Straight Lines Inc., Lafayette, IN, began life just as many small contracting firms in the pavement maintenance market do—almost by accident. But little has been accidental since then. In fact, the 3-person,16-year-old pavement marking firm now has itself firmly established in the west-central Indiana market. And in addition to be the striping contractor many clients turn to for striping work, they have expanded to become a traditional pavement maintenance firm, offering sealcoating, crack repair and pavement repair in addition to pavement marking.
But that wasn't the initial plan. In 1989 Jim Minniear was working as superintendent of maintenance for Fairfield Manufacturing Co. A contractor who performed maintenance work for Fairfield had reconditioned an old Kelly-Creswell striper and tried to sell it to Fairfield so the manufacturing operation could do its own striping. Fairfield wasn't interested in performing that service itself, so declined to buy the machine.
But the offer did start Minniear to thinking. Minniear's son, Alan, was a junior in high school and on the lookout for a summer job. So Minniear bought the machine for Alan "to see what he could do with it as a part-time and summer business," Jim says.
Alan started by repainting warehouse and parking lot lines at Fairfield. He also did some basic market research, calling businesses and sealcoating contractors to see how they got their pavement marking done and who was doing it. He learned that many -- if not most -- of the properties and contractors were striping pavement on their own. That summer Alan Minniear grossed $12,000 in three months.
"When I realized that I thought, 'maybe there's something here," Jim Minniear says.
After high school father and son decided to pursue a pavement marking business. Jim provided necessary guidance until 1994 when he left Fairfield and joined Alan.
"It took a couple of years and we built the business up to where it's pretty lucrative," he says. Today Minniear and his son are co-owners of Straight Lines Inc.
Jim Minniear's wife, Carolyn, retired from State Farm Insurance and now runs the Straight Lines office. She began working part time "and before I know it she's promoted herself to office manager," Jim says.
Straight Lines Inc. currently has six full-time employees (Jim, Alan, Carolyn, and three lead men). Because of insurance costs the company hires additional laborers through workforce agencies (the agency provides the insurance).
"The good thing about temporary workers is if it doesn't work out we just call and tell them it's not working out and they send us another person," Jim says. He says that all temporary employees are cross-trained as soon as they begin working with the company on each service the company offers.
"That way if we need to we can break them up into three crews doing three different things at the same time, and we can work at three different locations if we need to."
Alan's early market research paid off in more ways than one. First, he learned that most properties weren't already hiring a pavement marking contractor, which showed him that there was a market.
Second, he realized he could probably break into the pavement marking business relatively easily because the barrier to entry was low (he already had his own truck and a used and very inexpensive striping machine) and because there were few competitors.
Third, during the research Jim and Alan met a contractor in his early 60s who had three striping machines and who was doing striping for a number of properties. Because he was older and not interested in developing his business he was willing to talk with them about pavement marking in general. Plus, after they got to know him better, they asked him how much longer he was going to stripe. He said he planned to get out of the business when he turned 65.
"So we made a Gentleman's Agreement with him," Minniear says. "We said 'We'll stay out of your way if you give us your garbage work.' He was amenable to that because he often needed someone to do work he couldn't handle."