CHARLOTTE — Selling gaskets for commercial kitchen appliances may not sound like the sexiest industry to pursue, but as an experienced salesman and investor, Andy Dinkin saw an unfilled niche. With his recent acquisition of The Gasket Guy of Raleigh, Dinkin believes he’s ready to make his Charlotte-based company, The Seals, the national leader in the industry, with franchises in every major market.
Gaskets are seals that fill the space between parts of a machine to prevent leakage. For restaurants, hotels and others who operate industrial kitchens, if, for example, the gasket on the inside of the refrigerator door fails, it can compromise food safety and waste energy.
“We serve predominantly restaurants, but also colleges like NC State and UNC Greensboro, for their various cafeterias on campus, entertainment venues, some nursing homes,” Dinkin told North State Journal. “Our focus is anyone who operates a commercial kitchen because all of those are subject to health inspections. And what really drives a lot of our business is when gaskets get torn or have mold, they are mandated by health inspectors to be replaced.”
Dinkin said a big part of what attracted him to this business as a salesman and entrepreneur was the residual nature of it and that health inspections create the demand. The commercial refrigeration vendors are mostly filling this need at the moment, but it isn’t a major part of their business models, and they don’t necessarily even want to do it.
The Seals recently acquired a Raleigh competitor, The Gasket Guy of Raleigh, and Dinkin said this was the catalyst for now being able to launch the model to a much wider market. Andrew Thompson, the owner of The Gasket Guy of Raleigh, had manufactured his own product, and Dinkin believes he, “is one of the country’s true gasket craftsmen.” Thompson will remain with the company, now as VP of production, and will be overseeing a new 2,000 square foot Fuquay-Varina facility.
“I am excited to be joining an already established and proven team, and want to help The Seals grow into the largest gasket provider in the country,” Thompson said in a press release announcing the acquisition.
With manufacturing now in-house, The Seals is ready look beyond the Carolinas. Dinkin says they have spent the last nine years perfecting every aspect of the business, from marketing scripts to software, and this year is the year they will take franchising nationwide.
“I would say we have national aspirations. I really believe I have something that would be very attractive to people who aspire to own their own business,” Dinkin said. “Given my background as a small business owner and entrepreneur, I think I’ve really hit on something that has very limited fixed overhead and a chance for someone to really get a business off the ground quickly without a lot of risk.”
An average restaurant is worth around $1,000 in revenue per year to them, so in a well-functioning territory, according to Dinkin, a franchisee can easily handle 300 accounts by themselves, making a six-figure profit for themselves. The franchisees don’t need a storage space or work van (Dinkin worked out of a Prius) because the products are made to order and are delivered directly to the customer. He thinks this simple yet profitable model will quickly attract entrepreneurs across the country.
Despite these national aspirations, Dinkin says “Charlotte will remain the hub and the home for The Seals.” He plans to use his strength in the Carolinas, where he has teams in every major city, as a training zone for franchisees from other regions to visit and learn the business. This will include an in-house training facility outside of Raleigh at the manufacturing site.
Dinkin grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, but has a loyalty to North Carolina that goes back to his time as an offensive lineman for the Tar Heels. Playing under Mack Brown, Dinkin still keeps in touch with his teammates and says there is a whole network of guys from that era that are hitting the peak of their careers in various fields across the state. They credit Coach Brown, who has since returned for a second stint leading UNC’s football team, with the discipline and character that helped them find success in their careers.
After college, Dinkin became involved with the Jewish community in Charlotte, where his time as a college athlete made him popular with local sports fans. The Levines, a prominent Charlotte Jewish family, then hired him to help in their real estate business.
“I didn’t go to business school, but after working for a family like that, who would need to?” Dinkin said of the Levines, who are responsible for starting many companies, including Family Dollar. “They are thoughtful and smart and generous as heck, so to have that kind of role modeling of philanthropy was just incredible.”
But as the real estate market turned in 2008-2009, Dinkin began to look for other opportunities and purchased a gasket company. He also continued to work in real estate, brokering commercial properties deals and founding a daycare for low-income Charlotte residents, called Tender Love and Care, that he still co-owns.
Sitting on the board of his synagogue and the Charlotte Torah Center, among other organizations, Dinkin had a big hand in the fundraising that built UNC’s Hillel House for Jewish students and in many other charitable efforts.
“The one thing that I think has remained constant is an emphasis on personal and meaningful relationships,” Dinkin said, reflecting on these various strands of his life. “In this era of Facebook, people really do appreciate if you take a sincere interest in them. I’m really proud of the depth and breadth of the relationships I have throughout the Carolinas. A lot of that has come from my football experience, my network of friends, my entrepreneurial dealings and in the Jewish community.”
In 2019, Dinkin and The Seals will be aggressively pursuing a national franchising plan, and many in the Charlotte-area, at UNC-Chapel Hill and across the Carolinas will be rooting them on.