The first look is a casual one that is usually followed by a double take. The scrutiny grows more intense by the third go-around—and even though they’ve been told what they are seeing—most people continue to shake their heads in denial.
“That’s brick, so where is the asphalt?” they say with the smug satisfaction of someone who feels as if they have solved a magician’s trick.
But there’s no magic involved in the proprietary decorative asphalt paving technology of Driveway Impressions that produces a three-dimensional replication of hand-laid brick, elegant slate, cobblestone and other design effects directly onto an asphalt base of a new or existing driveway using grid-style templates.
Driveway Impressions is a wholly owned subsidiary of Integrated Paving Concepts Inc., the original developer of the proprietary decorative asphalt process called “StreetPrint.” Founded in 1992 by Scott Hind and John Simmons, IPC’s technology is in use today by more than 750 licensed contractors who install StreetPrint products for commercial, government and residential projects in more than 40 countries. IPC created Driveway Impressions in 2002 to develop and better serve the U.S. residential homeowner market through a network of well-trained, professional franchisees.
Driveway Impressions has one company-owned and five franchised locations in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Projections call for five to seven franchises to be added in 2007 with a long-term goal of 30 to 40 franchisees by the end of 2010.
It is the only franchise concept offering such technology and Driveway Impressions has no significant direct competition. Instead it comes from other providers of decorative surfaces including conventional paving, interlocking brick, cobblestone and stamped concrete.
But the advantages of StreetPrint are easily illustrated when compared to the inherent drawbacks typically associated with other traditional decorative surfaces. The continuous, flexible StreetPrint pavement surface—that can be put down in a variety of patterns, colors and custom configurations—is resistant to cracking and lifting and there is no water seepage that can negatively affect the driveway structure. Plant and animal growth that can degrade the driveway surface is eliminated and the surface can be easily repaired, changed or rejuvenated. The pavement is also suitable for walkways.
“There is a big ‘wow’ factor with imprinted asphalt, but one of our biggest consumer challenges is that people automatically assume it’s brick,” said Hind, who heads Driveway Impressions in his position as vice president of residential markets for parent company IPC.
That’s why IPC turned to franchising to spread the word. Its original expectations were that paving contractors who installed StreetPrint for commercial and government projects would also market to residential markets. That was before the introduction of a proprietary heating system—StreetHeat—in 2000 that allowed the imprinting process to be done on existing asphalt driveways in good condition. The asphalt is simply heated using gentle, reciprocating heat that softens the surface so pattern templates can be put down.
“Until that time, we really needed to have the imprinting done when the asphalt was first put down, so that dictated our use of paving contractors as the distributors of our product,” Hind said. “But not surprisingly, we found that most contractors were not sales and marketing-oriented. We then realized that we needed the residential market to be developed, sold and represented professionally by local applicators.”
Hind was already familiar with franchising. He had owned a franchised custom window-covering business before joining that company’s corporate team, where he eventually became vice president of operations. He knew a committed, skilled network of franchisees was the key to IPC not only entering the residential marketplace, but also to maintaining its high standards for delivering superior-quality products and service.
“It made sense that since we had the technology to now easily serve the residential marketplace that we cut our umbilical cord of dependence on contractors,” Hind said. “And key to our success has been the business, sales, marketing and customer service skills of our franchisees. We are changing the paradigm that most people have when dealing with home improvement contractors. We want customers who say, ‘It was a pleasure dealing with these people and look at the beautiful improvement that has been made to my home.’”
Because asphalt is the preferred pavement substrate primarily in northern-climate areas, Driveway Impressions established its initial franchise nucleus in the Northeast and has targeted the Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Boston markets for growth in 2007, hoping to build upon the marketing and sales momentum of existing franchisees in nearby markets. Growth will expand westward as the franchise network matures, but will be limited primarily to the Northeast, Midwest and Central states.
Driveway Impressions represents a unique ground-floor investment opportunity that can be initially operated as a home-based business for a moderate initial investment of $134,000 to $198,000. Initial staffing requires only three additional employees (a foreman and two laborers) and ample-sized territories provide the opportunity for rapid expansion to multi-crew operations.
Franchisees are expected to manage the business and be responsible for sales and market development. “If they are spending any time on a crew, they are not running their business properly.”
Hind says several factors go into the profile of an individual well suited for owning a Driveway Impressions franchise: a) Strong sales and marketing skills; b) tenacity for growing the business; c) a detailed eye for doing aesthetically pleasing work; and d) passion for dealing with the public.
“This is not a hard-sell product. It is an emotional purchase and we want our customers to be well-informed.”
Recognizing that the continued growth of Driveway Impressions depends upon getting input from people with a variety of skills and backgrounds, Hind says the corporate office allows franchisees flexibility in how they operate their franchises. Having to adhere to rigid guidelines can sometimes have drawbacks.
“We’ve built the road, but we have fairly wide curbs that will guide people to success. We allow them to drive on either side of the road to get to that destination,” Hind said. •
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