Featured Contractor, Swift Sweep, Inc.

A sweeping business is about machines, but it’s also about people. Gary Frantz tries never to forget that.
"One of the things I find hard these days," said the owner of Swift Sweep, Inc., in Athens, GA, "is that you’re having to deal more and more with corporate headquarters. A lot of the business I used to do face-to-face is now done by telephone and FAX and e-mail."
Which is a distinct disadvantage for the genial Frantz, who prefers to build relationships across a desk rather than across the country.
Meanwhile, satisfying the people he does see every day — his employees — has become more challenging in the current economic downturn.
"I have nine employees," he said, "and I’ve been able to keep all of them. In fact, we even hired another driver this year. In order to do that, we’ve had to cut some other things to the bone. We’ve reworked some of our routes to travel less distance and save on gas."
With the larger street sweeping machines getting anywhere from 10 to five miles to a gallon, lower mileage can mean significant savings. But there is only so much that can be trimmed that way.
"We’re going farther out for jobs," Frantz said, "which burns gas. And even with jobs close at hand, sometimes we’re sitting there for hours with the engine running."
Frantz divides his efforts between sweeping parking lots and streets. The former arena has gotten crowded, he said, with "people who got laid off from their jobs, bought a sweeper, and went into business. They don’t have maintenance costs or have to pay workman’s comp, and that can be hard to compete against."
Until the inevitable moment when these seat-of-the-pants operators find themselves facing a mechanical breakdown.
"One of our big selling points is that we always keep a couple of backup sweepers," Frantz said. "I can tell customers, ‘We’ll never use it as an excuse that we had a breakdown.’ Plus, we do our own maintenance — I do some of it, and we have a mechanic on our payroll."
Frantz is a good example of someone in a job far from his college career path. At the University of Georgia, he majored in animal science.
"My father started the company after spending a lot of years in the hardware business," Frantz said, "and I enjoyed helping him."
The attraction of having a job close at hand had its appeal, and in 1981, Frantz bought his father out. He now has two small vaccuum trucks for lot sweepers and four larger street sweepers.
"A lot of what we do these days is milling work," Frantz said. "We follow along behind trucks when they break up asphalt. We subcontract a lot of these jobs, which is easier for us."
There may be another generation of Frantz sweepers coming up — Gary’s three children.
"I don’t take them out on jobs, because most of them are late at night," he said, "but sometimes I’ll take them for a ride in one of the sweepers. They like it because there’s a steering wheel on both sides, and they can pretend like they’re driving. They think that’s pretty cool."
On most days, so does their Dad.