The stripes can often seem brighter when parking lot marking contractors consider road marking as an expansion option, and it’s no wonder: The contracts are bigger, the lines are longer, the gallons put down are greater – and the profit potential can be seductive.
But Mike Cumming, president of Marking Systems, knows those stripes aren’t always as bright as they seem. The owner of a three-location pavement marking company headquartered in Little Rock, AR, has been there, done that – and it almost cost him his business. Since then he’s developed a model for opening additional pavement marking locations, and he is well on the way to growing his company within the parking lot striping niche he knows best and enjoys most.
“We want to be recognized as the best or one of the best in striping, first and foremost, and that will always keep our doors open,” Cumming says. “Then we can add other services once we reach that point.”
That’s the plan that got the company started in 1992 and the plan that pulled Marking Systems through ten years later after its brief but scary foray into the long-line striping business. It’s a plan that requires learning the business, hands-on management, a focus on pavement marking, and developing a reputation that makes current customers ask you to do more work for them.
“I think I’ve got a model that works on which to expand. I think I could take somebody with a very little bit of knowledge in parking lot work and train him and open up another office,” Cumming says.
And other than an ill-fated foray into road striping that almost destroyed the company, Cumming and Marking Systems are on a slow and steady path to growth. Today Marking Systems covers Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, and parts of Texas from three locations: Little Rock, the first branch in Springdale, AR; and the most recent expansion, Dallas.
The headquarters in Little Rock was started in 1992 and currently employs 10 people doing work on parking lots, small highways, and intersections. Cumming says 60% of the work is pavement marking including thermoplastic, and 40% is pavement maintenance and repair including sealcoating, cracksealing, and pothole repair. “That 60 used to be 90,” Cumming says.
And that’s part of the model.
A Business ModelThat Works
“I focused only on striping from 1992 to 1998 and had great luck with it,” Cumming says. “But I wanted to grow and pavement maintenance was a big growth area I saw. My commercial clients liked dealing with me and they called me and wanted me to do more work for them, they wanted me to take on more of their properties. Pavement maintenance work goes hand in hand with striping – I even have two sweeper trucks – and I just continued to do more of that and transform the company.”
Cumming says the company got a big boost in 1995 when he was awarded a contract to restripe a number of Wal-Mart properties throughout the south-central U.S., living in an RV and pulling a trailer with all equipment behind it. “We worked our tails off that summer but made good money – enough to buy new equipment and a new trailer, and that’s how we operated until 1999.”
Following the approach that was successful in Little Rock, Cumming in 2005 opened Marking Systems NW in Springdale, AR. “Everything we do in Little Rock they do in Springdale,” Cumming says. Brad Cordell, Marking Systems vice president, manages the Springdale branch and its five employees. The branch started with almost 100% pavement marking work but following the Little Rock model that has now shifted to 70% pavement marking and 30% pavement maintenance.
In 2008 Cumming opened Marking Systems of Texas in Dallas, managed by his cousin Steve Humphrey.
“I trained Brad in-depth and I’m confident with what he can do,” Cumming says. “Once we got to that point we opened Springdale. Then we trained Steve for a year and when I got to the same point with him we opened in Dallas.”