15 Apr Celebrating 40 Years: Paving the Way for the Future of Sealcoating
It’s not often that a product comes along that has the power to disrupt an industry. But when GuardTop was invented almost 40 years ago, it opened a new world of possibilities for the sealcoating industry. In fact, since 1983, GuardTop has built its reputation on producing specially formulated, premium quality and environmentally friendly asphalt sealcoat with exceptional durability. With the 40th anniversary of this innovative product on the horizon in 2023, GuardTop is reflecting on its past accomplishments and looking forward to an even more successful and sustainable future.
GuardTop: A Look Back
To understand the future of GuardTop, it’s important to first take a step back and look at its evolution. For GuardTop’s Chief Executive Officer, Bob Koleas, and his wife and President, Laura Koleas, that evolution has been a family affair.
Bob’s father, Richard Koleas, and mother, Ramah Koleas, started Western Emulsions together in 1977. Then, shortly after Bob and Laura got married, Bob’s mother passed away, his father stepped down, and the couple began running Western Emulsions in their early 20s.
“I was heavily involved in customer service and I was Bob’s first office manager in California,” Laura said.
By joining forces with private equity partners, the Koleas’ were able to grow the business significantly, all while staying on the cutting edge of innovation and focusing on how they treat their employees and customers.
“We’ve always been one of the smallest companies in this industry, but we’ve made the biggest impact because Bob has always been a visionary and we have defined what our industry does,” Laura said.
Throughout the years, several things have remained constant, including the Koleas’ commitment to quality and company values. Though GuardTop is a family-run business, Bob points out how important equality is in their workplace.
“Everyone is on an equal footing, and there are equal opportunities for all our employees,” Bob said. “That’s why our values are so important. The whole network that we have is extended family.”
Building a Brand
Though Western Emulsions started as an Arizona-based company, Bob became the industry leader after expanding the brand into California. GuardTop started as a California-based company that the Koleas’ expanded into Arizona, returning to their roots. Because of the industry demand for quality sealcoat, GuardTop first expanded into Tucson with an Express location, and then into Phoenix with a full-scale manufacturing operation.
“Brian Barnum, GuardTop’s Vice President, Southwest Region, has been an integral part of our success in bringing GuardTop to the Phoenix market,” Bob explained. “Brian brings nearly 20 years of pavement preservation knowledge and experience to his role.”
In California, GuardTop is now the industry leader in the private sector. In Arizona, the company focuses primarily on government sales. GuardTop, which is currently headquartered in Orange County, California, also manufacturers products in Fontana.
GuardTop Asphalt Based Sealcoat leads the way as the premiere product for asphalt surfaces on residential and city streets, retail and commercial properties, and parking lots. Its unique base stocks and mineral aggregates help protect and beautify existing asphalt surfaces. Plus, it contains no coal-tar and remains environmentally friendly. Other vital GuardTop products include GuardTop Ultra High-Performance Sealcoat, TRMSS (Tire Rubber Modified Surface Sealer), Cold Pour Crack Filler by GuardTop, Hot Pour Crack Filler by GuardTop, Latex Additive by GuardTop, RoadShield, Black Elixir Rapid Dry Additive by GuardTop, and Oil Spot Primer by GuardTop. The company is working toward expanding their product line even more by the end of the year.
These products can be found at various GuardTop Distribution & Express locations, including seven in California, two in Arizona, and one in North Carolina. These locations are a one-stop shop for contractors looking to purchase everything they need for their next sealcoating or paving job.
Another key component of building the GuardTop brand has been the addition of CoolSeal by GuardTop, an innovative, solar-activated product designed to deliver a higher performing, longer-lasting asphalt sealcoat that also reduces surface temperatures and preserves and protects your surfaces.
By combining the long-standing success and quality of GuardTop and the innovative CoolSeal product, GuardTop has become a dominant force in the sealcoating industry.
Behind the Scenes
But it didn’t happen overnight. The substantial growth of GuardTop has been a result of hard-working employees and the Koleas’ commitment to raising the bar when it comes to creating a work environment that feels more like home.
After their recent winter meeting, the Koleas’ met with their employees to review their company mission and values. The key values of safety, service, respect, collaboration, and sustainability were selected as the most important values for employees and the company to strive toward.
“At our company meeting, we redefined our values and added sustainability, respect, and collaboration,” Laura pointed out. “Those were things we already did, but our employees wanted to really emphasize that and show who we really are.”
