Every company has turning points, those moments – days, weeks, even a year – where the leader’s corporate vision is refined, where he takes the steps to transform the company, positioning it where he wants to be.
For Christian Parker, president of Parker Line Striping, that turning point was 2002, and it wasn’t a transformation he’d planned. He’d been striping in and around St. Lawrence County, NY, during the summer for years, mainly to support a singing career (you can check out his music at www.christianparker.com). In 1993 he decided to focus on growing his striping company, and he wore all the hats, including doing the striping as foreman of a three-person striping crew.
“During the period when I was the main person pushing the striper my philosophy was that nobody can paint like I do. One day a very wise person in business told me ‘with that attitude you will never grow, you need to let go of the handle bars.’”
What happened next not only caused Parker to relinquish the handlebars, it resulted in him re-evaluating his entire pavement marking operation, re-inventing his business, and taking an entirely new approach that has transformed his commercial pavement maintenance company. Today the 30-employee business has offices in New York and Florida, works in more than 20 eastern states, and generates 65 percent of sales from pavement marking. Following a visit to National Pavement Expo in 2007 Parker decided to broaden his pavement maintenance reach and now generates 20 percent of sales from sealcoating, 10 percent from cracksealing, and 5 percent from pavement repair.
Parker attributes much of the company’s success to the Parker Team, which includes the in-office staff and the field employees, including Jennifer Parker, project manager/national accounts manager, “my wife and support system,” Dennis Smith, senior project manager with 25 years of experience, and Don Barton, project manager. “It’s the entire team that makes this work,” he says. “There’s constant, open communication between office and customers and crews. I have a good structure behind me to get the job done.”
But that all happened after 2002, when Parker spent the year simply trying to survive. In 2001 Parker Line Striping’s biggest client went bankrupt and the company was left with $30,000 of bills. Parker approached his suppliers to buy time to work through the debt, and the suppliers agreed to accept small payments in the offseason with a balloon payment late in 2002. “We convinced them it would be better for them and better for us to be in business than to see us fail and they agreed. By being up front with them and communicating with them we were able to make it happen,” Parker says. “But 2002 was a very sobering year. We had paid off the debt but hardly had anything left at the end and I was wondering whether it was time for a career change.”
He waited out the winter and by spring decided to stay in business. “I recognized what a good reputation we have and I decided to see if we can make it work,” he says. “There was still a lot of future here.”
So Parker reached out to Walmart. From previous efforts Parker had a vendor number from them and having that vendor number gave the company a boost. Plus, the local striping contractor who had been working for Walmart resigned the job and Parker knew about it.
Soon after he was awarded the Walmart account he realized he could no longer be the guy in the field applying paint. “I had to change hats and be the guy who talks to people, makes cold calls, and does the bidding,” he says. “That’s when the business really started to grow.”
Parker says the change was difficult for him because he’d always done the striping and he considers himself “pretty much a perfectionist. I thought no one could paint as well as I could and I had trouble giving that up. I wanted every job to look right, to look perfect, and that takes a lot of trust in your crews that they can do that, but I eventually developed that trust.”