In Episode #05 of Inside Out with Belgard, Joe Raboine, Belgard’s Director of Residential Hardscapes, sits down with Phil Bahler, veteran industry icon and Owner of Pave Tool Innovators. With more than 800 innovations under his belt, Phil is truly a visionary whose passion has simplified the hardscapes installations for thousands of contractors.
Joe and Phil share a passion for the outdoor living industry and an understanding of how tools and the right equipment can eliminate common pain points, allowing contractors and the industry as a whole to grow and optimize opportunities. As former contractors themselves, they both bring a real-world view to boosting efficiency on the jobsite, including:
- How to install product more efficiently and effectively through the use of tools
- How equipment and tools can support a more diverse crew or employee base
- Newest tools on the market and how they can impact job efficiency directly
- How to recruit and retain the next generation of contractors
- Recent growth in the industry and what that means for our future
- How to value or bid work once efficiencies are realized
Episode Takeaway: Phil Bahler is driven by his passion and compassion for not only the industry, but those who labor within the industry. With a little extra planning and the right education, contractors can take advantage of the new solutions available. Our industry presents various pain points but using the right tools and equipment can make a huge difference for employee satisfaction and retention as well as the bottom line.
To listen and subscribe to Belgard’s Inside Out Podcast, visit Belgard.com/InsideOut.
Transcript for INSIDE OUT WITH BELGARD: HOW EQUIPMENT BOOSTS EFFICIENCY WITH PHIL BAHLER
Joe Raboine: Welcome to Inside Out with Belgard, a podcast made for professionals by professionals who are passionate about outdoor living. I’m your host, Joe Raboine director of residential hardscapes at Belgard. I started my career as a hardscape contractor over 25 years ago. I’ve always loved creating spaces that both bring people together and connect them to the natural world. I’ve met some amazing people along the way. Who’ve impacted the industry and inspired me personally today.
I’m excited to introduce the hardscape tool and equipment guru, Phil Bahler veteran industry icon and owner of tool innovators. Phil started his career as a contractor in 1985 and founded Pave Tool Innovators in 2007. That company name is not an exaggeration with over 80 inventions under his belt, Phil is truly a visionary whose passion has simplified the installation of hardscape for thousands of contractors. He also brings a wealth of experience to hardscapers looking to grow their business.
Welcome Phil, to, Inside Out with Belgard. How are you?
Phil Bahler: I’m doing great, Joe, and thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be here.
Joe Raboine: First of all. Thank you for joining this show. I love what you do and we have had a great relationship over the last couple years and excited about what we’re doing together, and where we’re headed as an industry. But for our guests, I’d love to have you kind of touch on, you know, your past 35-plus years in the business. How did you end up deciding that you needed to start a tool company for the hardscape industry?
Phil Bahler: So like you mentioned, and it’s good to note that we started in ’85 when we started our paver business nobody even knew what pavers even were. So it was just coming into the states. It was strong, fairly strong up in Canada. And as it moved on to the states, we just kind of gravitated towards it. There was four of us brothers. We always wanted to start a business together as a family. And, that’s what we did. And for some reason or other, we gravitated towards hardscapes. I still ask myself the question, why? Why we dealt with such heavy material. But we did. We had a tremendous love and passion for the industry right off the bat since the mid eighties. And we continually grew our company, originally doing a lot of driveway installations. Our sales tactic was buy your last driveway first. And it was a great sales tactic. We’d installed tremendous amount of driveways over and over and over. And we just had a lot of love for it, but we realized very early on that we’re talking about a very difficult in.
And then we found it hard to maintain help to keep our employees coming back year after year. They’d work for us, they’d be like, this is not what, I’m not cut out for this. They’d move on. Couple things we noticed. We wanted to be able to get away in the wintertime. And you were tied down with snowplowing. We also used different equipment, and trucks, really for what we needed for the hardscape industry, as opposed to what we needed for snowplowing. So we were investing in these four-wheel drive trucks, which weren’t necessary to be running in the summer months, and just a lot of different things in that category alone. Saved us a lot of money on equipment. So we were able to transition a little bit more and we did. We focused more on how can we become quicker, faster, more efficient in the hardscape industry.
And we were all kind of, those kind of gurus had loved to cut and torch and weld and all kinds of things. And so I just kind of, I always had these brainy ideas and I started cutting and torch and making these different unique tools. And pretty soon we realized that these tools were pretty effective for our industry and taking which we use as our quote now is taking that hard outta hardscaping. It was amazing how guys were like, they they’d come back every year and say,” Phil, what tools did you invent this winter?”Because they knew I was trying to come up with products to alleviate that pain, the pain of pallet to pavement. Cause that’s really the biggest struggle. And that biggest strain is to getting that product off the pallets into the ground. And we did it, we had all kinds of solutions that we created and slowly we developed these products over time and I always was in the field.
