Dan Friedman and Mark Alley began their pavement maintenance company in 1997 with a simple philosophy go after the business you know you can get, limit expenses and make customers happy through quality workmanship and excellent service.
Directing their efforts at residential customers, the AmeriCoat founders devised a direct-mail campaign aimed at homes valued at $125,000-plus and focused on Upper Arlington, Bexley and Clintonville and nearby Delaware and Marysville. Five percent of all distributed fliers, which feature AmeriCoats uniformed employees and gleaming equipment, result in contracts.
Its not a blind campaign, said Friedman. Weve built a database which holds almost every single driveway in Columbus. We know whether its asphalt or concrete and how big it is. We literally can market at will and get as much business as we want.
Alley says the company compiles data by using staff and temporary employees to conduct neighborhood surveys during the off-season.
AmeriCoat has been profitable from the start, reporting a $16,000 net profit on revenues of $151,000 in 1998, the first full year of operation. The 1999 revenues for the 10-employee company, six full-time and four part-time staff, jumped to $250,000. AmeriCoat hires additional, temporary employees during the busy season, using seven crews to do the work.
When Friedman, 30, president, and Alley, 26, vice president, founded the company, they needed to control salary expenses. Friedman stayed on with employer Black & Decker for three years during AmeriCoats planning and launch stages, and Alley continued working at S.T.A.R. Seal of Ohio until 1998. Both had developed their careers with promotions through sales and marketing positions.
Theyre extremely creative and innovative in their approach to marketing, says their National City banker, Anne Jennings. When they applied for a loan, they gave one of the most professional presentations Ive seen.
Soon after getting the loan, Jennings said, the pair didnt hesitate to ask her to help get National City as a client.
Theyre not timid, she says. They go after business aggressively.
Jennings, vice president of National Citys business services group, says even when the AmeriCoat team loses a contract bid, they follow up with customers to find out why and make improvements.
Although AmeriCoat services other commercial accounts, including Lone Star Steakhouse, 75 percent of its business is residential. This year, Friedman and Alley expect the company to be the market share leader in the residential segment of the market.
But while business was excellent June through September, the owners had been looking for ways to keep staff employed and trucks running during the cold season. They considered snow removal but deemed it too difficult and unpredictable.
A flier dropped off to Alleys family in Indianapolis, offering to string Christmas lights for a fee, provided the answer. Why not try it in Columbus, Alley and Friedman thought. The same equipment used for AmeriCoat could be put to another use. Dubbed The Light Before Christmas, the new venture debuted in 1999.
The response has been tremendous, says Friedman. We did hundreds of jobs and booked up almost instantly. We had to turn away a great deal of business because we didnt have the capacity to fill the orders.
Most customers opt for the mid-sized order: 2,000 lights for $150, Friedman says. The company did few commercial orders, but Friedman says companies will be a major focus in 2000. The pair has a smaller operation of The Light Before Christmas in Tampa and hopes to franchise the company in the next few years.
This year, theyll try a new form of direct mail for both operations that is expected to quadruple their business. While AmeriCoat already has a small operation in Grand Rapids, Mich., the partners want to expand the company in the next five years to cities close to home Cincinnati, Cleveland and Indianapolis. They know business will grow steadily, one customer at a time.
We may not turn a profit on an individual customer, says Friedman. But theyll keep us for life because theyre tickled that were relentless in keeping them happy.
Muntaqima Abdur-Rashid is a Columbus-based free-lance writer.