Earning Your Stripes
Is parking lot striping the hot new revenue opportunity for landscapers?
(L. to R.) Thomas E. Darrow, COO; Daniel Rella, CFO; and C. J. Couri, CEO, of We Do Lines were in the landscape business and came up with We Do Lines and the parking lot striping idea during a "brainstorming" session.
As the song goes: "They paved paradise and put in a parking lot" - and a new parking lot striping franchise is promising outdoor property management companies a new revenue stream. New England-based franchisor We Do Lines says landscape companies are positioned to deliver these services for their commercial and industrial clients.
Some companies have already added the franchise to their operations.
As of this writing in mid-summer, We Do Lines (WDL) had 12 franchise units across the United States, and it's projecting 100 units over the next five years. With the parking lot striping industry being so fragmented, WDL also entertains the conversion of existing businesses.
After having taken over and operated Young's of Ridgefield, a commercial and residential landscape company, rental equipment and power equipment service center in Ridgefield, Conn., Chris Couri, CEO of We Do Lines, along with partners, Tom Darrow, company COO, and Dan Rella, CFO, sought an additional business opportunity to leverage their client databases, relationships and equipment.
Couri and Rella were partners in 65-year-old Young's of Ridgefield, with Darrow, who started Pennacle Landscaping in Ridgefield and operating Tedco Management Group LLC, Calabash, N.C., joining them to start and grow the We Do Lines business.
The idea for WDL sprang from intense brainstorming sessions with Darrow, coming up with parking lot striping. This eventually led to related parking lot services. The company's website (www.wedolines.com) lists curb painting and pavement stencils, handicapped spaces, wheel stops, traffic sign installations, warehouse floor striping and staging, and parking lot cleaning and light sweeping as services, as well.
Parking lots everywhere
Initially, Darrow didn't know the impressive figures related to the industry. But, as he researched that market he was floored by what he learned. There are more than 500 million parking spaces in the United States and all of them undergo wear and tear and require constant upkeep.
Digging deeper into the parking lot business, the trio agreed that there was a need that wasn't being fully met by that fragmented and under-developed industry, a market that's been estimated at $29 billion. "Intriguing" is the word that Couri uses to describe each revelation.
Then they learned that 54 percent of all vehicular accidents in the United States occur in parking lots. These mishaps cause more than $1 billion in damages and liability claims for businesses annually. Restriping parking lot lines reduces the number of accidents, thereby saving money.
Pavement striping isn't confined to commercial properties. Here Doug Ronan stripes an airport in Florida. Many asphalt surfaces beyond parking lots need lines.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF WE DO LINES.
The welcome mat
Also, stop and think about how important parking lots are to businesses. In a sense, a company's parking lot is its "welcome mat." Arguably, the condition and appearance of a firm's lot might be as important to the image of the business as its landscape. In fact, you can argue that the parking lot represents true "curb appeal." To the point of WDL and this article, they must be striped (usually annually), as well as being maintained and repaired.
"We were all in the landscaping and irrigation business doing residential and commercial properties and we were looking for another business to add," recalls Couri, a Massachusett's Babson College product where he got a goodly dose of the entrepreneurial training. "We already controlled the parking lot in terms of cutting the grass, doing the leaves, snow plowing, cleaning the lots in the spring. It's another service. It smelled like a good opportunity."
We Do Lines Details
Equipment and Manpower: A truck (quad cab), enclosed trailer, two state-of-the-art spray machines, and other necessary supplies, stencils, paint, safety and measuring equipment. Crews are typically two to three people.
Training: WDL franchisees get an intensive one-week training session covering all business aspects from field ops and safety to sales and marketing; with follow up and remote training on systems, IT and vendor relations. Also, the company has factory relationships where franchisees can attend a proprietary course customized for machine operation. Additionally, they require and administer an OSHA course to ensure their crews are as safe as possible.
Franchise Fees/Investment (Including cost of equipment): It varies from $77,000 to $113,000, the range somewhat dependent on the vehicle choice There's a $25,000 franchise fee. The ability to leverage equipment and crews is importnt as a significant portion of the work is done at night.
Territories: The size of the franchise territory may encompass a county, multiple counties or a larger area. As in all franchise agreements, the territories are protected.Marketing:
We Do Lines marketing support includes all the marketing programs created from print to digital, local landing pages, SEO work, PR and creative gorilla marketing initiatives to launch the business.
Working the night shift
Since much of the striping is done at night, the partners reasoned that they could use some of their existing equipment as well as leveraging their crews.
What next? Why, a name of course.
That was somewhat of a challenge. There's nothing sexy about striping a parking lot. They just had to come up with a name that told what the service was all about and, hopefully, would get noticed. Couri, mostly in jest, pitched the name, "We Do Lines." Bingo. His partners said "Let's go with it." The three men started their full-service parking lot striping business in 2008.
Although they worked primarily in the Connecticut market, the company's first year produced a number of inquiries from other parts of the country. Surprised by the response, they realized they had tapped into an under-served market.
"There were pockets of professionals in the business, but for the most part the industry was off the radar," explains Couri. Their entrepreneurial spirits were now fully aroused.
"We realized, 'There's a bigger play here, and the bigger play is to create a national company,'" says Couri. They chose the franchising route, which meant establishing a brand and building a model that works for landscape and lawn service companies regardless of the region they're located.
"We've found a niche. We're elevating and raising the bar in what the customer can expect. We're redefining the industry standards. We're proactive. We're professionalizing this industry," says Couri.
"For those in the land care industry, the obvious synergies are what we found when we started this business. You're able to inject it or bolt it onto your existing business."
No free lunch
Obviously, there's a financial outlay (see sidebar) to become a franchisee, but Couri insists it's reasonable compared to what it can mean to a landscape company's bottom line.
Tyler Vickery in Nashville gets it. Clean, attractive service vehicles promote a professional image.
"What we're doing is building a brand, establishing national relationships and contracts, all under the umbrella and with support starting with day-one operations as opposed to banging your head against the wall and going through that learning curve, which is very expensive," he says, adding that WDL places a priority on their branding and offers the insular benefit of boosting the core landscape/lawn service business.
"I talk to every one of our franchisees every week," says Couri. "I think if you were to ask any of them, they would say that we're approachable and easy to work with. One of our prerequisites is that they have to be passionate about it. This is our baby so-to-speak, and we don't take our responsibility lightly."
Pamela Walton is an experienced reporter and editor that lives and works in Gainesboro, Tenn. Contact her at email@example.com.