A fresh outlook
Brothers Mike and Claude Cloutier lead their family-owned company into a new market
By Kathryn Buxton
It is a busy morning at the new RC & Sons Paving plant in Augusta. A succession of trucks rumble into the quarry, pull up to the twin silos, fill up with hot mix asphalt and leave for job sites throughout the area. Even in the midst of a hectic morning, it is impossible to overlook stunning views from the plant. It is late summer and the rolling hills of northwest Augusta are hazy shades of deep green and blue.
Brothers Mike and Claude Cloutier are understandably proud of RC & Sons’ new views – both outside and inside the new asphalt plant. The Augusta site is the company’s second major expansion within the past decade. And after having the company operations based in Lewiston-Auburn for more than three decades, the Augusta plant has given RC & Sons a firm foothold in a new market.
RC & Sons Paving was founded in 1976 by Mike and Claude’s grandfather Romeo Cloutier and their father and uncle Maurice and Richard Cloutier. Their base of operations was Lewiston. After Romeo retired, Maurice bought out his brother’s share of the business in 2000. By that time Maurice had been joined in this business by his two sons, Mike and Claude, and in 2003 they opened RC & Sons’ first asphalt-producing plant in Auburn in 2003.
Today, Maurice is company president, while Mike and Claude share the title of vice president. Like the generation before them, they are partners with their father in the business. Claude oversees quality control and the company’s finances, including estimating; Mike oversees operations and human resources. Family is key to their success. Mike and Claude’s mom Claire works in the Lewiston office. Mike’s father-in-law Eric O’Connor works as an equipment operator. Mike’s son Scott and Claude’s daughter Taylor both have worked summers for the paving company. And Mike said his 12-year-old daughter Brittany likes to come along on jobs and has been known to throw in her “two cents” on how to run things. Mike said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if she decided to join the family business, as well.
The company’s growth has been slow and steady. A few years ago, they decided they wanted to test the waters and began bidding on work around Augusta. They have worked with CPM Constructors on two bridge projects in the area and were the paving contractor on several commercial projects, including the Augusta Crossing shopping plaza that opened in late 2007. They also had done paving projects for several nearby towns, including Readfield, Fayette and Monmouth.
“We’ve been doing jobs up here for a while, and there seemed to be the opportunity,” said Claude. So, as the 2008 paving season wound down, the Cloutiers began to crunch numbers and consider expansion in earnest. The only question was where and what.
The “where” turned out to be at the site of an existing quarry owned by Steven McGee Construction, just off West River Road in Augusta. RC & Sons leases the site and purchases the graded material needed for asphalt paving from McGee.
The “what” is a 120-ton-per-hour ALmix drum plant the company purchased second hand this spring from an Alabama paving contractor that was downsizing. The Cloutiers liked the idea of the ALmix plant, because it was nearly identical in size and set-up to their plant in Auburn. They knew that would speed their start-up and training time. Claude Cloutier and RC & Sons’ operations manager Dennis Spencer flew down to Alabama to inspect it this spring and finalize the purchase. The plant was shipped to Maine and constructed in May. The plant began operating in early June.
Mike said the expansion went smoothly because they have worked in the Augusta market before and were familiar with the plant set up and operation. “We knew what we were getting into,” said Mike. Still, there were many details along the way.
The Cloutiers had to test material at the McGee quarry to make sure that it had the right qualities for asphalt mix. They also had to prepare the site for the asphalt plant and secure permits for hauling. (McGee already had permitted the site for an asphalt plant when it established its quarry there).
RC & Sons also went on a hiring spree, taking on four new employees to staff the Augusta site and a full paving crew of nine. That brought the company’s total work force to 43 at the two plants and central office in Lewiston.
The new plant also was a size that the Cloutiers knew could fill a niche in the market. The expansion, said Mike, was a carefully calculated investment. At 120 tons per hour, the new plant makes RC & Sons extremely competitive on a variety of commercial, municipal and state jobs in the Augusta area.
They knew this from experience. Their Auburn plant has proven that, by being small and flexible, they are not only competitive but able to squeeze more paving days out of the short Maine construction season.
Their clients appreciate that flexibility, said Mike, and that is why in recent years they have been able to operate 10 months out of the year when the weather holds and the demand is there.
“Last year it was 11 months,” said Mike, who said that RC & Sons was the paving subcontractor on an emergency job for MaineDOT in January. The company paved the approaches to a temporary bridge crossing the Cobbosseecontee Stream. CPM Constructors of Freeport was the primary.
“We were lucky on that one. It was 40 degrees the day we paved, and the next day there was a big snowstorm,” recalled Mike.
Even as the Cloutiers were gearing up for the expansion, Mike was taking on a new personal challenge. This year, he was elected president of the Maine Asphalt Pavement Association, an industry organization active in promoting safety, education and technological advancements in paving. The company is also a member of MBTA and the Maine Chapter of the Associated Builders and Constructors, Inc. and a sponsor of a Little League team in their hometown.
Both brothers admit to having occasional doubts about the wisdom of expanding at a time when many businesses are downsizing. But for now, the outlook looks bright. The new plant has attracted a steady stream of work – from small firms hauling for the residential market to municipal and state paving projects. In fact, both plants have been busy producing asphalt for projects spanning the map of southern and central Maine.
Not all of the work has been modest-sized projects. The company just landed a sizable job – it calls for 41,000 tons of hot mix – as the paving sub for the 11-mile reconstruction of Route 9 near Sabattus. The job is one of several projects the company is working on that is being funded by federal stimulus legislation passed earlier this year by Congress. (K & K Excavation of Turner is the primary on the project.)
The key, according to Mike, is not whether the project is big or small. It’s whether the customer gets what they want and need. “Our motto used to be ‘a small family company doing big business,’” said Mike. “But the truth is we’re a very customer oriented business. We’re small enough to take care of the customer.”
RC and Sons Paving
942 Main Street
Lewiston, Maine 04240-5175
Paving contractor with hot mix asphalt plants in Augusta and Auburn