Scheduling jobs can be the most difficult aspect of any striping contractor, but scheduling jobs in Las Vegas, which draw vacationers and conventioneers year round in a 24-hour-a-day entertainment environment presents a whole different set of challenges.
And Affordable Striping & Sealing, owned by Shonda Decker, not only takes on those challenges but says bring ‘em on!
“I’ve always said we’re in the ‘Yes’ business so we say ‘Yes’ all the time,” Decker says. “You wouldn’t think we’re in an on-demand business but we are. We get calls every day where someone is getting ready to open something the next day or they just need their pavement taken care of immediately. So we’re always saying ‘Yes’ and our biggest challenge is making sure we fulfill that commitment once we take it on.”
And Affordable Striping, because of its team approach, its respect and commitment to employees, and Decker’s belief in keeping her word and operating with integrity, is able to fulfill those commitments in a working environment that in itself can be viewed as challenging. “Luckily our staff has a commitment to us and to their work, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to be as successful as we are,” she says.
Strength in Striping
Decker started in the industry in 2000, working for a small striping company where she learned how to estimate striping and, eventually, sealcoating. In 2006 an investor offered to back her to start her own company, which she did by herself with two field workers. Operating for three years as a striping company before adding sealcoating, Decker worked out of her living room and a rented storage unit and despite the poor economic times she was able to put Affordable Striping on the Las Vegas map.
“I was doing what you are supposed to do,” she says. “I was keeping my word and running a business with integrity and that made a mark. In an industry that isn’t always known for its professionalism I saw opportunity where if we do things right we’d have a great chance to grow and be successful.”
Affordable Striping doubled its growth each of its first two years and has continued to grow every year since. Three years ago Decker moved from her home office to rent half of a building; soon after she needed the entire building. Last October she bought the building as well as an adjacent building and this year that has become Affordable Striping’s headquarters.
Affordable Striping employs three estimators, three office staff, two field supervisors, nine full-time striping “team members,” and four full-time cracksealing and sealcoating team members. Affordable Striping runs two divisions: one devoted to maintenance of existing pavement including sealcoating and cracksealing, and the other focused on new construction including site preparation and signage installation.
“We don’t do any paving, and that makes us different from other companies in town who do paving and have a striping division or sub out their striping,” Decker says. “Our strength in town is our striping and we’re known as a striping company.”
Affordable Striping generates 10% of work striping road improvements (such as widening), 10% on residential site development (including installing signage and striping crosswalks and stop bars), 30% sealcoating and cracksealing, and 50% striping “all size jobs” from five stalls and handicap symbols to casino parking lots and parking garages. “We’re equipped to do all the jobs from smallest to largest and our crew can adapt to any job we get,” she says.
During its April-through-December season Affordable Striping runs four sealcoating crews and four striping crews at a time, often in day/night split shifts. “This is a 24-hour town, not only the casinos but a lot of the other stores and restaurants that are open to accommodate the shift workers,” Decker says.
She says the company crackseals year round, often cracksealing in winter the parking lots they’ll be sealcoating in the spring. And once spring arrives Affordable Striping will hire back more than a dozen of the long-time seasonal employees it laid off in December. “We’re really fortunate our seasonal guys come back year after year,” Decker says.
Taking Employees Seriously
But there are reasons they come back.
“In this town we have a reputation for taking care of our employees, and we like to think that helps us attract the best workers,” she says. “Word has gotten around that if you do what you’re supposed to do then we’re going to take care of you and that’s not the case for most other companies in our market.”
Decker adds that because they take care of employees she expects the employees to take care of the company. “We pay well, we have a 401(k), and health benefits which is unusual these days for a small company. Our hours are also very consistent week to week so there’s no downtime and we even bring them in to do work in the shop or yard when it rains or when we can’t work so we try to maintain their paychecks.”
She says that she places a lot of emphasis on hiring the right employee, but also on making sure to hire the right person at the right time. “We want to make sure we have work for them,” she says. “When we hire someone we are making a commitment to that person and to their family that we’re going to have work for them, so they know they’ll have a job and so they can take care of their family. I take that seriously.”
Decker says Affordable Striping uses all sorts of methods to find employees, from newspaper ads to craigslist ads to referrals from its employees. But she says they’ve had the best luck looking outside of the industry.” Landscapers, for example, have been a good pool from which to draw. “Those people are used to working outside and they’re used to long days.”
A 24-Hour-a-Day Town
Work in Las Vegas, because of the business of the city itself, goes on 24 hours a day, which presents a unique set of challenges. Decker says first and foremost is safety of their customers’ customers, the people vacationing in Las Vegas who don’t know their way around the city or a property and who certainly aren’t thinking about safety or construction. Then there’s worker safety and even safety of the completed job itself.
