Marking Systems: Tips to Grow Your Business

Marking Systems offers several tips for contractors to improve and grow their businesses.

Marking Systems, Little Rock, AR, offers several tips for contractors to improve and grow their businesses. Whether it is the use of load out sheets or other systems that will improve efficiency, Marking Systems has found success.

Marking Systems' "Load Out Sheet"

With two locations in Arkansas and one in Texas, Marking Systems has standardized systems from one location to another. President Mike Cumming says one of the most effective efforts the contractor has made is the use of "load out sheets," which are developed for each job and given to each crew. Would the idea work for your company?

Click here to view a copy of Marking Systems load out sheets.

To read more about the rebirth of this pavement marking company check out the May issue of Pavement Maintenance & Reconstruction or click "A Parking Lot Striping Model that Works."

How Arkansas' Marking Systems worked its way back from the brink of disaster

In 1999 Mike Cumming, president of Marking Systems, Little Rock, AR, found a business partner and jumped with both feet into the road striping market. To read about how that worked and where the company stands today check out "A Parking Lot Striping Model that Works" online or in the May issue of Pavement Maintenance & Reconstruction.

To learn how Marking Systems worked its way back after its road striping foray, read on:

Cumming says that, luckily, he and his partner never abandoned the parking lot market completely, estimating that about 70% of their work was on roads and 30% on parking lots. "But a lot of my customers thought I was too big to handle their parking lots. I lost a lot of great customers who had trusted me and I had to slowly gain their trust back and some I never did get back," he says. "There are two or three of them I haven't been able to get back."

Cumming says that Marking System went from $1.5 million in sales with road striping to $200,000 in parking lot striping sales at end of 2002.

"I found it was very humbling but the result of all that is to go back to your basic instincts," he says. "It really simplifies everything for you: Here are the jobs we've got, let's go do them and get paid and get on to tomorrow. It took a lot of worries away."

So he started knocking on doors. "I went to construction sites and talked with the supervisor on the site, I went to restriping prospects and left my card and I told them basically the same story and thanked them for giving me a shot if they did."

He says it took him a full two years to get back to where he was before going into road striping, and he credits a number of factors for his success reviving his pavement marking company. First was his willingness to start over. He went back to the way he started his company and built Marking Systems back up one job at a time. "We went back to doing $300-$400 jobs, doing three or four a day," he says. "I always said 'If we can do four minimal jobs a day we can be profitable.' We downsized to four guys and we went back to doing that type of work."

Next he credits a core group of paving and sealcoating contractors who have remained loyal to him, subcontracting their striping work to him over the years. And finally he says some of what he did and learned in his foray into road striping carried over to parking lot work.

"Once we got back into parking lot work we made a pretty good living doing big box stores and new construction, and the road work we had done did help out because I had kept the thermoplastic handliners from that business," he says.

Cumming says that in 2002 most parking lot stripers hadn't made the switch to thermoplastic "and that's how I got back after the 2001 - striping overlays for the asphalt guys and doing thermoplastic for the big box stores. We could both stripe the lot with paint and use thermo on the roads in and around the store," he says.

"I found a nice little niche in the big box stores, and the thermoplastic really helped me do that," he says. "For a while we were doing eight a year and to a parking lot striping company if you can get a $50,000-$70,000 job like that it's a pretty good size job , especially if you're efficient, which we are."

Efficiencies You Can Use, Courtesy of Marking Systems

Marking Systems emphasizes estimating and planning. But that’s not all the company does. Marking Systems has turned to other systems to improve efficiency and keep costs down.

  • Marking Systems uses the Graco layout system (find its name) on any substantial job. “As far as big box stores go we’ve cut our layout time from three days to less than one day,” says President Mike Cumming. “Onsite that has been the biggest timesaver.”
  • Use of LineDrivers on most jobs and on jobs of any real size.
  • Cumming relies on Quikbooks Online so he can view the estimates sent out from all three locations as they’re sent out, and he can see it in real time. “By using QuickBooks Online everything is uniform. Our customers are not getting all these different-looking estimates from us, it all looks the same and the same is true of our invoicing,” he says. “That program enables me to do without a huge support staff and the overhead that goes along with that, and a low overhead helps us to be competitive.
  • With three locations Marking Systems often trades employees from one job to another depending on schedules and the size of the projects. “We look to see what each other’s schedules are like and in many cases we can bid big jobs and exchange people to help one another out. That means a lot of travel and nights in hotels but all overnight stays and per diems are included in the bid for the job, everything down to the mile.” He says their ability to contribute workers as needed enable marking Systems to often put experienced, qualified people on a job where otherwise they would have had to hire inexperienced local laborers. “Maybe if we have one experienced guy on the job we save the cost of two laborers,” Cumming says. “Plus we’ll probably get the work done better and quicker, and we can get the invoice out sooner and we can get on to the next job.”