From a Pickup Truck to Million-Dollar Paving Machines
You’re driving on a worn city street, trying to avoid the potholes, and then see the line where the smooth new pavement starts. You relax your grip on the wheel and cruise along the fresh blacktop, experiencing one of the little pleasures of driving…
No one appreciates top-performing blacktop more than Adrian Alblas. “When the road’s causing damage to your car or wear and tear, and then you turn onto new pavement and enjoy the ride without your coffee spilling, that’s a good feeling,” he says. “It’s creating quality of life for people.”
Alblas is president of Burnaby Blacktop Ltd., an award-winning paving company in Burnaby, British Columbia, a growing city just outside of Vancouver. Burnaby Blacktop has won a consumers’ choice award four years in a row since 2016. It’s an honour he shares with his team, including his younger brother, Arlun, who handles daily logistics while Adrian focuses on driving sales.
Note the repeat A in their first and last names. They’re from a close-knit family of nine kids, whose names all start with A.
“Not sure why, but we’re all hard-working. My parents started with the first two and just kept going,” Alblas laughs. He’s the first-born and Arlun is 10 years his junior.
The brothers plan to keep the company in the No. 1 spot. “It’s a vote you earn; you can’t buy it,” Alblas says. “So I recognize that and put it out there to our company, telling employees they earned this award and we’re excelling, getting better every year.”
Business is brisk. The main reason the company’s services, which run the full gamut from site preparation, asphalt milling, paving and seal coating to winter snow removal and salting, are in such high demand? The solid reputation for a job well done and dedicated customer service.
“It’s about getting that phone call, getting back to people fast and creating that relationship,” Alblas says of building a customer-focused culture that raises the bar. “Then it’s giving them super service and the follow-up after.”
While some pavers have tarnished the industry by not showing up for jobs, not answering phones or returning calls, Alblas says his differentiator is, “the focus on customer satisfaction and no matter what, leaving them happy.”
It’s paid off. As much as 70 percent of the company’s business comes from repeat customers, like property managers who may have six or more jobs every year, city engineers who need sidewalks and roadwork, and referrals from residential clients.
Burnaby Blacktop has built a reputation for reliability, and was thus called in for a major job to do the base prep, curb and gutter work, and pave the expansive property for a new ice arena and sports complex. The company that was initially hired couldn’t deliver and city officials called Alblas to step in. He took immediate steps to review the plans, secure similar pricing and get a crew onsite to turn around the project to meet the original deadline.
“We brought our solutions and produced a beautiful product by the end of it,” says Alblas. Check out the project video on the company website to see the results and client satisfaction. It is a beautiful job!
The company serves a large area of what’s called the Lower Mainland from West Vancouver to the commuter town of Hope at the eastern end right by Fraser Canyon. It’s a fast-growing area of the province with beaches, forests and the iconic Rocky Mountains. (You could, in theory, relax on a beach and ski in the mountains on the same day.) The lifestyle and population growth means great business potential, especially when you’re in the construction industry. In fact, the challenge for Burnaby Blacktop is keeping up with the demand.
“Right now we’re going from 70 to probably 90 staff in this next season. We’re building three more crews, and then the infrastructure to support that expansion in the company,” Alblas says of the additional office administrators, human resources and tech platforms.
Staffing hasn’t necessarily been a big challenge for Burnaby Blacktop, as the appeal of joining the company is about the family feel and pride in working with top-of-the-line equipment. The team also makes a commitment to giving back to the community by way of donations, participation in bike rides from Vancouver to Whistler to raise hospital funds, and heading to Mexico to clean up beaches.
To be sure, Burnaby Blacktop has an impressive track record with humble beginnings. It all started as a side project when the recession of 2008 hit and Alblas was laid off from his job with a tugboat company that helped dock ships in the Vancouver harbour. His dream was to be a tugboat captain, but he developed a knack for producing beautiful driveways for people.
“A friend said, ‘I’ll show you how to make a little bit of money on the side,’ and I bought a pickup truck and some old barrels and filled them up with oil and started knocking on doors and trying to sell a product for sealing driveways.”
He says his persistence helped him found Burnaby Blacktop in 2010 with a partnering friend, a used dump truck, and a second hand steel drum roller. About two years later, the partner left for another job and his brother Arlun came on board.
“[Paving] is an old-school trade with a lot of companies that have been around for 20, 30 years and we were young and fresh to the industry. So we worked really hard and put a lot of passion into it,” Alblas shares.
That kind of passion and commitment drives achievement and resiliency, and when COVID hit in 2020, the brothers shut down operations briefly and then made sure all health and safety measures were well in place before they opened up shop again. Having developed a COR partnering comprehensive OHS program was key.
While the pandemic has presented challenges, construction is still gaining ground. Alblas says many businesses that had to close, for example, decided to use the time for maintenance and upgrades like paving. Homeowners who can’t plan vacations are spending on home improvements like a freshly-paved driveway to enhance comfort and curb appeal. In fact, with fewer cars on the roads because of the stay-at-home restrictions, the logistics of getting crews and materials to jobs have become more efficient.
Alblas is confident about continued business growth as we come out of the pandemic’s third wave, but also says it’s been a time to reflect on priorities. Not only is Burnaby Blacktop creating jobs to boost the local economy, it’s providing a service that really improves the community.
“When you’re seeing a problem causing someone discomfort or pain, whether it’s driving down that horrendously long road full of potholes and bumps, maybe even causing an accident, you want to make it safe,” Alblas says. “You get to go in there with your milling machine and smooth that road out perfectly, and then go in there with your million-dollar paving machine and pave a fresh road. And you get to see and feel the quality out on the road.”