Decker says that over the years they’ve learned that though nothing closes in Las Vegas, the best “down hours” are between 2:00 and 7:00 a.m., so much of their work is scheduled then if it can be. But not all work can be done then so they work around the customer’s schedule regardless of what that means to the Affordable Striping schedule.
“We don’t assume those are the best hours, instead we ask each customer when they think the work should be done so it’s less disruptive to their business and safer for their customers,” Decker says.
When they do begin work the first step is setting up traffic control and blocking off the work zone from traffic and from pedestrians. Affordable Striping uses caution tape, barricades, cones, signs, and even Area Closed signs.
“We use a lot more traffic control and barriers than you’d normally use on a typical parking lot, and we place them closer together. We also often have an extra person out there doing traffic control for us on our job, and casinos sometimes provide additional security as well,” Decker says. “But operating in a town like Las Vegas with its party atmosphere, it doesn’t matter how many cones you have up.”
Staging & Move-ins
In addition to the increased emphasis on traffic control and safety, work in a 24-hour city requires attention to staging the job, which requires more move-ins than a contractor would need on a typical job. Affordable Striping often needs to complete the work in a number of smaller sections because they can’t close any parking lots.
So they stage the work, moving from one area of a parking lot to the other side while the first area dries, then packing up and coming back the next night to finish two more sections. Decker says staging a job can mean dividing a parking lot into 10 or more sections, with the plan being to stripe two a night to get the work done and accommodate the customer.
“We stage and work in smaller sections than we normally would or that we like to do because it requires more move-ins to complete the job. But it’s not what’s best for us it’s what best for the customer,” she says.
“When we do need to stage the job in small sections we’ll do an area and wait for it to dry and leave an employee there to guard it while it’s drying,” she says. “We want to protect our work, we don’t want someone stepping onto it and tracking it around.”
Decker says this is done frequently at casinos and hotels but other places of business as well. “We work that way often at grocery stores, restaurants and even bars because those places are also open 24 hours a day to accommodate the shift workers.”
She says staging and additional move-ins are determined after the job has been awarded and the contractor is scheduling the work, so Affordable Striping doesn’t increase its fee when additional move-ins are required.
“Additional move-ins are a minimal factor for us and that’s just the best way to get the job done. We have long-term relationships with many of our customers and once we establish our pricing we stay with it,” Decker says. “Instead of raising our prices we try to figure out how to do it better, how to be more efficient, how we can get better pricing on material. That enables us to maintain our pricing and still increase our margins.”
Constant Efforts to Improve
She says that instead of raising prices, Affordable Striping works to improve what’s it’s doing day to day in order to improve its margins and bottom line. She says the company’s ability to retain its seasonal workers makes it much easier to be productive at the start of each season and to improve efficiency on its jobs.
“Our employees take a lot of pride in their work and we as a company take pride in the work our crews do,” Decker says. “By having the same employees year after year we don’t have to spend time teaching them things or even reteaching things. And whenever a problem does come up we make sure to figure out exactly what happened and then how we can fix it or do it better.”
One example she cites is the creation of a timeline for sealcoating work Affordable Striping uses to plan out a job and keep the customer informed about what’s going to happen. “We create a timeline and we give it to the customer,” she says. “That way they know exactly what to expect, when, so they can do their own planning and scheduling and so they know what we’re doing at each stage of the project.”
Affordable Striping also collects detailed job-related information from each customer using a form that lists and asks all sorts of job-impacting details. “It’s a step-by-step form that takes them through everything we need to know to get the work done for them on their schedule,” Decker says. “We ask for emergency contacts so if we discover a leak in the irrigation system we know immediately who to call. It asks what days their trash is picked up – all the things that they probably aren’t going to think about but that are critical to getting the job done on time.”
To improve communication and to ease customer concerns Affordable Striping provides customers what is essentially a Frequently Asked Questions sheet that provides basic information about the material, the process, what to expect once the job’s finished and more. “We try to answer any question that might come up based on previous experience and add to it as we go,” Decker says.
She says they’ve also developed a better system of communication for pre-job, on-the-job and post-job contact with customers. “We were relying a lot of email and we felt we lost the personal touch with the customer, that we thought we’d become ‘just another email’ to them,” she says. “So this year we’re emphasizing phone calls and in-person visits. This year we’re going to make sure we connect with existing customers, just drop in and bring them a breakfast tray or a snack and say thanks for the relationship.”