It sounds so simple

It sounds so simple — buy or lease a used sweeper, talk to some businesses, start sweeping parking lots. If you’ve just been laid off from your regular job, the sweeping business has a certain appeal.

For established sweeping contractors, however, this infusion of seat-of-the-pants entrepreneurs has muddied the competitive waters considerably. Talk to almost any of them, and you’ll hear grumbling. Without having to pay salaries, workman’s compensation, or all the other joys of a "grown-up" enterprise, these newcomers are perceived as having an unfair advantage.

So how do you deal with competition, new or otherwise? Here are a few suggestions, gleaned from conversations with sweeper company owners.

  1. Realize that time will take care of the problem. Most of these one-machine/owner  operator outfits will self-destruct as soon as their equipment begins to need expensive maintenance.
  2. Don’t sink to the lowest common denominator.

    "When it’s time to put in a bid," said Gary Frantz, owner of Swift Sweeping in Athens, GA, "I don’t worry about what the other people are doing. I figure out a price that will be fair, but still let me make a profit. If that doesn’t get the job, so be it.

    "I’ve had people call me and say,’So and so put in a bid that’s a lot less than yours, but we’d really like to work with you. Can we negotiate?’ And I’ll tell them, ‘I’m afraid not. When I put in a bid, it’s for what I can afford to do the job. I can’t go under that.’"

  3. Go face-to-face. Once a business owner knows you personally, it’s harder for him or her to cast you aside in favor of someone cheaper.
  4. Diversify. Any chance you could get into parking lot striping or seal coating or pressure washing? Come spring, could you do landscaping? Business owners like it when one phone call can take care of several problems.
  5. If you can’t beat them, join them. Or, rather, get them to join you. Some of these small outfits might feel more comfortable working under a larger umbrella, so you might see if they’d like to work with you.
  6. Do your maintenance in-house. If you have a lot of machinery, this might be well worth paying the salary of a mechanic.
  7. What about a satellite? If you can find an area not heavily served by sweepers but a bit of a distance from your home base, see if you can find a place to keep a sweeper there. That will save you a lot of gas, and the operator can drive his car to the site.
  8. It goes without saying, but treat every job as if it were your only one. That way, your customers won’t have an excuse to "downsize."