Plenty in a name at RLH Sealcoating

When your name is on the business, the business reflects who you are. That's the philosophy that has worked for Bob Hamblin and his company, RLH Sealcoating, Martinsville, IN, since Hamblin sealed his first driveway in 1982.

"This is my business. This is my name. RLH are my initials, so whatever we do out there we're going to do so I can be proud of it," Hamblin says.

Like many sealcoaters, Hamblin started in the paving industry, sealcoating driveways on his own on weekends using 55-gal. barrels on the back of a pickup truck. Eventually he quit the paving job with nothing to fall back on, sealcoated a driveway on the way home after quitting, made $30 cash, and decided he was going into the sealcoating business full time. Business was slow at first, and he recalls one of the slowest stretches during that first summer. "One day I went out and said I'm not coming home until I get a job to sealcoat," he says. "I got a job later that day, in the afternoon, and I still have that account to this day."

When Hamblin started he was doing all the work from sales, to bidding, invoicing, and the sealcoating itself - and his customers loved it. Eventually RLH grew enough to run two crews, but Hamblin cut back because quality workers are hard to find (though one of his workers, Daniel Kenworthy, has been with the company 15 years).

"When we call to schedule a job the first question we get is 'Is Bob going to do it'?" says his wife, Joyce, who handles all the in-office functions at RLH. "He's a person people like doing business with, he's honest, he's fair, and they know they're going to get a good job done."

He says that right from the start RLH Sealcoating filled a niche because the big sealcoating contractors just weren't interested in doing driveways, so RLH didn't step on any toes. "The big guys were production-oriented, wanting to put a lot of material down quickly, and you can't do that on a driveway job," Hamblin says. "They didn't have a problem with me starting up at all, and many of them directed driveway work his way."

He operated out of a 6-ft. x 6-ft. corner of the garage, and he kept all his sealcoating customers, which for a long time were residential homeowners only, on 3 x 5 cards in a recipe box.

"At first 100% of my work was driveways, and I can't tell you how valuable those driveways were to my business," he says. "I found that people who owned those driveways, nine times out of 10 they own - or know people who own - a commercial business, and that lead me right into commercial sealcoating."

After one year he had 150 accounts (in his recipe box). Currently he has more than 5,000 accounts (residential and commercial) that take up a full wall of files in his home office. Hamblin keeps track of when he does each driveway and tries to repeat sealcoating the same driveway every two or three years. "But I will tell them if I don't think their driveway needs to be sealed," he says. "I'll do it if they want me to but I'll tell them if I don't think it needs to be done." He does no cold calling and no marketing. "I only do what comes to me."

"I have high expectations on the job, but that's because it's my name on the company," Hamblin says. "We use a straight edge to get a straight line, we edge all the work, we take our time and do it right. But we have to do it right because this is how I make my living - the crew gets paid whether they make a mistake or not, but if we have an unhappy customer that affects my livelihood."

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