I never did have an office vision in our company. My brother, Tom ran the office and the other three of us were in the field. And that helped us to maintain that high-end quality. We were able to be on the same level as our employees, which was crucial. I’ve always had that thought or mentality of doing to others. You want them to do unto you? When I was out there breaking my back day after day. And it was nice to be able to come up with products and tools and systems that all of a sudden together as a team mm-hmm, , we’re working faster, we’re working more efficient the next day guys show up and they actually have energy to do something and they’re not beat. And the same thing at the end of the year, we would lay our help off typically, because we’re in the winter months and in the springtime, they’d be willing to come back. They know that we’re out there trying to create the very best tools and systems to install that product easily.
Joe Raboine: Yeah. That’s awesome. It’s invaluable, right? Having that hands-on experience and coming from the industry and, you know, testing that equipment, your brothers, Bahler Brothers is still in existence. Correct?
Phil Bahler: So, absolutely. So I run the tool business now and my brothers actually just transition Bahler brothers into one of my nephews now as owner and operations manager, Josh, and just really going well. They got 12, 15 crews going out every day, mostly hardscapes. And about 40 on the payrolls. It’s quite the company. It’s a well-oiled wheel, I tell people oftentimes. They really do. They’ve got it down to a science as far as that product in the ground and the quality is just second to none. Just amazing what they do.
Joe Raboine: Wow. That’s fantastic. I mean, that’s a lot of crews for specifically hardscape and especially in a colder weather climate like that. That’s fantastic.
Phil Bahler: We love it.
Joe Raboine: So I think you told me at one time, I think you have what, 80 different tools that you’ve invented is that right?
Phil Bahler: It’s about 80 different products that we have developed for the hard scape industry. And again, it started out with just one, you know, so it’s definitely grown over the years and I have a lot of passion and compassion. For not only the industry, but also for those that labor in the industry. And I am constantly looking for pain and that’s really what our tools, every single one of our tools or products drives out a form of pain. And there is a lot of pain points that we see in this industry. So by utilizing tools, the right equipment, it makes a huge difference at the end result in what you’re trying to achieve at the end of the.
Joe Raboine: I think it just even talking to you and seeing the way that your company runs and you can definitely tell that you have that perspective and that definitely shines through. You and I, I think really hit it off and having this conversation in particular with how do we, as an industry- I mean, obviously, you know, Belgard, we’re here to develop and sell and market products and make that process easier on the front end, to some degree. And I think one of the cool things is the more that we work together, the more that we can kind of collaborate on product development and making sure that there are solutions that help make the installation part easier. As we all know the last couple years have been really insane for our industry and really opened up, I would say almost a new era for us collectively, right? I mean, the, the interest is at an all time high, the awareness is an all time high, but the challenge is, is how do we get that product in the ground more efficiently? And almost more importantly, how do we recruit and retain that next generation? Because as you said, I mean, this is not an easy business. It’s very heavy. It’s not super attractive to young people sometime to see there’s 20 pallets that weigh 3000 pounds each and we gotta get those in the next two days. Like that’s a lot of product to pick up and lift and the good news is, through your experience and through some of the partners that I know, you’re distributor for Optimists, there are tools that have been developed over the last 40 years that really do make that part of the project easier. I would say collectively the opportunity for all of us is just bringing greater awareness to it, right? That if you are set up properly, you can install this in a much more efficient way in a more professional way, and really set yourself up for decades of installation, right? Instead of maybe a couple decades or before you kind of wear yourself out.
Phil Bahler: Absolutely. I’ll go back to what you first talked about it and how exciting it really is for us as a hardscape industry to see how it’s grown over the past few years, and even probably starting out with the pandemic. It just amazing how the consumer, being a homeowner, has really seen value in being able to bring families together, bring friends together, and it’s increased that outdoor living, which is its very unique and people are willing to lay down their hard-earned cash. And I often say this a lot of times, it humors me when people can be writing out a check for a hundred or 200 grand and still smiling. To me, that’s still amazing in our industry that because they love it. They’ve been saving and doing everything they possibly can to build up this project, this backyard project that they wanna do, and to be able to look forward to their friends and family being together. So that I think is real unique of how it’s grown and we’ve been waiting for this.
