The Minniears had a definite game plan when they started to pursue business years ago and it's a plan they have remained faithful to. First, they didn't want to compete on the low-bid level. Second, they wanted to have a business that, for the most part, operates during normal business hours. Third, they wanted to select their clients, identifying and pursuing what they term "anchor customers" that they want to base their business on.
"We pursue what we consider to be anchor businesses and let other jobs fill in the gap," Minniear says.
Minniear says he and Alan established a number of criteria for prospects and the first one was they wanted clients who were not going to move out of town or close their doors. One of the early anchor customers Straight Lines pursued was Fairfield Mfg., which employs 1,000 people. "We knew not only that they weren't going anywhere, but every one of their employees has a driveway," he says.
They also targeted school systems, hospitals, insurance companies (Lafayette Life, State Farm and others have large properties in or near Lafayette), then banks (because they offer weekend work) and churches (because they offer weekday work). Once they had a number of anchor customers they began pursuing homeowner associations and upscale housing areas, which Minniear says "are lucrative because they have broader spray areas and require little hand work." Only then did they begin pursuing local industries.
"But the local industries are difficult to break into, partly because they already have relationships established with other contractors," he says. "So it's hard to get in but once we get a $100 or $200 job that gives us a chance for the next job which often is a bigger one. The important thing is to get on their vendor list."
He says that Straight Lines has considered expanding in any of a number of ways but is content with the size and structure and profitability of the business as it stands today.
"This is where we want to keep it," he says. "The middle-sized jobs are where the money is at, and that's our specialty.
Contractors have to realize that big doesn't necessarily mean good. If you have to go back to jobs to fix something that's just going to eat any profit up. So it's quality and not size that determines success."
Diversification for success
Despite the fact that Straight Lines started life as a striping company, it has become a basic pavement maintenance contractor, largely because, Minniear says, customers liked the work they did and wanted them to offer additional services. In 2005 Straight Lines generated 40% of sales from sealcoating, 33% from cracksealing, and 25% from striping. Roughly 30% of their work is subcontracted from paving contractors, another 20% is by referrals, and the rest the company generates itself.
Minniear says striping, the key to the initial success of the company, is still an integral part of its service package and sales.
Despite the fact striping generates a smaller percentage of sales than the other work, Straight Lines is the striper paving contractors, local municipalities, and businesses turn to.
A recent highly successful, yet extremely complicated job the contractor completed was sealcoating, layout, and striping of a Subaru Isuzu auto storage yard parking lot in Lafayette. Not only does the 180-acre lot hold 30,000 vehicles, but the cars are parked in coded parking stalls for inventory purposes and so they can be located quickly for shipping to dealers. So in addition to layout out the parking lot, Straight Lines had to use stencils to number and letter each designated space.
Soon after the striping business was established, Straight Lines added sealcoating, a natural extension. Minniear says they started out offering driveway sealcoating but they no longer pursue that work. "If people call us we'll do it, but we don't pursue driveway sealcoating," he says. The company also does not pursue fast-food restaurants, though as with driveways it will do that work if called upon.
"We'll do it but that work is too competitive and too bottom-line oriented, and that's not the type of business we want to run," he says. Another reason they don't pursue fast food properties is that work often has to be done at night and Straight Line works hard to have hours as close to "normal" business hours as possible.
Minniear says crack repair is an integral part on almost every parking lot sealcoating job they do. But they get more cracksealing work from other contractors too.