I made him an offer, he accepted and not long after, we were back down there hauling nine truckloads of asphalt plant back to Granbury. Understand that, at this point, we’d laid a lot of asphalt but had never made any—much less erected a plant. We brought it to a 10-acre site we owned and literally laid it all out on the ground in preparation for assembly.”
It’s worth noting that before they got the plant erected, one of the largest asphalt producers in the region contacted Barrington to offer him $7.50 off every ton he bought from them. Despite the more than $1 million annual savings he could realize, he turned that down.
“I know that as long as I had large projects, my trucks would be first in line to get material from them,” he said. “However, I also knew that as soon as I had a small project and someone else had a large one, I’d get pushed to the back of the line and run the risk of not getting mix at all. I grew up dealing with that and did not like it. We pushed forward with our plant construction and had the whole process, from foundation work to startup, completed in about 60 days.”
Start of Something Big
With the introduction of the new plant in 2004, things continued to improve as Barrington’s company, in addition to doing a limited amount of private work, began running TxDOT mix. When the company won the bid to produce mix for TxDOT’s maintenance projects, Northeastern Pavers hit its stride.
“Between our own projects and the TxDOT work we had an outstanding first year, producing just over 150,000 tons,” Barrington said. “In subsequent years since then, we’ve made additional equipment purchases—a new paver, a Shuttle Bugger, etc.—which, while allowing us to tackle some really high production work, also made us realize how undersized our plant had become. We did things to try to maximize production, we upgraded our drag slats; we did everything but touch the bag house. We’d maxed it out and had to face facts: we needed to upgrade.”
The relationship Barrington had developed with ADM since buying the used plant put the Indiana company at the top of the list of manufacturers Northeastern would consider. While others came in with very impressive proposals, he said it was ADM’s willingness to work with them to make the deal happen that secured it for them.
“Maybe it’s because that’s the way I like to do business,” he said. “I want my customers to be fully satisfied with what we bring to the table and ADM did the same for us, both in terms of price and in addressing an extremely tight window to startup. When all was said and done, we chose one of their newest models, a 400 TPH EX Series with capabilities for running RAP and RAS, which figure largely in TxDOT’s paving plans.”
Northeastern’s EX Series plant features three 200-ton storage silos, five 30-ton bins for material ranging from fill sand to 1-inch minus; a pair of 20-ton recycle bins and ADM’s unique single-drum counterflow technology, which uses separate drying and mixing zones to maximize heat transfer and fuel efficiency. Barrington said the manufacturer offered a number of add-ons during the purchase process that seemed minor at the time, but have since come to be key for them.
“ADM said they would include drag slat heat and silo heat, which, because we are in Texas, I really didn’t think we’d ever use,” he said. “However, I was wrong; we’ve found the silo heaters to be excellent for holding material overnight and we’ve seen virtually no increase in our electric bill. We run the material, put it into the silo, and then turn the heat on at the end of the day—so it’s not really building heat, it’s just maintaining it. It’s a really economical storage solution that we never anticipated.”
According to Barrington, the drag slat heat has also proved a nice plus. Realizing that the drag slat generally has a tendency to wear out the quickest, he has his crew turn the slat heat on for a couple hours before they are ready to start up, then shut it off at startup. “Because all the components are warm, there is literally no drag going on,” he said. “That is a benefit that all our counterparts up north have and we’re finding it to be one of the smartest things we could have done.”
One of the biggest surprises Barrington has realized is the overall efficiency of the new plant. Shortly after startup, he said, he had real suspicions that something was wrong. Based on production figures they were getting, he felt there was no way they could be running a plant of that size for so little cost in fuel and electricity.
“Compared to the old plant, we’ve seen a 30 percent increase in fuel consumption,” he said. “But, because the EX Series plant is twice the size of the previous one, we can run it half as long to get the same volumes of material. Also, the fact that my crews now consistently get material when they order it, means paving overtime has disappeared. There are savings in just about every facet of the business.”
Recognizing the inherent value and benefits of using recycled asphalt pavement (RAP) and recycled asphalt shingles (RAS) in its mix designs, Northeastern Pavers had the EX Series plant designed with that recycling component in mind. For the RAP, Barrington said they grind up overlay material from their projects and bring it back to the yard for subsequent processing. RAS on the other hand, is purchased from Thelin Recycling in Ft. Worth.
“While Texas is generally known to use high ratios of RAP, we ourselves, do not. Our mix designs with TxDOT are at 12 percent on RAP and 3 percent on RAS,” he said. “We feel that, when RAP levels get to a certain level, the existing asphalt in the material becomes brittle and prone to excessive cracking; we are finding a similar issue with the RAS. We recently started to use a latex injection system adding 1 ½ to 2 percent latex into these materials. We feel the latex can add enough elasticity back into it that cracking will no longer be a problem. In my mind, there’s no doubt that RAS is important. It’s a replenishable commodity; there are roofs coming off every single day, every hailstorm. What better place to put it than in our roads?”
The specialty mixes have not affected overall production. In fact, Barrington said they recently set a personal single day record, producing 2,920 tons.
My Four Sons
By nature, Shane Barrington isn’t easily impressed. But he admits to being impressed when his second son Cody came into his office a few years back and said: “I found the woman I’m going to marry and I want to be in business with you.” Three years into a business degree, he left school to join Northeastern and, like his brothers, has made his mark in the organization.
“I’m one of the luckiest men in the world,” Barrington said. “Every day I can come to work to a job that I love and share my workday with all of my sons. My oldest, Marc, 30, is a partner and junior vice president and oversees the hot mix paving operation. At 27, Cody, also a partner in the company, is the Northeastern’s chief estimator and manages the sealcoat facet of the business. Caleb, age 24, handles all of our quality control and does it so well that we never miss a bonus and I can’t remember what a penalty is.”
Barrington had another reason to be proud recently when, shortly after startup of the new plant, ADM called him to say that his youngest son, Casey, 21, the plant operator, was a superb asset to the company. “There’s no better compliment a dad can get,” he said. “My sons have all been key to the success we’ve enjoyed over the years and I couldn’t be happier.”
Far from the small startup they once were—Northeastern did gross sales of about $50 million last year—Barrington and his sons are all in agreement that they might want to level off at this point for a bit rather than continue the upward trend.
“But we have a great team in place and a plant that thrives on production,” he said. “So you just never know.”