Obviously I’ve been waiting for this since the mid-80s. For this to come around to this point where all of a sudden it’s a tremendous industry to be in. You can make a nice living at it. Just a lot of unique things that have come to pass, but it goes back to obviously what you’re talking about is that struggle of getting in 3000-pound pallets laid day after day after day. And how do you do that? Efficiently and effectively. And that’s really where our tools in the past couple years have just elevated tremendous in sales, because people are feeling that pain they’re feeling that struggle. They also can’t get the help that was out there. Like you mentioned, these young people, they don’t wanna do this hard physical work. So how do we skin the cat a different way so to speak and that’s come up with these tools. Plus systems equal greater efficiencies. I at times relate our industry to the woodworking industry and there’s basically a tool for every aspect of woodworking. And yet with the hardscapes, it’s like it’s barbaric it’s, even with the tools that we’ve developed, there’s still a lot of systems in our industry that could use help or that could use some tools of some sort. So I think it’s very interesting that we have these opportunities to be able to supply the contractor with these proper tools and systems.
You mentioned also the Optimus line. So Optimas, one of the oldest tool companies in the world- I think they are the oldest tool company really started in the seventies, producing equipment for getting product off the pallet, into the field, into the laying field. And they’ve developed hundreds of tools over the course of those years. And it really was an honor that we were chosen out. They were searching, they headhunted Pave Tool. And in fact, when they reached out to me at first, I didn’t even know if it was for real. I’ve always held Optimas on this high plateau of being just the elite of the elite. As far as a tool company, I couldn’t imagine that they’d want to do with Pave Tool and they were persistent in catching up to us and reaching out to us. And I finally did. I reached out to Optimas and it was interesting cuz they knew more about myself than I knew about myself. They had just done that much research on myself, who Pave Tool is and where we came from, and really where we’re headed and it’s been a tremendous, tremendous partnership that we’ve had together and getting the products from Germany. Which is where Optimas is located into the States. And U.S. Used to be their smallest exporter of products and now last year they just presented us with an award. We’ve been their greatest exporter of their products out of Germany. So it’s been an exciting few years first since only been a three-year journey for us with Optimas. But we are utilizing their products in several different ways. They have the machines, you can sit on, that’ll grab an entire layer and set it in a ground, which has to be laid in a certain configuration on your pallet to make that work. So that’s a very unique type setting and more always thought of in the commercial end of things.
But yet there’s advancements being made that could be used in a residential setting. They also create a head that can go right on the end of any standard excavator. So that’s really been changing things I’ve done some tip of the weeks and whatnot of even if you just took an excavator and grabbed a layer of pavers and brought it over to where an installer was that eliminates that two or three guys physically picking up pavers off the pallet, carrying them over to the install field and setting ’em on the ground. Of course you have a lot of bending. You have a lot of picking. There’s a lot that goes on getting that product from pallet to pavement. So even just this simple head, which we call the Multi Six 3K hooks up to a standard excavator, it can rotate 360 degrees. A lot of times those products could be laid right in the ground. But if not, it can be brought to the laying field. We also have the Tube Lifter Systems, which are very unique, which Optimas was the original developer of that tube lifter, which we’re all familiar with. Some of ’em on tracks, a drive machine, some you can hook up to a skid steer or a loader, and it has a tube on it and you’re effortlessly- it makes products weightless. With two fingers you can literally run this unit and suction up product off the pallet. It has a long arm, about 10 feet of reach and you can set it into the ground. So those are unique things that we’ve really tried to really propel into the industry and help guys to visualize and see that.
Okay. I can spend. Say 20 for like the head or 30, 40, 50 grand for some of these machines. But yet when I start doing the math and think about it logically, any employee that I take on is gonna cost me at least $50,000. To get that employee out the door for a year’s salary. By the time you put any kind of labor burden and benefits and whatnot. So you start doing the math, I mean, some of this equipment is overbuilt. We have machinery out there that’s produced by Optimas that’s still in use, and some of these machines state back to the eighties. You’re talking about equipment that, we know German technology. Obviously they’re known for their high quality. And we often tell ’em, you’re building your products too good. You can’t update with new products, but it’s a great thing to be able to have the confidence to solve a product that you know is going to service your customers for many, many years.
Joe Raboine: And I think that brings up a great point. This isn’t just about buying tools for the sake of buying tools. It’s about creating that efficiency and most of the companies that are purchasing these types of equipment, we’re seeing go from three, four people on a crew to maybe two, right?
Phil Bahler: It can, it can literally cut your crews in half.
Joe Raboine: I mean, that’s incredible. So if you think about, even not looking at it in terms of elimination, but the growth of the company, right? If you’ve got eight people, 12 people, all of a sudden you can have three, four crews potentially with that number, with this type of specialized equipment, which, I mean, you look at the growth opportunities right there. It’s huge and the fact that most of these tools will last a decade or two. It’s pretty minimal per year, right? I mean, it’s almost insane.
