Artscape Land Maintenance

A lot of sweeping companies begin their existence with basic equipment, but it would be hard to top Fred Cupp.  "When I started out, I swept parking lots with a broom and a dust pan," said Cupp, now the owner of Artscape Land Maintenance in Jarrettsville, MD. "We’re talking shopping centers; obviously, that got old in a hurry."

Cupp really couldn’t afford to buy a new sweeper truck. So he bought three.  "I got three used Schwarze trucks," he recalled, "for $15,000 total. Then I combined them into one truck, which I used for two or three years."  A second truck followed, and Artscape now has a fleet of four. Thanks to the efforts of Schwarze Industries (Ricky Hyatt) and Tech support.

"We do a little of everything, parking lots, state roads," said Cupp.  “We’ve even got a contract with the LaFarge Company for quarries."  Cupp isn’t shy about forging new business relationships.  "I’m a little guy, but I’m kind of personable," he said.  Like the time he noticed a sweeper company working on a state highway.  "I pulled over and asked one of the guys how they got into that. He told me who to contact, and everything fell into place.

Before he was "micromanaging" parking lots, Cupp hung drywall. Then, he started cutting grass and landscaping.  "Through the grass-cutting job, I got to know a lot of the property owners in the Baltimore area, and I saw where a sweeping company might have potential."

Cupp continues to drive one of his company’s trucks, focusing primarily on highway work.  “A lot of guys, when they start building a company, decide to sit back and put all the work on somebody else,” he said. “Me, I still like to get out there and make sure the job is done right.”

In the lagging economy, Cupp sees the recent trend of property managers and municipalities hiring one company to perform multiple tasks to be reversing itself.  “It’s getting so everything is done by bid,” he said, “and not splitting things up.”

Nevertheless, he remains upbeat.  “I don’t think its all price,” he said. “I just can’t look at it that way. I think service still counts for a lot. When we bid $75 for an hour and a half, and if we’re out there for only 30 minutes, we adjust for that.”

Cupp took something of a gamble, he said, by not passing a fuel surcharge along to his customers. Instead, he decided to ride it out, and has recently been rewarded with pre-2007 prices.

The management tier for Artscape (now a $400,000 a year business) remains tight and a family business – Cupp, his son Danny and his wife Tammy. But that doesn’t mean Fred Cupp doesn’t think his other employees aren’t crucial to the company’s success. 
“You’re entrusting someone with a $90,000 piece of machinery,” he said. “That’s not something you take lightly. And it’s really to your benefit to keep your employees happy, something we try to do with bonuses and maybe an extra week’s vacation.”

Flashing back to long nights trudging across deserted parking lots with a broom and dustpan, Cupp now sees a long-term benefit in that drudgery.  “It made me very meticulous.”