Considerations before expanding your services
By Jeff Winke
Imagine creating a multi-sport activity center in a home’s back yard or on the grounds of a community center or school? A sports place or sports court where kids (and adults) can enjoy hours of fun playing basketball, tennis, pickleball, volleyball, and other sports. That’s what some decorative asphalt pavers are doing successfully for their customers, so maybe that’s a viable business expansion possibility for the typical asphalt paving contractor… it’s just colorized pavement and line stripping, right? So goes the fantasy… the dream of greater success through business expansion.
“First off, it is important to point out that sport courts are extremely different from decorative paving,” stated Shannon Hemsink, development director of people, marketing and systems for Neyra Industries, Cincinnati, Ohio. “Sports surfacing is a much more complex discipline that requires extensive training and knowledge to be able to install these types of systems successfully. While decorative paving is more about coloring an existing surface with a color coating. Although they may use similar color coating options on top of the surface, these services are diversely different.”
Hemsink continued, “Sport courts can possibly be the most essential asset of a particular sports venue, park, club or athletic facility. It is extremely important to meet the needs of your customer regarding surface performance, certifications, color choices, compliance, durability and longevity.”
Sometimes the decorative paving need is less daunting and more readily accessible.
“Opportunities do arise where a paving contractor can easily increase their revenue by pursuing a project at a school district or park and recreational district where they are already doing work,” said Rob McConnell, president of McConnell & Associates, North Kansas City, Missouri. “This is especially true if you are already dealing with the same person that handles the parking lot work as well as the build or repair of tennis, pickleball, or outdoor basketball courts. Helping the customer out on this becomes another set of services the contractor can provide for that customer.”
Girish C. Dubey, president of STAR, Inc., Columbus, Ohio, stated that the reason for adding sports surfacing can be: “Simply to expand the business, by offering more services. Such jobs usually have better profitability than just regular run-of-the-mill paving and sealcoating jobs.”
Hemsink agreed: “Often times, a paving contractor or sealing company adds recreational coatings and complete sport surfaces to their portfolio to expand their available service offerings and reach customer segments that they currently don’t serve, such as Home Owner Associations (HOAs), parks and recreational associations, schools, universities, athletic clubs as well as collegiate and professional athletic programs.
“Decorative paving or coating allows customers to add to the visual aesthetics of their surfaces. For instance, adding games or pictures on a school playground to give students more opportunities for play. It also provides a solution when patterns or color coding on pavement is necessary for directional purposes, such as on a bike path or band practice field. Using color coatings for these purposes can be longer lasting and more durable than traditional paints.”
Clearly, there is a step away from typical asphalt paving and sealcoat projects. “Probably the biggest hurdle to overcome in making that step from parking lot work to doing sports work is understanding the different techniques involved and meeting the tighter tolerances in grading and paving and especially the coating systems,” McConnell said.
As far as the equipment required to delve into the sports surfacing and sports courts market it depends on the services being provided. Obviously, adding a hop-scotch grid to playground surface is easier than creating a full sports court.
“The equipment needed to offer sports courts or decorative coatings varies depending on the project,” Hemsink said. “To apply decorative coatings, the tools required are typically similar to those of sealcoating, including squeegees, scrapers, blowers, etc.
“However, if a contractor is interested in getting into the sports surfacing industry and offering complete surfacing systems or court repairs, much more will be required. This includes extensive training and expertise in the field. Partnering with manufacturers and vendors that specialize in the sports surfacing industry is essential for any contractor looking to expand their business in the sport court arena. The first step on that journey should be becoming a certified installer with the product brands the contractor plans on using. To begin this process, the contractor should reach out to the manufacturer that they will be partnering with for more information.
Hemsink continued: “Building a new or repairing an existing sport court can be an extensive project that requires a lot of up-front work with the customer to determine needs, wants and expectations with the final result. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before committing to a sport surfacing project, including the following:
- Where would the court(s) be located? How many?
- Is there a property setback? For example, tennis and pickleball courts face North and South.
- What type of court surface will the contractor be working with? Asphalt, concrete, clay, synthetic surface, etc.
- What type of base materials, drainage, landscaping, and fencing is needed?
- What will the surface color and type be?
- Does the customer want a cushion court or is a standard option acceptable?
- Are there performance standards that need to be met for the court?
- And most importantly, what is the budget for the project?
Connect with a landscape architect that designs sport courts or get in touch with a local ASBA (American Sports Builders Association) Certified Contractor who has experience in this area of expertise. Mistakes can be costly.”
The three main reasons a contractor would add sports courts and decorative sports paving to their portfolio is because the demand is present in the target market they serve. Are their customers asking for it? Is the market not currently being served? Is there opportunity to grow by adding these services?
Which leads to the second reason. When contractors diversify their service offerings, they typically can attract new projects from both current and new customer segments. Lastly, contractors would have the ability to offer a specialized service that could differentiate themselves from their competitors, while also experiencing good profit potential.
Jeff Winke is a business and construction writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He can be reached through email@example.com