A Big-Hearted Business
Northwest Barricade & Signs/Northwest Flagging Two Companies, One Goal
While Northwest Barricade & Signs, LLC and Northwest Flagging, LLC may have humble origins, their growth has been nothing short of spectacular. The President and sole proprietor of both companies, Dave Michaels, attributes the firms’ success to “being very involved with the people we work around, with and for.” He and his leadership team members care about how their daily actions affect their customers, employees and the communities where they work.
One Man and a Truck
In 2013, Dave founded the first of these two companies to provide barricades, signs and other traffic control equipment for construction projects throughout the state of Washington. He set up shop in Burien, which is about 12 miles directly south of Seattle, and applied the knowledge he’d acquired while working 20-plus years in the traffic control industry.
“I wanted to improve what barricade companies offered by bringing the equipment and services together,” Dave says. “I did everything for the first six months. I made the signs, loaded the truck, made the deliveries and did the billing. At that point, I had built enough of a clientele that I could hire a driver and a secretary.”
“We are coming up on five years and now have 50-plus employees and relationships with contractors and other customers throughout western Washington,” says Keone Padilla, the Sales Manager for both companies and Dave’s son-in-law.
The Marriage of Barricades and Flaggers
In early 2016, soon after Dave’s daughter, Kristi Michaels, started working for Northwest Barricade & Signs, they launched a second firm—Northwest Flagging.
“We saw the need for putting barricades and flagging together,” Kristi says. “You can’t close a street without signage and cones. If you just have signs and equipment in the street, no one knows what’s going on, so you need flaggers as well.” Kristi’s initial responsibilities of helping with office tasks and making signs quickly expanded into her current role as General Manager for both companies. In addition to overseeing bookkeeping and payroll, she is the head of all the office staff and dispatches flaggers.
Dave also opened a location in Snohomish in mid-2017.
“Snohomish gave us a bigger footprint,” Keone explains. “It makes economic sense for us to have people and equipment closer to the top third of the state because we serve that area and western Washington from the mountains to the ocean and from Oregon to Canada.” Since the complementary functions of the two companies allow them to operate as one, employees are cross-trained so they can accomplish a wide range of tasks.
“A lot of companies operate as though there is management and everyone else is a worker bee,” Dave says. “That’s not how it is here. We all work as a team. We do our daily jobs, but everyone helps out with what needs to be done. For instance, one of the many things our driver and yard manager, Zach Milliren, does is keep our equipment in working order for when customers call in need of it. In addition, Kaylee Rowe serves as the Snohomish Office Manager who helps with all Northwest Flagging’s duties, such as billing, dispatching and scheduling. She also manages the storefront where we sell safety apparel, accessories and equipment at this location.”
This staffing strategy helps Dave to custom-assemble crews and equipment to provide the single-source convenience he knew construction companies needed. “Contractors can call us and say, ‘Draw up the traffic control plan, have your crew out here next Tuesday, bring the equipment and set it up, flag it and take it down.’”
The Value of Relationships
The strong relationships Dave established while working for other firms that provided traffic control equipment for construction projects continue to be valuable.
“Dave’s worked in the construction industry for so long that some contractors call and ask to deal directly with him,” Keone says. “That’s great because relationships are a big part of this business. We are all on a first-name basis with a lot of our vendors and with even more of our clients.”
For example, Northwest Barricade & Signs has been involved with many of the Sound Transit projects. This major infrastructure initiative, which encompasses installing 62 new miles of rail and constructing the related stations, is expected to cost $58.3 billion by its scheduled completion in 2040.
“Seattle’s Sound Transit hires individual contractors to do the work,” Keone explains. “On I-90, for example, they have shut down the express lanes to route a light-rail line there. For the first time in the world, a light-rail line will go across a floating bridge. Contractors bid for jobs like this and then hire us to provide everything from water barriers and fence to programmable message boards, cones, barrels and different types of signage.”
“We are coming up on five years [in business] and now have 50-plus employees and relationships with contractors and other customers throughout western Washington.”
