Eutberto Alvarez, his wife, Juana Jimenez and son Junior never planned on running their own company. But when the opportunity presented itself they took full advantage.
By combining family commitment with on-the-job skills, an emphasis on online marketing and an allegiance to customers, Sunstar Seal Coating, Glendale, AZ, has grown steadily over a decade into a small, successful family-owned pavement maintenance company.
Founded in 2004, Sunstar Seal Coating is co-owned by Eutberto and Juana. Junior works in the field but is also estimator and salesperson and (and everyone pitches in at the office). With only four people on the payroll, Sunstar performs almost all its own work, generating 60% of sales from sealcoating; 30% from paving, repair and cracksealing; and 10% from minor concrete repair and replacement. Almost all their work is commercial, though the company does do some residential work too.
An Unexpected Startup
Eutberto had worked for 15 years as foreman at a California paving company, moving to Phoenix when the company split and half became a paving company based in Arizona. One day, with no warning, the company went out of business and everyone lost their job. Eutberto, Juana and Junior found other work, while at the same time continuing to do part-time sealcoating. They did this for almost two years.
“Eventually it got to the point where everyone working their fulltime job and part-time sealcoating was too much, so the family sat down and we asked ourselves, ‘As a family, why don’t we try to get our own license and start our own paving company?’” Junior says.
“When you do something like that you don’t really know what the outcome is going to be, but you have to take that step because if you don’t, you’ll always be in the same place.”
Junior says a key to their early success and eventual growth was simple but grueling. He and his father made cold calls to jobsites throughout the Phoenix area and introduced themselves to contractors – electricians, plumbers, general contractors – basically any contractor who might at some point need some paving done.
“We spent a lot of time introducing ourselves and getting our name out there and eventually we got our name out there enough and people started calling us,” Junior says. “We still have some of those same customers we started with.”
They also did a lot of free estimating, which didn’t turn into a lot of work. “But it did get our name out there,” Junior says.
He says that part of getting their name out there was online marketing, and he says that when they decided they needed money to market themselves the family got together again.
“We made a family commitment,” he says. “My parents were committed to spending money on marketing and on equipment and on the business in general. So we all contributed as it was needed. We made a commitment that whatever we needed became an investment from everyone in the family.”
He says online marketing made a real impact, especially when the company got more involved using Google Adwords and search engine optimization, for example. And they started getting better-quality leads and contacts from customers who are ready to get the job done.
“Most customers Googling for a certain repair are ready to do the job within a week or maybe a month,” he says. “So now we can now wait for a phone call and work comes in and we don’t have to chase it.”
To enhance its online marketing, Sunstar Seal Coating recently partnered with BizIQ, which will launch a new Sunstar website and develop a twice-monthly blog for the contractor.
Focus on What the Customer Needs
Junior says that from the start the company has focused on developing long-term relationships with its customers. He says that means understanding what the customer needs, providing options that can help the customer make a better decision, and being transparent throughout the entire relationship.
“I want to build a relationship with the customer so that when they have a pothole in their parking lot they call me to get a bid and to get the job done,” Junior says. “We want a long-term relationship and we can only get that if we’re up front with the customer.”
“We tell them how long whatever we do is expected to last, and we tell them what they’re going to need to do along the way to help it last that long,” he says. “We give them the options available to them and then we give them our recommendation – but we tell them everything up front.
“That sets us apart by doing that from the beginning,” Junior says. “If we tell you we’re going to do a 4-in. overlay of half-inch mix and we’re going to place it in two 2-in. lifts of compacted asphalt – that’s what you’re going to get.”
To reinforce its transparency, Sunstar takes photos as each job progresses, showing, for example, the depth of each lift.
“We take photos as we’re doing it for ourselves and for our customers so they know they’re getting what they paid for and what we promised,” Junior says. “That’s one of the big things I hear from our customers, that we do what we say we’re going to do.”