Phil Bahler: It’s pennies. It really is pennies. It’s amazing how that transitions in the dollars when you spread it out over time. And it’s a small amount of money to invest, but it’s a great investment.
Joe Raboine: Yeah, absolutely. And I think the cool thing too is, you guys have tools that are from small hand tools in terms of like marking and layout all the way up to, you know, the Optimas equipment. So it’s not just about one specific tool, right? You’ve got vacs and clamps and it’s not just for pavers too. There’s products for retaining walls for boulders, for stone steps. Um, really anything that you’re doing on that installation, you guys have a, a solution for to make it easier, right?
Phil Bahler: Absolutely. And that’s like you mentioned anywhere down to small handles, you think one of our least expensive tools is like our hammer bit that goes in a SDS max hammer drill for hitting the spikes in, on your edging or even like our new hybrid edging, it has a V-shaped stake. It can drive that stake down in there. And you can generally do, if you have a guy right fresh off the start and swing in the hammer, as hard as he can, you’re still installing twice of what that person would be installing, so you get to the end of a walkway, a hundred-foot walkway. We were installing 50 or 60 spikes. Now of a sudden, you start tripling and quadrupling. That amount of install, of what you’ll be able to produce with just a simple tool like that. You mentioned marketing tools. We have a lot of different marking tools. One of our latest one is the radius template marker for marking like your circular fire pits. It gets every cap, the exact same size, just something that guys have been dreaming about having something that can do this for ’em. And again, that’s kind of where I have that vision of looking. It’s like, “Hey, where’s the pain? And is there a product that I can humanly, possibly build?” and it has to be simple and it can’t be outrageously expensive. So that’s very unique too, with our industry. I have to really think like a contractor.
Joe Raboine: which you, you are.
Phil Bahler: That’s the biggest benefit of who I am. I spent my entire career, 35 years in the field each and every day so I get it. I understand the pain. I see the pain, I feel the pain. And to be able to come up with just a simple little tool. That’s not outrageously expensive, that can drive out some of this waste or time, you know, it really is. It’s just a home run for everybody and we hear it over and over again of how much they love, how much they appreciate our tools, how much it’s been life-changing for them. And to me that’s one of the greatest rewards I could ever get from anything of just hearing guys say that.
Joe Raboine: That’s fantastic. Yeah, a couple things. I used that Radius tool by the way, last year with the dream home build, that thing’s amazing. We helped the crew layout, the fire pit caps because it was an odd shaped large fire pit. Normally you gotta kind of space them out and then you try to measure and you come up with what you think is you do some math and it’s cumbersome, but that tool made it super easy. I think what’s cool too. Is you mentioned it earlier. It isn’t just about the tools, it’s about the systems, right? It’s creating this consistent system that is scalable and anyone can utilize and your tip of the weeks, you have created probably hundreds of videos.
Phil Bahler: Just shy of 400 at this point 380 something right now.
Joe Raboine: Yeah. YouTube videos. That’s incredible. I’ve watched a lot of them and, and a lot of them don’t even talk about tools. They just talk about best practices in the industry. So I think for those who are listening, who haven’t, or aren’t familiar with pave tool, you and your, your team bring. A whole lot of value beyond just the tool piece when it comes to videos and content and education.
Phil Bahler: The tools, obviously I need to make a living. So I do need to sell some tools, but I do have that much passion for this. I love to share any tips, any tricks. Our phone lines are open. I have contractors that call me on a regular basis asking how do I do this? Or how do I do that? I do I enjoy helping people drive out that pain.
So for example, I mean, like for walls, we have a system, so automatically you get to a job. Our contractors are our employees that work for us available bars. They know automatically they’re gonna take out the wall screen, which is the chains with the pipes on it that you’re gonna set with a laser to get perfect level setting. Guys have been doing over 200 linear feet of base with that tool. So that comes out automatically. Then the BL 180, it’s a small clamp. You can set your base course or that either by hand or with an excavator, then we automatically would go to our BL four 50, which grabs. Two to even five or six retaining wall block to set on the wall. And that’s done with an excavator at that point. So all these little tools and systems, it not only speeds up the process, but it creates a system that you can go from A to Z much easier and simpler, faster, quicker, and unique thing about some of the block clamps. It opens up the door for all different kind of applicants to come into your business.
It’s not just these big strap and muscular guys. I, myself, I’m small built. I did a lot of the vertical part of our business with the retaining walls, a lot of that uniqueness. And like I said, being small, I was trying to drum up different ways in my mind saying how could I come up with ways to install this product easier and faster. So that’s very unique that if you give the crew, the right tools and systems, you don’t need these big strapping guys to get that product from pallet to pavement, you can utilize all aspects of help that’s out there.
