Defining the Drive
It is easy to take for granted the day-to-day things that keep us safe and direct us where to go. For example, every day we encounter the sidewalks that we walk down, the pavement that we drive over, and the lines down the center of the road that ensure we are all on the right side.
But businesses like Kolbe Striping Inc. never take anything for granted, and that includes driver safety. Its razor-sharp focus is on providing the highest quality service in line painting for roads, airports, and parking lots.
“For us, it’s all about the quality of our work and the safety of our employees and the driving public,” says Vice President of Administration Autumn Giefer. “This has never changed since 1977, when the company was established by my grandparents, Robert and Carolyn Kolbe.”
The Kolbes started the business with one very old paint truck and an old pickup truck and were only able to take on one project a day. Within six months, their daughter Roxanne and her husband Paul Geerdes became partners in the company, and business took off.
In 1982, Paul and Roxanne took over the management of the company and went on to buy it out completely in 1991. Then, in 2003, their son Matthew joined the family business, and two years later, their daughter Autumn came onboard. From there, the business continued to grow and now has over one hundred vehicles in its fleet, including paint trucks, removal trucks, grinders, and pickup trucks. Now it can do eight to fifteen projects a day and is one of the largest pavement marking contractors in the State of Colorado.
Its work also involves maintenance on the roads and new construction work, and its customers come from the federal and state government as well as from cities, counties, and private enterprises in Colorado and the surrounding states, including Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.
Over the years, the company has grown in both employee size and revenue. It also prides itself on being an employer that is genuinely concerned with the happiness and well-being of its employees.
“We try to listen to our employees’ input,” said Giefer. “We value their ideas, and we use this to everyone’s benefit. We truly care about our employees and want to better their lives, so we are willing to change. If they have an idea for us, we will come back and talk about it, and if it’s going to benefit everyone, we really do try to look at these things and change them. We have really tried to focus on making Kolbe Striping a place where people are happy and want to work.”
When you ask what separates Kolbe from the competition, the company representatives will tell you this is so much more than just a striping company; this is a family. The employees take care of each other while ensuring that expectations of safety, quality, and customer service are met every day.
The biggest challenge that the company encounters is finding people that want to do this kind of work because it is very specialized, and it requires considerable training before people can work out on the road and be able to do what they do. It is also a job that can take people away from their families for weeks and months at a time, and many people are unable to commit to that type of schedule.
“It’s not that you can just hire a truck driver in the traditional sense who drives eight hours and gets out of the truck,” said Vice President of Kolbe Striping Roxanne Geerdes. “They actually have to know how to run this paint truck, which is very technical, and they have to know how to drive a straight line. They need to know how to put in the curves, and that’s a real touch to learn and to know how to do that and make it look that good.”
“The reality is that the labor market is what it is, and until that changes, we’ll have those challenges just like any other construction company, but when we find someone who is interested in working here, we do everything we can to train them and give them every opportunity to advance, and hopefully they stay around,” said Giefer.
The other issue the company faces is keeping up with the technological changes in the industry. Product advancements from suppliers such as 3M include sensors for global positioning system (GPS) tracking and GPS line placement. These are all part of the future of pavement marking, and these types of technology are costly to buy. Training employees on the new technologies adds further expense.
“The products themselves have changed immensely. Instead of just having one kind of paint as an option, we now have two types of epoxy, three types of paint, pre-formed thermo, pre-formed plastic, MMA and all of the reflective media that’s supposed to go with these products. Keeping up with all the new and different products is a challenge in itself but is a necessity in order to stay current and on top of the industry and all of the changes that we see.”
Despite the changes, Giefer and Geerdes like to remind themselves how the industry began in the first place and how far they have come in their own forty-year history. On the wall in their office hangs a framed article about Dr. June McCarroll, who in 1917, after a near collision in her Model T Ford, painted the first known stripe in California to delineate lanes as a means of making the roads safer for drivers. As a doctor, she was on the roads a lot and witnessed the dangers posed by cars driving wherever they wanted. Dr. McCarroll spent years petitioning the California State Legislature to make pavement markings mandatory, and in 1924, her motion was finally passed, resulting in the eventual international adoption of this practice.
When not working to keep the driving public safe, Kolbe Striping is also heavily involved with its community and enjoys doing its part in supporting the economy of the county and the state.
“Because we have been around for so long, people know what we stand for,” said Giefer. “And it’s nice to know that the contractors can come to us when they need our help, and they know that they can rely on us, so that’s pretty awesome too. Our reputation says a lot about us, and people know that.”
That may be part of the reason it has had consistency in its customer base, which includes government contracts. “We are really fortunate to be given the opportunities that we are given year after year,” said Giefer.
There are some frustrations and limitations, however, that come from working on public roads. “We would love for the government – both the state and federal – to continue to improve our infrastructure,” said Giefer. “With them becoming more involved, they would provide more jobs, safer roads, and relieve a lot of the congestion that’s going on. The State of Colorado is growing rapidly, so we look forward to seeing both the present and future needs addressed because it’s very difficult to keep up.”
As for the driving public, the company a clear message that it would like drivers to remember when they encounter road work. “When you see us on the road holding up traffic, remember we are there to help you and keep you safe. Our first priority is safety for our employees and the driving public, so please slow down, follow the signs, and remember it’s your taxes at work,” said Giefer. She adds that it is also good to remember that the wet paint does not come off cars, so it is best to follow the signs and not drive over the wet lines.
As for the future, since the business has been in the Kolbe family for three generations, Giefer and Geerdes hope that it will continue to stay that way and pass on to the next generation. They also hope that that generation will uphold the belief that the employees come first.
“The best thing is that we all love what we do. It is family-owned and operated, so we offer more than the big corporations because we can be more personalized with the contractors and our employees and their families,” said Giefer. “Without all of our great employees, none of this would be possible. They give so much to this company, and we can never thank them enough. We are always so extremely grateful to them for that.”
“The secret to our success is the quality of our work, our reliability, and our honesty,” said Giefer. “We strive to give our customers exactly what they want and to help them achieve the best results possible. We realize that the pavement markings are the last piece of the puzzle, and they’re what the driving public notices, and it needs to look its best, so we always say the road is our canvas, and together we create a masterpiece.”