How sealcoating contractors can prep for the new season
By Jeff Winke
For sealcoating contractors the winter season shut down should not mean that everything stops. It is an opportunity… a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something positive for the business. It is a time to reflect, restore, and recast the energy toward the new season ahead.
“Take advantage of the season shutdown by reviewing your projects that you completed during the past season,” stated Chris Werner, regional manager, Gardner Asphalt Supply, Tampa, Fla. “Look over your job costs, did your yield on the product and the time on the various projects match your bids, if not why not?”
Winter and the change of years does get people reflective.
Shannon Hemsink, development director for Neyra Industries, Cincinnati, Ohio, stated: “The season of reflection should get you asking: How did the past season go? What are the company’s strengths and weaknesses? What can we work on to get better? Where am I going to take my business next year?”
Hemsink added: “If you plan on growing your business next season, you may need more equipment so this would be the time to be looking for new machines. You will also need to hire more workers. I would suggest planning a job fair as it gets closer to the season start. Looking for employees too early won’t work. Wait until there are some signs of the weather turning.”
If acquiring a new piece of equipment is in the growth plan, the experts recommend placing an order now.
“Equipment manufacturers are usually busiest this time of year and lead times can get long,” Jason Mixell of Nealco Equipment, LLC, Shippensburg, Pa. said. “Unless you buy an assembly line entry model or recreation machine you will have a lead time to consider.”
There are a number of possibilities on how to best take advantage of the slow down.
Phil Brown, sales manager with STAR, Inc., Norwalk, Conn. offered a list of suggestions, one of which every busy sealcoating contractor would love to take advantage of but probably can’t: “Kick your legs up and relax after a long sealcoating season and get rested for the following year.”
Other suggestions from Brown include:
- Pick up a seasonal job to gain additional income.
- Move your business to a warmer climate during the winter months, so you can sealcoat all year.
- Plan out your marketing/promotional activities for the upcoming year.
- Pick up snow plowing as a source of winter income or seasonal work such as holiday decorations, tree-trimming, or donating a few hours to a local charity.
- Review your past year and determine how to grow going forward.
- Look at ways to become more efficient–learn from mistakes in bidding, crew efficiency, or technical issues leading to performance problems.
- Take educational training courses. There are business, operations, and technical courses offered by the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), equipment manufacturers, and trade colleges.
- Budget for next year, with realistic cost estimates for labor, materials and all overheads.
- Clean the appearance of your equipment. Make special efforts to enhance your company image, equipment, apparel, signage, literature, lastly the overall customer service experience. It will certainly give you a leg up on your competition.
Contractors can take advantage of slow time and season shut downs by performing equipment maintenance.
“Of course, standard winter maintenance should occur, but with extended periods of down time it is a great time to take care of those neglected items that are often overlooked or just ‘lived with,’” Mixell said. “Look at things like wiring and lights, axles, brakes, batteries and switches that could be in poor condition or rigged up in a hurry and never properly fixed. Worn or leaking ball valves are often overlooked, until they completely fail just like pump and cylinder seals. Hydraulic systems should be flushed and suspect hoses replaced. Engines should be overhauled with new plugs and filters. Down time can be used to fixed temporary taped wire splices or replace damaged wires. Axles and hubs should be greased and brake shoes replaced. After the past year, everyone should be starting their season with a machine that looks and works like new.”
Werner stated that key maintenance activities the sealcoating contractor will want to conduct during the winter shutdown should include:
- Cleaning the tank from any built-up dried sealer, and clean the mixing paddles
- Clean the melters
- Grease your mixer/agitator chain and bearing
- Drain all your air tanks and lines
- Check your connections, valves, gaskets and tips
- Check that all hoses are free from leftover material, check for leaks and proper fit
Additionally, Werner stated, “Making sure your equipment is in the proper working order is imperative for the start of your next season. No contractor wants to show up to their first sealcoating job of the season and be delayed due to not having taken advantage of the shutdown to repair any equipment.
“It is also a good time to talk to your material supplier about any new or improved sealer, crack filler or any other material you may need. Many producers work during the shutdown to improve their exiting formula as well as to develop new products. And, depending on your volume, consider a bulk sealer rank, which many sealer producers will supply at no charge. The bulk tank could eliminate time and money spent going back and forth to your supplier’s location.”
Additional key maintenance activities the sealcoating contractor should conduct during the winter shutdown should include removing and rebuilding the sealcoating pumps.
“All the piping should be cleaned out on the tanks as well as the tanks need to be chipped out and all the debris cleaned out of them,” Hemsink said. “The same should go for crack kettles. Although you can’t get them quite as clean as the sealcoat tanks, they should be chipped out and pumps should be either replaced or maintained. All small equipment and compressors should be fully serviced as well.”
During the shut-down / slow-down period it’s important to stay in contact with customers.
“Each company is different on how early they should contact customers,” stated Brent Louzenhiser, owner and founder of Seal-Rite Products, LLC, Auxvasse, Mo. “If you have the ability, we would advise having a crack filling season during the cooler months. This allows you to be in contact with your customers during the sealcoating off season. This practice could also lead to some sealcoating jobs during the spring season. One job can often lead to the next.”
A contractor should take a proactive approach to their next season, according to Brian Horner, sales manager with E.D. Etnyre & Co., Oregon, Ill. “Build relationships with current or potential new customers during the off season. This can be done with direct calls/visits or attending government trade shows or meeting. Many customers rely on the contractor to be the expert and guide them to the best solution for road maintenance.”
Hemsink succinctly stated the nut of how much customer contact is best in her response to the question of how far in advance of the new season should sealcoat contractors start talking with customers. She said: “Never stop talking to customers.”
In today’s world, it appears that the fastest and easiest way to learn about a company is through the Internet.
“As part of preparing for the upcoming season, contractors should view their own website and adopt an outside prospective and see how it can be improved,” said Louzenhiser. “Adding new photos from the previous season and any reviews customers have given. Is the contact information easily accessible? Can customers request a quote through the website? Does the website flow well or is it choppy and hard to navigate? Is your website easily found by new customers? These are all things to consider to stay ahead of the game when preparing for the next season.”
The winter post season should be seen as a pause before starting up in earnest again. How does one prepare their sealcoating business for the post-winter start up? What should the sealcoating contractor do now to prepare for the next season?
Zeke Adams, operations manager with STAR, Inc., stated that sealcoating contractors should create a solid marketing strategy for the new season and “decide on the areas in which you plan to dedicate most of your efforts. Take advantage of social media platforms as they’re a free form of advertising and a great way to get your information out there. Print brochures, literature, and yard signs. And consider getting new logo stickers made for your rig/truck as they become dirty and brittle after a year or two of use.”
During this winter season shut down remember that this really shouldn’t mean that everything stops. It is the opportunity to reflect, restore, and recast the energy toward the new season ahead.
Jeff Winke is a business and construction writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org