Joe Raboine: As a large manufacturer, we’re trying to forecast like everyone, the future, right? And be set for that demand and, you know, build infrastructure and the equipment in place to produce the product. So our belief is this industry is gonna continue to grow. I mean, you’ll, there always be economic headwinds and ups and downs, but our long-term view of the future is this business could be twice as big, maybe in 10 years as it is today. And even today, I mean, you look at most contractors even before COVID, which really increased the craziness a bit -even before that it was not uncommon for contractors to be booked for several months out, so if you look at that, that growth opportunity and simplifying this process in terms of recruitment and training, but also speeding it up. It opens up a whole new potential era for the industry, right? So if people today have to wait 3, 6, 9 months to get a project started, a lot of those people may choose to not even go through that pain. They may spend their money elsewhere. Right?
So if we can figure out ways to, to really increase that efficiency at every level, it’s a win-win for all of us. And on the recruitment side to your point. Historically you look for, you know, very strong people because that’s what I mean, you’re lifting 50, a hundred pounds over and over all day long. I mean, literally tons a day. Where is all of a sudden you’ve got equipment that do all that, or at least a good portion of it for you can, all, all of a sudden you’ve got a whole new market, whole new labor market you can tap into and opens up opportunities for anyone really that depending on, on gender, on size or any of that? Which we need. Not just us, I mean, all the trades need that, but for us, especially because of what we do and because of the sheer weight, it’s very important.
Phil Bahler: You talked about growth in our industry. And I don’t think we’ve hardly seen the tip of the iceberg. If you go to Germany, you don’t see any blacktop in Germany, they don’t have any oil base or petroleum products, or very rarely. So what you would see in the United States is a, like a blacktop parking lot in Germany, it would be all pavers. Even their farms, they’ll stack their corn or their feed for their cattle. It’s on pavers. That’s how fluent the paver industry is over there. It’s just, everything is on pavers. Every town has a paver plant it. So obviously it’s heavy material to ship. And I think that’s what drives the price up in the states a lot, but every small town has their paver plant. Because every driveway, every parking lot, you know, you go to the grocery store, all the parking lots any kind of business. It’s just all pavers. And I think we’re starting to see a little bit of change in the U.S. And I think where we’re really gonna see it shine is some of the permeable applications we’re here in different townships, past laws that you need X amount of, percent of your parking lot to be Perme. To allow that water to get down to the aquifer again, I think that’s gonna be where we, where we shine and some of these larger pieces of equipment for laying product fast and efficiently. I think that’s where we’re gonna see a, a big transition in change in our industry.
Joe Raboine: Feels like some of this has come full circle. I started as a contractor in the early nineties and I remember. Pavers were heavily focused on driveways and, you know, kind of those utility applications.
And, you know, obviously, outdoor living is still our bread and butter and will be continued to be the biggest opportunity probably. But we, as an industry, haven’t really gone after driveways as much. And some of those other, utility municipal commercial applications like we should. And I think equipment like this, obviously when you get into those situations, you absolutely have to have it to be efficient. But there’s so much room to grow in that aspect for contractors who maybe have only done residential and haven’t dabbled into that. And you’re right, things like permeable are gonna continue to grow. You’re gonna see that continue to be mandated in many, many cities and states, probably in the next 10 years, for sure.
Based on the way our industry has evolved and kind of the common practice of how we bid some contractors will purchase some of this equipment, but they’re not quite sure how to bid it. Right? So if this equipment can cut the time of installation in half, or maybe even by two-thirds, in some cases, how do they take care of that? I think you’ve done a good job of educating on that in some respects in the videos. But I think collectively as we become more efficient as an industry, that is something we need to kind of talk through.
I tell contractors this, you know, homeowners, they don’t want you in their backyard, you’re only there because you’re a necessary part of that process, right? To get what they want in the end, which is that space. So if you can get in and out of there more quickly, that’s actually something you could upsell, not don’t, don’t look at as a negative or something you need to necessarily justify. And if they see your roll on that project with, you know, a quarter million dollars worth of equipment with trucks and tools, I don’t think they’re gonna ask any questions necessarily about the cost. They’ll see that you are a highly specialized professional company and not somebody that just showed up with a truck and a wheelbarrow. Do you see that as a challenge or, I mean, what are you hearing from contractors that you’re selling some of these two.
Phil Bahler: So I think in regards to like the equipment, we’re seeing more and more contractors where the light bulbs are going off and saying, okay, I need to invest in the equipment. And there you’ve often heard me say about, you know, putting pen to paper. So doing the math, what does it cost to purchase a piece of equipment? How many years do I think I’ll have this? What would be the maintenance and fuel over the course of a year? And you just start simply breaking this down. It’s just simple math. You don’t have to be real. But just kind of break that down and see what your expense would be per see, per month, and then say per week, per day. And if you’re starting to utilize this piece of equipment, you know, two and three days a. It’s probably to the point where you could purchase that equipment and make it worthwhile.