At the heart of their company’s mission is to manufacture and provide safe and environmentally friendly sealcoat products that exceed industry quality standards to ensure a cleaner planet, while maintaining a family climate that values their employees, partners, and customers.
Their recipe for creating an ideal workplace environment is working, as evidenced by long-standing employees such as Jeff Luzar, Vice President Sales, who is approaching his 12th year with the company. But their most loyal and dedicated employee hails from their Western Emulsions days. Controller Anne Miller began her career with the Koleas’ back in 1985, serving in the finance department under Bob’s mother, Ramah.
At GuardTop, the family dynamic is a key ingredient in their recipe to success.
“We’re the second generation of the Koleas family leading the industry,” Laura said, referencing herself and Bob. Currently leading the third generation are their son, Davis Koleas, Sustainability Director, their daughter, Katie Scott, Office Administrator/ HR Generalist, and their son-in-law, Brendan Scott, Finance Manager.
This third generation is joined by talented professionals who all offer something important to the mission of GuardTop. Take, for example, Mike March, Technical Director. With his impressive background from Sherwin-Williams, March has been able to offer a new perspective and bring innovative knowledge to move the company forward.
“Bob is the ‘OG’ of this industry,” Laura said. “There isn’t anything he doesn’t know about this industry, but in order to expand and be ahead of the curve, he wanted to bring someone to expand our knowledge and bring in what we don’t know.”
Leading the Way
The ‘OG’ must be on to something. In fact, back when the Koleas’ worked with Western Emulsions, their original patented product, PASS, was one of the biggest innovations at the time, and it introduced recycling and sustainability in the 90s, when those words weren’t even being discussed.
“We’ve tried to always be on the cutting edge, and that’s through Bob’s leadership,” Laura emphasized. “When we decided to buy GuardTop, we realized it had been so undervalued, and we saw the potential of the sustainability aspect and what we could do with it.”
Bob also saw the potential in CoolSeal, even when the industry didn’t.
“No one in the industry, or even in our company, saw the value of CoolSeal, and Bob realized, this is really going to be something,” said Laura.
Currently, CoolSeal is being used in the second phase of the City of Phoenix’s Cool Pavement Pilot Program, which began in 2020 when the City of Phoenix teamed up with Arizona State University (ASU) to cool down local neighborhoods and city streets. After the first year of the program, researchers discovered some impressive results, including significant reduction in surface and ambient temperatures as well as enhanced maintenance benefits leading to infrastructure savings. During the second phase, CoolSeal has been applied to additional neighborhoods in South Phoenix. The program will analyze two new asphalt coatings with higher reflective values, and will analyze the durability of the coating.
“CoolSeal is a huge accomplishment,” Bob said. “It’s ongoing, but I think our continued efforts to innovate and improve the product have only made it better. We introduced it on our first public street in Los Angeles in 2017, and it has come such a long way since then. While the 2017 project still looks good, our current formulations have vastly improved the performance and longevity of CoolSeal, and we’re now setting the industry standard for cool pavement. We’re very proud of being the industry market leader in quality and innovation.”
A Sustainable Future
Focusing on sustainability has become a key differentiator when separating GuardTop from competitors. What began as a personal mission for Laura when she became committed to cloth diapering her daughter, has turned into a company mission to work toward being a part of the solution, and not the problem.
“Our industry contributes to the heat island effect, so now, we want to be an industry that actually mitigates the heat island effect,” she said. “So, number one, it’s about being innovative, but number two, it’s about being conscious about what it is we’re doing. When you know better, to do better, and that’s just really what it’s all about.”
According to Bob, GuardTop strives to do the right thing and be cost-competitive at the same time. “We can use sustainable products and improve quality at the same time, so we’re doing all these things without sacrificing quality or innovation.”
The Road Ahead
As GuardTop looks forward to celebrating 40 years, the future continues looking bright. In fact, GuardTop recently partnered with Pavement Recycling Systems to build an emulsion plant in San Bernardino County.
Within the U.S., GuardTop will continue its Southwestern expansion, and work on increasing manufacturing capabilities across the country. Internationally, GuardTop is looking toward Australia, where CoolSeal is a key part of several new and ongoing projects.
Ultimately, the Koleas’ are excited to continue building upon the strong foundation they’ve created, and they can’t wait to see where the next 40 years will take them.
“GuardTop has become the leader of quality in the sealcoat industry, and we continue to build on that reputation,” Bob said.