The Asphalt Artist
Straight Edge Striping, king of the asphalt canvas
There was a time, albeit brief, when Andrew Altobelli wasn’t sure if his Straight Edge Striping concept would survive the first 90 days in business.
“It takes about three months to get paid sometimes,” Altobelli says. “When I started, $100,000 was all I had. I took the $80,000 I had saved from working for my previous employer and invested it in this company and I also took out a $20,000 line of credit. Within three months, it was all gone. It’s an expensive business to get into. I was worried, but no matter what, I never gave the appearance that we were anything but a successful company that could get things done.”
It wasn’t just confidence driving the then 25-year-old Altobelli; it was his passion for his work and his unwavering ambition. His parents, whom he lived with at the time, encouraged him that with drive and ambition, anything can be accomplished. He not only believed it, he lived it.
The one thing he knew was that he was willing to outwork anyone. He got up every morning at 3:15 a.m. so he could be to work by 5. He was back home by 7 p.m., but only on slow days—and there weren’t too many and still aren’t today. If a client called and no workers were available, he brought along his wife (who was at the time his girlfriend) and they did the job together.
It wasn’t so much, “Fake it until you make it” for Altobelli as it was, “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.”
“Definitely,” Altobelli agrees. “I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t going to fail. I’ve always had this passion for my work.”
Three months in, Altobelli breathed a sigh of relief as the checks started coming. He hasn’t looked back since.
The Rise of a Small (but Mighty) Empire
Today, Altobelli sticks to that same work schedule he started 20 years ago because he wants to, not because he has to.
Straight Edge Striping makes art out of striping roads, parking lots, football fields and other surfaces. No job is too big or too small and the tackle-all mentality has helped Altobelli grow his company into an asphalt-striping juggernaut that does $30 million in business annually. Where he used to struggle to keep employees during the first year, Straight Edge Striping now employs 130 with little turnover and has completed signature work for clients such as MetLife Stadium and casinos in Atlantic City. The company also boasts a fleet of 100 work vehicles, so it’s no understatement to truly say no job is too big. Nine of Straight Edge Striping’s vehicles are specialty trucks for county roads and state highways, and each one costs a cool three-quarters of a million dollars.
Altobelli isn’t sure how much bigger the company will get, but he’s ready.
“I’m not growing this company just to see how big it can be,” Altobelli says. “I add vehicles and employees to meet customer needs and we’ve been fortunate. We get a lot of repeat customers. To this day, it’s all about the customer. I absolutely love what I do. Some people do art on a canvas, mine is on asphalt.”
Paul Spatz, owner of V.A. Spatz & Sons, a heavy construction company, says he uses Straight Edge Striping as a subcontractor nearly every day in his business.
“I’ve never used anyone else for signs or striping since [Altobelli] started his business,” Spatz says. “He did great work for me when he was with his previous company so I wanted to give him a chance. I think I may have been one of his first clients. He always showed up on time and did a great job. He still does. You know, I can still call him at 5 a.m. or 8 p.m. and he’ll pick up the phone. That doesn’t happen with a lot of subcontractors. You’ll never see a more driven or better man. I have a lot of respect for him as a person and as a businessman.”
Mark Castela, who owns Top Line Construction in Somerville, N.J., says he first worked with Straight Edge Striping in 2003, and the companies have been growing together ever since.
“He had really just started working with paving and we had just started out,” Castela says. “We were two local guys trying to make it and from the start he showed up and delivered great service. Andrew is a super intense guy about his work. He just loves it and he’s very good at it. He’s also very good at taking care of his customer. He checks in. To tell you the truth, I’m not totally surprised at how fast he’s built it up. His work ethic is incredible.”
An Unexpected Entrepreneur
Altobelli didn’t start out wanting to build his own company. He started as a high school intern with a striping company and will tell you he fell in love with the work they were doing. He took night classes at college so he could keep striping with them. Times were good, but Altobelli wanted more and was hoping for a vested interest in the employer’s company. When the company rejected the idea, he realized he had to venture out.
“I was very passionate for that company,” he says. “The sons didn’t have the same interest as their father did and wanted to keep it a family business, so I had to leave.”
One benefit of having done the work for his previous employer was that it gave him a chance to work with the decision makers of the companies needing striping work. Many decided to give him a chance because of the work ethic he showed as an employee. And he was tenacious. Still, the first year was difficult because employees would leave for greener pastures. Altobelli understood.
“It’s not an easy business and people want job security for themselves and their families,” he said. “After the first year that wasn’t a problem. We had established ourselves and because I had been in their shoes, I knew what was important and what they wanted from an employer, and I wanted to give it to them. We have generous compensation packages and benefits. We have a merit program. They buy into our company culture.”
Today, Straight Edge Striping, based in Bound Brook, N.J., does all aspects of pavement markings, including highways, roadways, parking lots, recreational areas and more.
He elects to hire employees with no experience so his veteran workers can show them the Straight Edge Striping way. Watching employees develop new skill sets while enhancing their lives with wages and benefits comparable to large corporations has proven to be a catalyst for the company’s success, Altobelli says.
Straight Edge Striping is busy, and Altobelli wants to keep it that way. “I don’t have hobbies except watching my kids play sports and this job,” Altobelli says. “This is what I love to do. Why would I want to do anything else?”