Devoted Tar Heel football fans will remember Andy Dinkin as a three-year letterman whose main job was to clear a path for UNC Chapel Hill’s star running back Natrone Means.
Since hanging up his cleats, Dinkin has mainly focused on Charlotte-area commercial real-estate leasing and development.
But with real estate sagging during the 2007-09 recession and possessing a strong entrepreneurial bent, he looked for another challenge. “I was working for the Levine family, and the real-estate market had tanked,” he says. “They were OK with me moonlighting for awhile.”
After a few false starts in other ventures, in 2010 he bought rights to distribute gaskets in western North and South Carolina for Gasket Rock Inc., a Raleigh-area company that focused on selling to restaurants. Five years later, he bought rights to the rest of the two states.
Most restaurant operators rely on their vendors of commercial refrigeration equipment to replace gaskets, which are essential to keep a kitchen working. “But a lot of the vendors don’t want to do gaskets because they are such a small item,” says Dinkin, who learned of the opportunity from a business broker.
A year after the purchase, Dinkin changed his company’s game to The Seals. Since then, he’s built a regional sales organization that creates a steady revenue stream by replacing gaskets, with a typical invoice of about $400. “An Olive Garden might have 30 pieces of equipment including drawers, coolers and walk-in refrigeration units. So we show up every quarter and typically a third of the gaskets need to be replaced. We have to keep ahead of the health inspectors.”
Terms of his distributorship required Dinkin to buy gaskets from a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer. When that contract ended last year, he bought a Raleigh-based gasket-maker and distributor called The Gasket Guy and started manufacturing gaskets at a Fuquay-Varina machine shop. The Gasket Guy’s owner, Andrew Thompson, “is one of the country’s true gasket craftsmen,” Dinkin says. “We were friendly competitors.”
The Seals now has 10 salespeople around the Carolinas, plus seven manufacturing and two administrative employees. Dinkin, who still works in commercial real estate, is expanding into other restaurant equipment, such as making cutting boards for some Subway franchisees. He also wants to turn The Seals into a franchise operator.
“Who thinks they’ll ever buy a refrigeration gasket business,” he says. “But I love it, and I think we can be the leading national brand in this little, undiscovered niche.”