Patrick Thomason didn't start a pavement maintenance company. When he launched his business, South Eastern Commercial Property Services Inc. they were in an entirely different field.
"We actually started out as a landscaping company," said Thomason. "We did that for about five-to-seven years. Then we worked our way into commercial pressure washing." The company's journey began in 1993, and then, around 2007, one of their clients approached them with a question that would alter the course of their history forever, bringing them inevitably to winning this year's Seal and Stripe: Large Job Award!
The First Steps Into The Pavement World
One truth about commercial property managers is that they like to keep things as small a headache as possible. Which is what likely led to them approaching Thomason's company about more than just landscaping services. When they needed some striping done, they came to South Eastern, hoping to find a solution without having to find a new contractor.
"We were approached about line striping," Thomason said. "At the time, I was fairly ignorant to it. The only way I'd seen people doing it was taping off lines and using paint rollers." But he wasn't quick to jump into anything, at first, and wasn't exactly interested in launching into an entirely new unknown sector. However, the thought wouldn't immediately go away, and he kept thinking about the possibilities.
"We decided to start by just doing some basic research into it," he said, and eventually the prospects were too good to pass up. "So, after we found the Graco line of machines, we went all in on it." But they didn't stop there, of course, because the call of blacktop pulled them further into the industry.
"One thing led to another, of course, and we got into sealcoating and crack sealing too," Thomason recalled. Before Patrick knew it, he was roping in friends, family, and even some neighbors as the work grew.
South Eastern stays very busy, but they are still a fairly small company, boasting eleven full-time employees to cover all their jobs. While Thomason noted that they intend to hire more new full-timers in the future, it's something that he takes very seriously. If you join their team, it's akin to joining the family.
"I would like to find people that don't just want a job," Thomason said. "People who want more than that, who want a career, who could retire here. We're able to offer that to the people that work with us. I don't add on anybody else until I can guarantee them that, because, even slower times, there's no such thing as laying people off. We don't do that. Everybody stays on permanent no matter what we do."
Working For the NSA
The award winning job had some unique challenges associated with it, since it was located at the NSA campus in Fort Gordon, GA. The sealcoat and stripe work was across178,600 square yards with 3,435 parking stalls, crosswalks, roadway center lines, and stop bars. They used approximately 10,000 lbs. of crack seal, 29,750 gallons of coal tar seal, and 5 whole pallets of paint.
"With it being a government job of this kind, we had to go through a lot of security clearances and background checks," Thomason said, however, that wasn't the biggest challenge they faced. "Honestly, one of the largest concerns we had to deal with was just the weather. We had a sixty day window for getting the job done, and we really lucked out because we only lost maybe one days to that. It's extremely unusual for this time of year in this area."
For South Eastern's crew of almost a dozen employees, this was their largest job to-date. While they were certainly excited to tackle it, and they knew they had enough people and equipment to get it done on-time there was just one other thing they had to contend with.
"Trying to do this job plus keep up with our other, usual customers was somewhat of a real challenge for us," Thomason remembered that juggling those aspects required an all-hands-on-deck approach. To accomplish it, they dedicated seven of their full-time people to it, while rotating the others where they were needed elsewhere. All-in-all, that team was able to get the job done in just twenty-one working days, far below the window they were allotted. The planning phase was crucial to this achievement.
"We broke the job down into seven sections," he said the seven person crew split into two teams of three and four. "We would go into a section, clean and crack seal it first, then follow it up the next day with seal coat, and the day after that, the team of three would work on the striping while the larger team moved onto the next section and start the process over." One by one, the dominoes fell into place, and the job operated like a fine tuned clock.
All The Cooks In The Kitchen
As you might imagine, though, when working for Uncle Sam, the NSA, the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the core of engineers no less, there were a lot of eyes on what they were doing and how they were doing it.
"There were frequent inspections going on," Thomason said. "Five or six people driving around or walking around, watching what we were doing, and keeping an eye on us. As soon as we finished the first major section, they came out to inspect the work. Of course, it just made me a little nervous." When the NSA is examining your sealing and striping, how could anyone not be, at least, the tiniest bit anxious about it.
"Thankfully, after they went and walked it down thoroughly, they told us that they couldn't find anything to say about it at all. It was perfect. Everyone was happy, shaking hands, and from then on everything went very smoothly."
Sadly, due to heavy restrictions, including not being able to bring their phones onto the jobsite or take any before or after pictures of the parking lot, the only photos are from Google Earth. Even then, the product of their efforts comes through.
The Future For The Business
One new area where Thomason sees the potential for growth is in the realm of thermoplastics, and doing the heavy roadway line striping.
"In the next two years maybe, I'd like to have a dedicated seal coat crew with at least six people, and a dedicated striping group, and then a dedicated thermoplastic crew going into the bigger roadway striping," He said. This is part of his larger and more long-term plan to eventually set the company up for its eventual future in the hands of his children, who already play a large daily role in its operations.
"We've been we've been really blessed to have a lot of good loyal customers, and we don't take any anything for granted," he continued. "When I finally do decide to step down, my goal is that it continues to be a self-sustainable thing for daughter, and my son, as well as for the people that work with us."
Based not only on this award winning work, but on their long foundation and history doing it, it seems likely that South Eastern Commercial Property Services will continue on performing quality and consistency for their customers and their community for the foreseeable future.