There’s obviously the renting option. You can always rent beforehand, even Bahler brothers. We don’t own extremely large excavator. We have 13, 18,000-pound excavators, but not anything like the 30 or 40,000-pound range. So when we get into large site work, we’ll either sub that out or we’ll rent that equipment. And I love that part of our industry, that big site work and whatnot. It adds a lot to what you can do as a company and building these products, but don’t be afraid to rent a piece of equipment. And again, you can look at that math long term and see, okay, when is it time to buy that? And when you show up on a job site and you’re set up very efficient, you have the right tools, the right job. But even our hardscape company, Bahler we’re set up.
And I use this analogy a lot of times, if I have a brain injury, I’m not gonna go to my general practitioner, I’ll go to a brain specialist. That’s the same way. Bahler Brothers operates as we’re a hardscape specialist. We’re not out there mowing lawns. We’re not out there doing a lot of landscaping. We do have a couple crews that can fill in and do some landscaping because that was really a request of a lot of our homeowners. They said, “why can’t you do the final? You guys do such an awesome job. We want you.” So we did, we hired on some other talent to be able to do some finish up planting and whatnot. And we’ve taken that to a nice level also, but that, that equipment and being on a job. Very fast, very efficient, and we’ve broken it down. Even ourselves. We have wall crews, we have dig out crews. That’s all. That’s all they’ll do is go in and dig and prep. And if they’re laying a 60 mill paver, two and three eights, they’ll prep down about two and seven eights, three inches from finished grade, they paint it out and they pull out our install crews would come with strictly their betting layer, screw rails, and whatnot. And they’re gonna come in with just suction equipment. They’re gonna lay the project. Cut fit. Edge sand it’s compact and you’re done. And then we also have those touch up crews behind that can do that little bit of landscaping, but we’re broke down into all those different crews, again, being that specialist like that brain surgeon, that’s what we are in the hardscape industry. We break it down individually so that we are the most efficient. And each crew has their specialized tools for that particular part of the project. And people are like, I can’t believe you’re in and outta here in two weeks. I love it. People do not want you in their backyard. And these companies, I hear different companies, they drag a job out two and three months and they’re firefighters. Oh, they got a fire over here. And then you go put out a fire for Ms. Jones, cuz she’s complaining up. Somebody else is complaining, then you switch there. So it’s very interesting that way. And we try not to be firefighters. We try to be very professional and get in there, get the job done.
Joe Raboine: That’s awesome.
Phil Bahler: And today’s day and time we have a real challenge with product availability. It’s interesting. You mentioned about backlog of work, Bahler Brothers, even with all the crews they have, they’re backed up for the entire year. Wow. Which is amazing. And they got a lot, a lot of work on the boards, but so now they actually have a specialist that they hired that’s going through every job and making sure that all the I are dotted, all the Ts are crossed. So when they got boots on the ground, they’re moving. At 110% and they’re fast forward and they’re getting the job done and they’re not gonna have those hiccups of being shortage of product and whatnot. So to me, that’s crucial. Yeah. To me, it’s just important planning. The job is what it is doing, the job you can’t just show up on a job and all say, oh, what do you think you wanna do today? Or, oh, you know what? I probably should go get that pipe. I’ve done work for our local, uh, distributor. and I was amazed at the contractors that pull into that, into that distributor mm-hmm and buying products, and they load up their truck and then they’d leave. Next thing you they’d be back the next day. And they get another pallet. Like , you know, we utilize all our resources. If we’re on the road driving, we’re not making money. So we try to sub all that out as much as possible, even triaxle. I mean, we have our large dump trucks and whatnot, and sometimes you’re forced to do some hauling. You’re not making money and haul. You can haul, hire a truck for $95 an hour. you should be on the ground working. It’s not worth you sitting in a truck for $95 an hour in a $200,000 dump truck. Yeah. So it’s very interesting. And we look at all those different angles and try to be productive and try to be profitable where we can be.
Joe Raboine: That’s awesome. It’s like the pave tool test kitchen, right? We’re gonna try it out and see if it works. And I so now that your nephew, you said your nephew owns it, so is he trying to strong army on getting a deal on pave tool tools? Or is that just part of the agreement?
Phil Bahler: They always strong arm me, but I’ll tell you we have an awesome, awesome relationship. I always say they’re my R and D team. So I go up with a new tool, try to get into their hands and okay, go ahead and break it. You know, and I see where the weakness is or what I gotta change or make different. But they’ve been awesome. And Josh, you couldn’t ask for a greater guy to, to run the company I’m really proud that he could be the one to take over Bahler Brothers. Cause I know he is gonna carry on that legacy of what we’ve stood for. Honesty, integrity, you know, all those things that, that mean so much to us is what’s grown the, the Bahler brothers name.
