Managing customer expectations

By Jeff Winke

When applied properly, asphalt pavement sealcoat looks miraculous! The paved surface looks fresh, brand new, and as good as a 10-year-old boy dressed in his Sunday’s best. Sealcoating is the process of applying a protective black coating to an asphalt surface to block out water, oil, salt, and UV rays. The black coating can also make an older, sun-bleached paved surface look just like new.

With “miraculous” results there are often unrealistic expectations that a contractor needs to manage.

“To best set realistic expectations with customers regarding a sealcoating job, you’ll want to communicate with the customer, preferably face-to-face,” stated Nihal Pandrapragada, research chemist with STAR, Inc., Columbus, Ohio. “Visit the site and assess the job. Show the customer the numbers, expenses, savings, etc. and how sealcoatings save money in the long run. It has been established that sealcoatings can extend pavement life by three times, at a third of the cost of total replacement.”

Pandrapragada continued: “Explain in detail how a sealcoating works. Explain clearly that sealcoatings are surface coating for protecting the asphalt surface, but are not repair products for defects like cracks, potholes, or crumbling. You also will want to explain what can happen during the initial days of the curing process.”

When applied properly, sealcoating can look fabulous but it is not a miracle solution for correcting damage.

“Let customers know that you are here to share your expertise,” said Todd Eichholz, CEO of A&A Paving, an asphalt and concrete paving contractor based in Roselle, Illinois. “Educate, educate, educate! Create video explanations of what the customer can expect when working with you and also how the sealcoating process works.”

Eichholz cautioned that part of educating customers is letting them know what the sealcoating limitations are. “For example, if there is a massively alligatored area that you are being asked to sealcoat, you need to proactively let the customer know that this area may turn a brownish color because it is a failed area before they call after-the-fact complaining, it looks bad. If the site is too far gone and failed and shouldn’t be sealcoated, tell the customer this and let them know what to expect if they still choose to move forward, and then include your cautions in writing.”

A&A Paving has over 60 years of experience paving commercial and industrial properties all over Chicago. And has completed more than 8,000 paving projects.

Keep in mind that prospects and customers are in today’s dynamic environment where they are likely being pitched by numerous other pavement maintenance providers.

“When the opportunity arises, you’ll want to create a conversation that will make the potential customer comfortable, and want to tell you what they want done,” said Mark McLeod, president & CEO of Maintenance Inc., located in Wooster, Ohio. “Let them show you what they want done rather than telling them about services your company offers that they may not need. Let them talk about themselves and then you can proceed to advise them on how best to address their needs.”

There may be an inclination when selling a sealcoating services to gloss over details in an effort to appear efficient.

“Contractors should always speak the truth about the sealcoating job,” Eichholz said. “Tell them the good, bad and the ugly of their site and what to realistically expect. For some, it will be a breath of fresh air and will build trust and loyalty to your company.”

How many coats of sealcoat should be applied to asphalt pavement? The general thinking seems to be that in low traffic areas such as a typical home driveway, one coat is sufficient. Moderate traffic on a parking lot, two coats appears to be best with a third coat on the entrance and exits.

And for heavy traffic areas, two coats with a third coat on all travel lanes and roadways is recommended.

Applying two coats of any sealer will dry and create a better finish than one thick coat. These sealers are water based, and they cure and form a film primarily during the evaporation of water from the coating. A thin coat will evaporate much faster and create a single uniform layer.

“To protect and preserve the asphalt surface, there needs to be certain amount of sealer deposited on the surface for ensuring wearability and overall longevity,” Pandrapragada said. “The optimal performance can be achieved by applying two coats. Do not apply one thick coat as an alternative to two thin coats. Sealers are water-based coatings, that dry and cure through the evaporation of water from the film. Thicker coats tend to hold water longer and will stay soft for longer duration which may lead to tracking. In some cases, being a thick coat, the bottom part of the sealer does not cure properly because of water lock in the system. This will lead to premature failure because the sealer did not bond with the surface — lack of adhesion. One coat applications deposit approximately only half the required amount, which could lead to premature failure, and wear out quicker than it supposed to be.”

McLeod offered the following perspective as to the number of sealcoat applications that will work best: “The application of pavement sealer is so important in ensuring protection from the elements and extending the service life of the bituminous asphalt concrete. The customer wants to roll into a beautiful black surface with popping, vibrant directional line stripes enhancing their properties look and value.”

McLeod continued: “It is an industry standard to apply two coats of pavement sealer and most contractors do apply two, however there are factors that determine a one coat versus two coat application. The main decider is the porosity of the surface. For example, if the surface is pitted, old and brittle. a one coat will probably not do the job due to the fact the sealer will lay in the pours sealing the asphalt, however a second coat will lock in the sand in the pores and provide a smoother, longer-lasting service life of the asphalt. One coat applications are typical for residential driveways and non stressed surfaces with minimum exposure to vehicular stresses, such as, bike paths, jogging paths, and school playgrounds.”

Once a sealcoating project is completed, what are reasonable performance expectations?

“When completed, the customer should enjoy just how the sealcoated area looks black and even,” Pandrapragada said. “There should be no peeling, but only minor surface scuffing. The customer may see some tracking in the initial days, which heal with time. Sealcoating might wear out a bit sooner in higher traffic areas such as entrances, exits, etc., but that should be expected.”

To conclude, the key benefits of sealcoating that customers will appreciate are… it prevents water intrusion beneath the surface, slows deterioration from oxidation, protects the asphalt binder from oils and gasoline, enhances skid-resistance, enhances flexibility, enables easier pavement cleaning, and ultimately… extends pavement life which should save money.