She says she is not afraid to buy new equipment or tools when they're needed. "But I don't want to pay money for equipment just to have something new. These things are not toys; they are workhorses," she says. "I believe in equipment but I don't believe in equipment for equipment's sake. You take care of what you have as best you can, keep it clean, keep it working, and that's all you need. Who needs a $60,000 truck to pull a trailer?"
Holding her prices
Darst says she has not raised her sealcoating price in six years, partly because she works hard to keep costs down.
"I've set a price where I'm comfortable with it and my customers are comfortable with it," she says.
She even re-uses T-stakes that block off driveways to help maintain costs.
"The stakes stay in the driveway and then we even store them in some of the customer's garages, bringing them out the next time we sealcoat their driveway. We just reuse them the next year. You might not think that saves much money, but everything I can save means I don't have to raise my prices and my customers appreciate that."
Darst charges 30% more for sealing new driveways or parking lots. "I know a lot of people bid lower than I do, but I can live with that," she says. "When a customer, new or old, tries someone else because they're cheaper, and when they're done the homeowner can't get them to come back to fix something or can't even get them on the phone, that's fine with me. Because that means I'll get that customer back, and once I get you I'll keep you."
In 2007 daughter Nichole joined full time, though she had been a part-time worker doing sealcoating with Allied over the previous five years. Nichole has a degree in cosmetology, and they think with Pam also being in the cosmetology field it helps them when working on residential driveways.
"We pay a lot of attention on driveways," she says. "There's almost always concrete around the asphalt some place, and homeowners don't want sealer on their concrete." Or on their patio or on the side of their house. One way Allied prevents that is to place mats - used car mats, mud flaps from trucks, or just cardboard - on concrete to prevent tracking of materials.
She says that not only is she particular about the way the work is done, but she and Nichole work hard, not stopping to "chit-chat" with each other or take breaks.
"But we are very personable with each of the homeowners. They're the client, they're the customer, and you need to treat them the way they expect to be treated.
"We're not just two people out there trying to con people?we're people who meet with them, talk with them, answer their questions," Darst says. "We make a first contact with each customer each day before we start their job, assuming they're home. If they're not home we make sure to leave a card in the door or someplace where they will be sure to find it.
"We're professionals," Darst says. "We look professional, we act professional, and we do a neat, professional job."