When it comes to the actual striping, knowing how to properly bid and lay out a job is vital, says Mick Vinckier, Miktom Parking Lot Maintenance, Pavement Advisory Board member, and NPE speaker. Muellenbach agrees. "That's not something that comes overnight so a contractor needs to really do some research on how to bid from a profitability standpoint and how to lay out the type of parking lots that this contractor is going to go after," Muellenbach says.
Proper layout of a parking lot involves multiple aspects of the lot. "The most important thing is he has to know how to lay out the parking lot to maximize the number of parking spaces in the particular lot," Noto says. "He also has to understand how to take into account truck access lanes, no parking zones, and fire lanes [etc]."
Properly bidding a job is just as important as layout. Noto says one key aspect of bidding on a striping job is whether the job is bid by the line or by the foot. This becomes especially important when a job contains special zones such as no parking or loading zones. Liles adds that if a contractor constantly bids jobs by the number of parking spaces or lines, instead of by the foot, he might end up pricing too low if a job has a lot of crosshatched areas.
Where to learn the essentials
Muellenbach stresses that someone just starting in the striping business not only needs to know all this information but he has to understand what he is learning as well. One way Muellenbach suggests a contractor gain this necessary knowledge is to attend the NPE shows (Nov. 21-22, Las Vegas; Feb. 18-21, 2009, Charlotte, NC). "The NPE shows run very good seminars in these subjects," he says. "There's a lot of good information that comes out of those seminars."
But seminars are not the only resource contractors can find at the NPE shows. "The exhibit floor is a chance to see all the major brands of striping equipment and compare them side by side," Liles says. "But maybe the best thing about NPE is the opportunity to visit with contractors from around the country. People don't mind sharing ideas and techniques with you if they know you aren't in the same city competing with them."
Another good source of information is the Internet. Many websites, such as Parking Lot Planet (www.parkinglotplanet.com) offer forums where contractors in the striping industry can exchange ideas and advice, Malloy says. Noto suggests finding associations in the industry as another venue for contractors looking to learn the striping industry. One such association is the National Pavement Contractors Association ( www.pavementpro.com).
Once a contractor has sufficient knowledge of the striping industry and made the necessary decisions for his business, the next step is to find the right equipment. But what type of equipment is needed when starting out in the industry; and how many striping machines are necessary?
Probably the most important piece of equipment a contractor will use is the striping unit. In today's market, contractors have many to choose from. For striping contractors in the pavement maintenance industry, walk-behind and units with ride-on attachments are probably the most common tools of choice. Contractors also have the choice between units with one-paint gun or two-paint guns. Liles says that most one-gun machines have the capability to add a second gun later, but that shouldn't be a major concern for a contractor's initial purchase.
Muellenbach and Malloy say a walk-behind unit is typically the striper of choice for new contractors. Walk-behind units usually cost less than machines with a ride-on attachment. The initial investment cost is often a consideration when just starting a business, Muellenbach says. Plus, the simpler a unit is for a beginner the better, Malloy adds.
"I think if it's a contractor that's just starting out he needs to walk before he runs - get into it on a small basis and build that business accordingly," Muellenbach says. Starting small is a trend Malloy says he sees often in the striping industry. For example, he says many contractors will start with one-gun units instead of a two-gun unit.
"I always suggest they start with a small machine because if they get bigger then they can add larger machines that are higher volume and use the smaller machines for the smaller parts of the job or as a dedicated second-color machine," Malloy says.