Contractor of the Year Finalist

Tom Jackson

|  February 01, 2012 |

Sonny Tresco

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

 

Tresco Paving

Year started: 1973

Number of employees: 35

Annual volume: $14 to $15 million

Markets served: Asphalt paving, asphalt and concrete materials production

 By Tom Jackson

 

It was a teacher’s strike at the local college that forced Sonny Tresco to forgo pursuing a professional law enforcement degree and start looking for work. He borrowed his dad’s pickup truck, bought a ton of asphalt, tarped it with an old rug and started repairing potholes.

Nearly 40 years ago Sonny Tresco started out compacting asphalt with concrete blocks. His son Vincent works with him as project superintendent.

Compaction was primitive – Sonny used concrete blocks. As potholes progressed to driveways, Sonny secured a small equipment loan, his business began, and from there things kept growing. As a young man, Sonny would take his dad with him to bid jobs because he was frequently asked: “Just how old are you?”

But other people’s doubts were never an impediment. Sonny credits Ronald Reagan and the confidence he inspired in the country for helping small businesses like his own succeed. Sonny is an unapologetic optimist and patriot. “This is America, and there is no other country like it on earth,” he says. “Success is not easy here, you have to want it bad, you have to earn it. If you do it will come in time.”

Tar wars

In 1988 Sonny built his first asphalt plant to get more control over job scheduling. Local competition in this industry was fierce (hence the “Tar Wars,” logos on his trucks), but Sonny prevailed and now sells asphalt to some of his competitors in the paving business.

From left: Sonny, Diana and Vincent Tresco

The company’s reputation for service brought in so many customers that it added a second larger asphalt plant and a ready-mix concrete plant in the 1990s. Tresco uses two certified lab technicians to monitor the quality of state approved materials. This not only guarantees the optimum product for the Tresco paving crew, but is also the cornerstone of great relationships with other pavers. “Our customers are our friends,” Sonny says. “I’ve seen customers pass up other plants to get to us.”

Sonny’s son Vincent spent summers working for the company, and after earning an electrical engineering degree at Penn State, has returned to the business full time as project superintendent. Vince is not only NECEPT (Northeast Center of Excellence for Pavement Technology) certified in the field, but also certified in the lab. Quality and performance are paramount to their operations. One irrefutable proof of performance in the paving business is profilograph testing, which measures the roughness of the pavement surface. Installing the smoothest section of the Pennsylvania turnpike in 2010 earned Tresco Paving’s high – profile project the esteemed Golden Boot Award.

As a reminder of how competitive the asphalt business is Sonny puts a small “Tar Wars” emblem on his fleet of dump trucks.

Vince takes job performance seriously and anticipates problems on the job before they happen. Not only is there depth to the skills of the crew, but back up pieces of equipment are also onsite in case of a breakdown. Job preparation is an important element ensuring project success and timely completion.

Serious about safety

Diana Tresco, Sonny’s wife, is office manager and safety officer. Tresco’s vigorous safety program has delivered the benefits you would expect – lower insurance rates, healthier employees and reduced downtime. Perhaps even more important, Diana says, “It shows our employees how much we care. These people have been with us for a long time, they are our friends. They’re like family.”

Computers have their place but Tresco still likes to keep an eye on the big picture by posting all the jobs and their various stages of completion on a big white board.

Treating employees like family pays handsome dividends beyond safety. Instead of struggling against turnover and having to constantly monitor or train new employees, the Trescos have a stable core of loyal, experienced paving pros working for them with an average of 20+ years of service. Sonny gives employees a specially designed ring on their 25th anniversary. He has given out three rings so far and jokes that a lot of his guys would retire now except they’re staying on just to get the ring.

“You have to reward good employees,” Sonny says. “Where we come from, we understand. You have to have good pay and good benefits.” But Sonny’s philosophy is more than just being nice. Sonny commits to his employees and expects the same. “If you don’t have a guy’s heart, you have nothing,” he says. As a result, finding good employees has never been a problem for the company.

Decoy cars

Most of the work contracted by Tresco Paving is DOT or municipal related, which means keeping the crew safe from errant drivers and roadside hazards. Sonny has a good relationship with the local police, but staffing constraints do not always allow for a patrol car to deter speeding and unsafe drivers. Sonny’s solution was to purchase two used police cars painted to look official and fitted with amber lights instead of blue and park them on the side of the road near his crew. The police were delighted with the idea and support the presence of the “Tresco Safety Patrol Unit” on road projects to deter speeding drivers.

Sonny and Vince’s visibility on their construction sites is essential to their corporate success. When municipal officials, project engineers and inspectors see management on the project, they know Tresco Paving cares about the company’s performance and workmanship. The employees also know that management cares about them since both Sonny and Vince have spent many a hot day on the back of a paver and understand the physical demands of the job.

Home run on the Turnpike

The job that won the Golden Boot Award was the first Pennsylvania Turnpike job Tresco Paving had ever taken on. “In Western Pennsylvania, there are some large players, and Tresco is a smaller company, but they were the low bidder,” says Terry Dreher, a materials manager supervisor for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority. “I had never worked with them before, but from the first day, everything was open door. Everything they did was transparent. I was impressed.”

To deter speeding drivers around his crews, Tresco bought two used police cars and parks them at his worksites.

“The Golden Boot Award is pretty highly regarded,” Dreher says. “A lot of it is the ride quality, but the evaluations are also based on the performance of the materials from the plant, safety, completing the job on time and overruns on materials. They had experience on PennDot roads but our specs are a lot stricter and their plant performed beautifully.”

“He’s out there on the job working with them. I don’t know of any other presidents or CEOs who work with their men at 3 a.m. on a Sunday night, but Sonny will,” Dreher says.

First choice

Jim Rumbaugh, president of The Meritage Group, a Pittsburg – area builder and developer has been contracting Tresco to do paving almost from the beginning. “We have several choices in the Pittsburgh area and we continually go back to Tresco paving because of the quality of the work, the quality of the people and the timeliness of the jobs.”

Paving takes not only technical skills but people skills too, Rumbaugh says. “Sonny’s best quality is his even disposition. He’s hard not to like, and he’s very polite. He doesn’t yell and scream. He just keeps talking nicely and at the end of the day he usually gets people to agree to his way of doing things.”

Memories of the early years and the challenges they faced motivate Sonny and Vince Tresco to continue growing their business, even in a down economy. Vince’s enthusiasm is contagious in the company. “For the future, our hearts remain full and our doors remain open,” Vince says. “Excited about the direction our company is moving, we are pleased to announce the addition of our third asphalt plant, a new Gencor UltraPlant capable of producing 500 tons per hour, which will open this spring. Through diversification we plan to take the next step in our industry and elevate the business to a whole new level.” EW

 

To view a video of Sonny Tresco’s advice for contractors starting out, go to equipmentworld.com/digital or use your smartphone to scan the tag.

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