If one of the reasons to sealcoat a pavement is to improve its appearance, then Pam Darst is the right woman for the job. A former vice president of a cosmetology school, Darst, with assistance from her daughter, Nichole, runs Allied Asphalt, Decatur, IL, a sealcoating business that piggybacks on the name of its parent company, Allied Asphalt. And not surprisingly given her background, she insists the finished job look good.
"Our job is to make people's driveways last longer and look better," Darst says. "We take that seriously so we take some extra steps to make sure everything looks great when we're done."
Pam's husband, Kent, has been in the business himself for 39 years. He worked for his father as a chip seal contractor working throughout much of rural central Illinois and started Allied Asphalt almost 11 years ago. Pam, who started in the industry running a pneumatic roller for a chip seal operation, says Allied Asphalt regularly received calls to do sealcoating work but never pursued the market. Instead they looked at sealcoating almost as "a necessary nuisance" service they had to handle to keep customers happy.
But six years ago she took over the sealcoating part of the company and has transformed it into a steady, profitable part of the business. Allied Asphalt's sealcoating operation offers sealcoating, crack repair, and small-scale patching on residential driveways throughout a 45-mile radius from Decatur. Occasionally Allied also sealcoats commercial properties, but that work is minimal and she does it only as it comes up.
"I don't like to stay in one spot too long. We like to keep moving on," says Darst, who recently qualified for her CDL. "That's one reason we don't do too many commercial parking lots. I like the challenge of keeping things neat for the homeowner and every driveway has something different about it that makes it a little more interesting or more of a challenge."
Darst started with a client list of homeowners (and some commercial properties) Allied Asphalt had paved or sealcoated in the past and does no advertising to generate sales. She says almost 100% of sales come from repeat customers, who she pursues aggressively, or referrals. Each year she has added more than 20 new customers, and she currently seals between four and seven driveways a day.
Allied Asphalt has 150 accounts, all of which are on Allied Asphalt's call list, which Darst pursues each year. "I don't wait for them to call me," she says. "If they want to be put on a call list I put them on." They stay on the call list, and Darst calls each homeowner every year. She says a small fraction of her customers either move, cannot afford to maintain their driveways, or just forget.
"We don't want to be too aggressive, so if after the initial phone call, they don't call back, we just leave them off the call list," she says. "Regular customer contact is very important. Good communication with the customer is essential to a successful job," she says. "It's not just business it's good customer relations. I operate this business very much on a personal level."
Allied Asphalt "system"
The season starts in May, weather permitting. Darst starts every work day at 7:30 a.m. getting gear together and shows up on the job by 8:30. "We don't want to show up earlier than that because we're working where people live," she says. They work until between 3:00 and 5:00.
Darst says she's learned a number of things over the years, the two most important being dealing with customers and establishing a system to get the work done. "Basically I had to get my system down pat. At first I was all over the place. I did one job in the north side, then one south. So the first thing I realized was that I needed a system to organize the work. I figured that by organizing it properly I could get more done and would spend less money driving all over, so I started organizing jobs geographically. I figured that out after the first year."