Joe Raboine: That’s great. I love that. I mean, one of the things that struck me and still I think is incredible, is the way that, For those that don’t know, Phil you and your wife and your two sons are all active members, right? It’s cool to see a family business like that continue to grow and thrive and you guys have been awesome to work with.
Phil Bahler: We have a lot of passion for it, like I said, and it’s unique and people that know me. I’m very honest, probably almost too honest, even as a salesman, if somebody comes to me and I don’t have the tool, I’ll actually send it to my competitor and say I will never oversell a customer. I won’t talk ’em into buying, say a paper related machine. If they’re not ready for it, I’ll say, no, you stick with this tool. I try to couple the, the right tool to the right company. So that they’re not over buying. And next thing you know, the product sits there and then they’re mad, you know, they’re upset that they spend all this money and they don’t even utilize something. And our staff is amazing here at Pave Tool, I mean, we’re all very educated on our tools. And again, we try to make those right fits so that customers are extremely happy with what they do purchase. I know how it is, you lay down that hard cash. We work so hard to make a dollar that you really wanna spend it wisely. And I encourage customers to us do your research. There’s other tools. There’s other products out. So take the time, do your research, whether it be hand tools or whether it would be those, that piece of equipment. That’s very unique. We run those Mecalacs, which is a very unique hybrid piece of very expensive, but it has a very, very unique niche. And, you know, you do the research and if that tool fits you fits the bill, then that’s, what’s worth going after.
Joe Raboine: You touched on that integrity, that authenticity. I mean, that’s really, I think what’s connected to you and I and your team. And we couldn’t ask for a better relationship with you guys. I know you’ve been really helpful in working with us last year at HNA (Hardscape North America) and you continue to help with Belgard U and other events. And, you know, for us, I’ve had people ask, you know, like, what’s the relationship? Is there, is there some type of a benefit that Belgard is receiving? So there’s no benefit other than that, we’re, we’re excited to have you as a partner, so to speak in terms of promotion. And we’re just trying to bring awareness to our contractors about what is out there. And you know, you guys have some fantastic products and I think more importantly, Your background and your insight is that combination of those is really what can help bring our contractors to the next level and not necessarily repeat the mistakes that Bahler Brothers made, or I made with my company back in the day, we can alleviate that learning curve, right? Just go, Hey. You don’t know everything per se, but you know, enough to help ease some of the pain as you said early on, right?
Phil Bahler: Walk on the blocks that I stumbled on. Definitely, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and then that’s some of the best education doctors pay a lot for their education- I’ve paid a lot for my education, a lot of mistakes and going back and fixing things and learning. And, a lot of people have looked us and asked to say, what are you doing in this situation? Or what did you learn? Different engineers that have engineered walls for me and I’ve run into different situation.” what do you think?” that’s, all I’ve ever known is the hardscape industry. So I still love it and have a lot of that passion for it. And just to be able to help people and just mention like yourself with Belgard. I mean, just to me, it’s amazing when you have a manufacturer that has that passion like I do.
I think that’s why we hit it off so well, Joe, you were a contractor as well as myself and you know that pain and to be able to ease that pain for contractors and say, no, stop, you know, take a minute back up, look what you could do. If you were to buy this, invest in this, whatever. Now all of a sudden you got a flowing system and you got guys that can continually work all day and they do show up the next day because they’re not half debt. It just means so much just to you put that little bit of extra effort into the thought process of how you’re getting product from a to Z. And it really is amazing. There are solutions out there now it’s just a matter of educating contractors that take advantage of these. So.
Joe Raboine: I think every morning I wake up with a little reminder of what that pain in my back. But you said it isn’t like a contractor has to start out and buy a $50,000 optimist machine. I mean, there’s a lot of little ways to incrementally get there. And for those who do wanna specialize, you know, they can obviously take it to whatever level they want. I do think the projects today. I mean, they’re nothing like the projects were 30 years ago. I mean, the complexity you’d use the alga of the woodworking. Back in the day, Holland stone patio was a big sell, right? I mean, that was a 15 by 20. That was a hard sell against concrete. And now today there’re these right multi hundred thousand dollars outdoor spaces that have kitchens and every possible feature you could ever imagine. So the industry has evolved to really become a fledged trade and the training necessarily, and the tools haven’t necessarily kept up with it, to the way woodworking has been around forever. So there’s endless tools that make things easier. But that’s, what’s exciting to me is, is having these conversations and looking for opportunities to, to simplify every single process of the project of achieving outdoor living spaces.
