Stripers can choose between air-powered or airless machines, and the choice is often simply a personal preference. Air-powered units work off an air compressor while airless stripers work by pressure. Liles suggests new contractors start with a good, quality airless unit. "An airless is simple to operate, and a beginner can quickly learn to paint a nice line, Liles says. Many contractors, however, prefer air-powered machines.
Keeping these suggestions in mind, Noto says a contractor should ultimately base equipment purchases on the type of work he is planning to do. He says walk-behind units are good for smaller applications, but if a contractor plans on striping larger jobs a ride-on attachment may be a good investment. "Typically where a parking lot is large and open, that's the perfect spot for a ride-behind," Noto says.
If a contractor has never used a piece of striping equipment before it is important to get a feel for the equipment. Vinckier says that working for free is not a good way to get practice. He suggests filling the striping unit with water instead of paint and then practicing on an empty parking lot. This way no material is wasted but a contractor can still see the stripes he is putting down.
But a striping unit isn't the only tool a contractor will need. Other important tools include layout tools, stencils, safety supplies, surface prep tools, painting tools, cleanup tools, and a truck or trailer for hauling equipment. (See sidebar).
After deciding what striping equipment to purchase the next step is to decide how many. Malloy suggests purchasing just one unit and adding more or larger units when business starts to grow. "Most just start off with a single machine," Malloy says. "A single machine can cover a lot of ground unless you're starting with a huge amount of work."
Muellenbach takes a different angle on the subject and suggests starting with two units. He says one can be used to apply lines while the other can be used to paint stencils on the job. Or, if a contractor needs to apply multiple colors on one job, each unit can be used for a different color.
Having two separate units for different colors helps make cleanup easier, Muellenbach says. The contractor isn't spending time cleaning one machine so it can be used for a second color. "Time in a contractor's life is money," Muellenbach says. "When they're sitting around cleaning up a piece of equipment they're not making any money."
Whether a contractor wants to start with one or multiple striping units is up to him. In Noto's opinion, the number of units a contractor should buy when starting out again depends on the type of jobs a contractor plans on doing. If most jobs will require multiple colors or will be larger parking lots, two or more units may be a good investment right from the start.
Wehner says another key to deciding whether to start with one or multiple striping units is the number of employees the company will start with. "The key there is whether or not this business is going to start out as a one-person business or if the owner intends it to grow beyond that and he has one or two additional helpers. Guys that are doing larger jobs have more people to help," Wehner says. "It's more productive for all of those bodies to be doing some striping," he adds; so investing in multiple units could be the best move.
Noto, Malloy, and Muellenbach all agree that a good time to consider adding new or more equipment to a striping fleet is when a contractor's business starts to grow. When it comes to adding machines, contractors have the choice of adding more of the same units, graduating to larger units or ride-on attachments, or adding a two-gun capability or unit.
What constitutes as growth for a contractor's business can vary. Taking on more jobs, taking on larger jobs, or growing the size of a company can all be ways a business grows, and all of these instances can influence a contractor to add to his equipment fleet. Noto says a contractor may also want to add larger machines if he wants to do the same jobs only faster.
Before adding more machines, though, a contractor also needs to decide if there is enough business around to warrant the investment in more equipment and/or more employees. "The good news is that striping always needs to be done," Wehner says.