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A recently launched tool that bills itself as “Google Maps to find construction aggregates” aims to level the playing field for finding, buying and delivering construction aggregates across the country.

AggMapsfounded by industry veteran Eric Dance, aims to help contractors easily find construction aggregate – and pricing data – at quarries, pits, dumps and landfills across the United States.

The tool could usher in a new era of price transparency and price comparison in the construction industry: since contractors can see an array of material suppliers and comprehensive price sheets on AggMaps, they are in able to quickly compare prices when buying dirt, rock, sand, earth or gravel for a job.

Economic research has shown that comparison shopping tools tend to lower prices because businesses are forced to compete with each other to attract customers. On the other hand, these tools often involve commission fees for suppliers, who sometimes pass on the additional costs directly to consumers.

How does AggMaps work?

AggMaps, launched in September 2022, includes location data for more than 25,000 quarries, pits and landfills across the United States.

On the website, users can enter a work address and then search for aggregate suppliers within a certain radius. AggMaps displays colored pins that distinguish locations based on the type of materials available. Additionally, users who sign up for a free account can request materials or offer excess dirt at a job site.

In an effort to create a more efficient market for aggregates, Dance obtained publicly available data to map producers across the United States. After identifying thousands of locations, he worked with a software developer over the past year to develop AggMaps.

In addition to location data, AggMaps displays regularly updated price grids for nearly 1,000 vendors, introducing a rare form of price transparency to an industry known for paper checks and closely guarded trade secrets. Typically, contractors should contact material suppliers to request pricing information, which is usually not published online.

Dance notes that the tool started as a passion project after discovering that existing tools had sparse location data for most quarries, pits, and dumps.

“At the start of the pandemic, our customer base expanded beyond our normal area in Dallas-Ft. Worth it,” Dance said. “They were looking for trucking deals in Waco, San Antonio and even further afield. When I turned to Google Maps to find dirt, rock, sand and gravel in these new areas, the small holdings are rarely listed. »

While Google Maps usually contains data on large aggregate producers like Vulcan and Martin Marietteentrepreneurs looking for small producers have relatively few options for finding up-to-date location data.

“Once you exhaust Google, you tend to go to local truckers, but they’re often reluctant to disclose where they buy aggregate,” Dance said. “They consider these locations to be trade secrets, especially in transport scenarios. But I always want to know where my materials come from and where they go.

The current market is an example of information asymmetry, an economic situation in which one party has more — or better — information than another. In this case, contractors buying aggregates could overpay simply because they don’t know the source of the materials.

“Trucking should be primarily based on distance traveled,” Dance said. “But there can be a lot of darkness if you don’t know where it’s coming from. Is it fair to pay the equivalent of a 30 mile freight rate when the equipment actually travels five miles? The current situation in the transport of aggregates creates many inefficiencies in the market. It is an unnecessarily time consuming process.

The lack of readily available information can be frustrating for contractors in need of materials, especially in today’s tight market where budgets are stretched to meet rising material costs.

“Anyone can call a supplier and try to get a price list,” Dance said. “It’s child’s play if they actually send it to you – you can get something over the phone, but it’s harder to get it in writing. I’m an expert at finding these materials, and I always have trouble getting this information from vendors I don’t have an existing relationship with. I wanted to remove some of the bottlenecks and transfer information more easily. There shouldn’t be so many hurdles to find out where these materials are and how much they cost.

The advantages and disadvantages of price aggregators in construction

Dance argues that materials suppliers would benefit financially from price transparency, as it could free up their staff to focus on larger transactions instead of low-value activities like emailing price lists. .

Economic research tends to support a different conclusion: when consumers can find price information more easily, prices and profits go down for producers and suppliers.

Economist Peter Diamond noted that more research costs – like the time an entrepreneur would have to spend calling multiple vendors – reduces competition and drives up prices. In other words, the current market for aggregates and other building materials benefits producers rather than consumers, who have few options for quick price comparisons.

Over time, AggMaps could work as an effective price comparison tool – similar to the websites consumers use to compare the costs of flights, hotels, or rental cars. With information more readily available, entrepreneurs could quickly compare prices among many options. Economic research suggests that these tools ultimately have the effect of lowering prices, since producers are incentivized to compete for business.

However, price comparison tools do not always lead to lower prices. Since comparison websites frequently charge a commission on referral sales, producers may ultimately raise prices to offset the commission. On the other hand, contractors may pay less while suppliers reduce their profit margins to remain competitive.

Tools like AggMaps – or others that may emerge for materials other than aggregates – have the potential to create downward pressure on material prices which have risen significantly over the past two years.