Phil Bahler: My staff gets after me cause I try to keep it to about five tools a year that we develop new tools. Sometimes it’s eight or 10, but it’s hard to get that marketing piece, going to be able to even get the tools out there. There’s tools that I’ve had out for three or five years and contractors only realizing now that we have ’em. So it’s difficult to build up that hu you go to show and you debut five or eight brand new tools. It’s hard to get everybody’s eyes on those tools. So we continue to try to increase people’s knowledge of our tools and what’s out there and what’s available. But it is important. And I go back to take the time to educate yourself, to see what is available because there’s, there’s definitely some nice solutions out there that can, that can help to ease that labor burden. Awesome. I know one thing that was very unique. How do I install these Artforms? They’re laid flat, but they need to be stood vertical. And so we did, we collaborated, we worked together and we came up with a solution and a tool recommendation that all of a sudden it really does ease that process. Like just amazing, and we were able to work with your contractor there on that one project and be able to show and just, they were just amazed at how it took a job that was grueling and finger pinching. And however you wanna word it, but yeah. All of a sudden it made it like, wow, this is really cool. So it was neat. And I love to do that. And we got some of those videos, like you said, on YouTube and Instagram and can check all that stuff out.
Joe Raboine: No, thanks for bringing that back up. I can’t, honestly, I can’t believe I forgot about that. So I asked Phil and his team last year to come and assist with the Dream Home build that was up in Vermont. And as you mentioned, Artforms was there. We had a lot of new products there, but art forms in particular, because it’s a heavy piece. The large panel weighs about 150 pounds. They said, Hey, can you help us with some solutions for this using some, a couple things, right? We used the two-person vac lift, which worked incredibly well for that. And we also used the all arounder optimist machine. Both were fantastic. And to your point, we worked with one of our BACS up there and we actually installed, I think that Artforms kitchen in just a few hours, it was extremely fast. Best part is, is no one was breaking their back to lift the pieces. Literally just walked over, picked them up off the pallet, tipped them in place and set ’em. And man, those guys were, were true believers after that experience. That’s for sure.
Phil Bahler: It does make it simple. Like I said, it drives home that point of just, if you do your research and see what is out there, it can be life changing and I’ve had so many contractors tell me that your tools have been life changing and yeah, that’s really my goal. That’s the ultimate compliment.
Joe Raboine: Yeah, no, that’s fantastic. So I guess I’ll close it out with one last question. If you had to choose one thing about what you’re doing today, what would be the most fulfilling thing about being the owner of Pave Tool.
Phil Bahler: When contractors call and they just say.” You’re solving problems I didn’t even know.” one contractor told me that and to hear other contractors say, “I was ready to get out of this business. I really, I hated what I did. I woke up every morning, sore” and I’ve had other contractors say that,” come August, September, I was done in, but now I can go full season. I use your tools. I use your systems and you know, I love what I do. I enjoy what I do. I’m building people’s dreams and I’m doing it and still feel physically well, not shot or just beat.” I mean, most guys at the end of the day, years ago, I called them the grip it and rip it guys. You’re just getting it, you’re gripping it. You’re getting over. You’re getting in the ground. I was a grip and rip it, you know, but it didn’t take me long haul. I started tearing myself up and you didn’t feel like doing anything, but yeah, to me, if somebody can work all day long in our industry and get a tremendous amount of product in and at the end of the day, want to go play ball with their kids or go out for ice cream and they’re not looking for a hot tub or looking just to go to bed. It’s to me, that’s success, a greater quality of life. And that’s really what our tools do. They offer greater quality of life, because they speed up the process, they make you more efficient, more profitable since putting more money in your pocket, and it eases up that pain, that pallet of pavement pain.
Joe Raboine: Well, very cool. Well, thanks again, Phil, for joining us. And as I mentioned earlier, you can check him out at pavetool.com. Be sure if you’re going to HNA, Hardscape North America, to stop by his booth, the Pave Tool booth, and then look him up on YouTube and all his 400 videos he’s got in addition to Facebook and Instagram. So thanks a lot, Phil. We really appreciate it.
Phil Bahler: Thank you so much. It’s been an honor to be here today. I really appreciate you taking the time.
Joe Raboine: Hope you enjoyed listening today. For more details about today’s episode or to catch up on other episodes, head over to Belgard.com/InsideOut. To find hardscape educational resources, product details, design inspiration and more visit belgard.com or keep up with us on social media at Belgard Outdoor Living on Instagram, Outdoor Living by Belgard on Facebook and Belgard Hardscapes on YouTube. Join us again next time on Inside Out with Belgard.