Keone Padilla, Sales Manager, Northwest Barricades & Signs, LLC and Northwest Flagging, LLC
Projects Big or Small
Although a big part of Northwest Barricade & Signs/Northwest Flagging’s business is making sure traffic flows smoothly and safely around construction sites, Dave says they are the “major supplier of traffic control products in the Northwest for jobs big or small.”
“If someone is moving in downtown Seattle,” he explains, “they can rent no-parking signs from us to reserve space along a street for the moving truck. We supply equipment and signs for events as large as Seafair Weekend Festival (in Seattle), where they put out thousands of no-parking and road-closure signs and other equipment such as pedestrian barricades, or the Marysville Strawberry Festival, where they need to close down arterial roads. People also come in and say, ‘Hey, I want to make a sign for my kid’s door that says Payton’s Room Stay Out.’ So, we can go from making a sign for Payton’s door, to one that says ‘405 Southbound Left Lane Closed.’ ”
This is where Dave, Kristi and Keone believe running family-owned-and-operated companies makes a big difference for their customers.
“We try our hardest not to tell customers ‘no’—to get products out when they need them,” Kristi says. “When a customer calls in for 100 custom signs and needs them made and delivered within a couple of days, we all work together to get this done. One of us, whether it is me, Dave or Keone, personally looks at every single piece of equipment or sign that leaves this shop.”
“I go around to our job sites and talk to flaggers and contractors to ask them how we can keep doing things better,” Keone adds.
They are also on call for emergencies. When heavy rains washed out part of U.S. Route 2 near Stevens Pass in November 2015, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) needed assistance, and Northwest Barricade & Signs/Northwest Flagging sent equipment and flaggers to the site immediately.
“We flagged 24/7 with flaggers using radios to communicate across 4 to 5 miles,” Dave says. “The damage took the highway down from two lanes to one. They kept the traffic flowing and stopped it when dump trucks arrived with the rock needed to rebuild parts of the road. Six to seven flaggers covered the first 12-hour shift and then the same number worked the second shift. That went on for weeks. We also supplied all the signs, barrels, light towers and message boards.”
Opportunities for Everyone
People who want a chance to learn and constantly improve their skills are good candidates for employment by Northwest Barricade & Signs/Northwest Flagging, regardless of their backgrounds.
“We are a second-chance employer and that is very important to us,” Keone says. “You’ve gotta give a guy a shot.” He not only completed a job-training program, but also helped other people enroll in it. He also took classes offered by Goodwill at one of its job-readiness and training centers. He now returns to these centers for hiring events. “We will hire people who are down on their luck and looking to better themselves,” Keone says. “We believe people can make the choice to change and we give them the opportunity to do that.”
Dave echoes these sentiments: “We’ve found these employees give you their all.” He’s hired other employees who wanted to make a change for other reasons, too. “Patrick Kowis was a line cook before he applied for a job with us. We taught him how to make signs and now he runs the sign shop in Burien. Keone’s sister, Kalei Padilla, started out working in the sign shop and has done pretty much every job for both companies. She’s a senior flagger now and training to be a traffic control supervisor.”
“Kalei also trains flaggers to set up signs and teaches them about all the dangers of the job site and working in traffic,” Keone adds with pride.
Reaching Out Directly
Each year, Dave, Keone and Kristi post an idea for a gift drive on LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram.
“We ask about who is in need,” Dave says. “Then we get texts or other messages telling us whom to contact. We see how many people are in a family and we go from there. One year we bought about 15 or 16 backpacks for kids in four families and filled those with school supplies. When we gave these backpacks out we gave each family a gift card so the parents could buy whatever else the kids needed. We also support the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA) by contributing the traffic control products for its events, such as Dozer Day.”
While these outreach activities may be small in scale, there are big hearts behind them.
“Everything we do affects more than just the people we are working for and with,” Keone says, “and it has an impact on the whole community. We want that impact to be positive.” Heather Beal is a journalist, author and photographer with 25+ years of experience covering all aspects of the built environment.