Increasing Highway Construction Projects Keeps F.B. Hale Running

Environmental and public safety goals are becoming more stringent with the increasing amount of construction regulations by government agencies. Many companies have had to deal with a difficult economy in recent years, but they have also added those stringent regulations to their list, which has become quite the one-two punch.

Such has not been the case with F.B. Hale, Inc. of Hudson, New Hampshire. The 25-year-old street sweeping business is holding steady, and its owner, Fred Hale, believes those tougher construction regulations are the reason. “It’s definitely helped us out,” says Hale. “Ninety-nine percent of our work is cleaning up for milling and paving operations on the highways. The states and towns have become a lot more strict on construction companies keeping their projects clean, and this has made a ton of work for us.”

Milling is the process of gouging up a layer of macadam before laying down a fresh surface, and, according to Hale, there was no milling of existing roads occurring five or ten years ago. With the new regulations, however, Hale explains, “You can’t even begin to put down asphalt until the milled section is squeaky clean.” And that’s where F.B. Hale comes in.

Economic Impact
F.B. Hale’s revenue, which is $900 thousand a year, hasn’t changed much in the last few years, and Hale notes that the increase in road work has offset the drop in construction clean up. “Usually, on a Friday afternoon, we’d have 25 or 30 sites to clean up before the weekend,” he says, “But last year and this, we have only one site that we do.”

F.B. Hale has found it necessary to make only a few concessions in order to accommodate the economic changes of the last few years, and none have been to increase the cost of their services. “Our rates are the same this year as last year and the year before, although, our diesel prices are 30 to 40 percent higher. We try to buy some of our products—like diesel fuel—in quantity to save money.” The company’s GPS devices have been helpful on that score. “Don’t want to make any wrong turns if you can help it, with fuel at $3.80 to $4 a gallon,” Hale says.

Slow and Steady Wins The Race
“Back in 1985,” Hale recalls, “I had a pretty good-sized snow plowing and ice removal business here in New Hampshire. Because we sanded a lot of parking lots, I thought we could have a pretty good service picking up all the sand in the spring. No one else was doing this at the time.”

The following year, Hale purchased a small sweeper and offered the spring clean up in with the price for snowplowing. It wasn’t long before F.B. Hale was getting more work than the company could handle with one machine. So he bought a 1986 Elgin Pelican and kept on buying more machines to keep up with the demand. Today, six Schwarze M6000 sweepers are at work, with Hale and five of his employees at the helms, and he knows he could easily use a seventh sweeper to meet the needs of clients in his service area which includes Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.

F.B. Hale no longer does the wintertime gigs with the snow and ice. “We decided to give up snow plowing and stick to one thing,” he says, “Since it takes all winter to do maintenance and repairs on our machines to have them ready in the spring.”

Effective Team
Spring is when the year typically begins for Hale, doing clean up for a few landscaping companies and several towns. That’s followed by construction work for paving and milling operations on the highways, which usually starts in May, and Hale relies on a team of good, qualified employees.

Hale knows the skill set involved with street sweeping and that it isn’t a job just anybody can do. Two of his drivers have been with him 17 or 18 years, and he says, “Street sweeping is not an everyday job. It seems to take a special person with special skills to get around the curves and islands and keep the machines running. We’re very fussy about the work we do and the appearance of our machines when we go out, and I believe you can see the quality of our work in the finished product. I get satisfaction from that.” And that’s why all F.B. Hale drivers are also good mechanics, as it’s a rare occasion for a machine to be down for more than a couple of days.

Hale admits that the company doesn’t do advertising, relying instead on word-of-mouth. While he intends to establish a website, it will be primarily to give the company a presence everyone can reach. He says, “We’ve been in it so long now, and we have a good customer base of people who tell others about us.”

Hale says, “Our biggest challenge is when it’s rained for three or four days, and we have to scramble to keep everyone happy and not say ‘no’ to anyone.” And that’s not a bad problem to have.

For more information on F.B. Hale, Inc. call 603.883.6615

Story by Anne Biggs