More Than Sweeping: Companies Find Clients Like “One-Stop” Convenience

It’s not that property managers are lazy – far from it. But most simply do not want the hassle of finding four, five, or more contractors to take care of a parking lot. That is especially true for out-of-town property owners. When they find a sweeping contractor that they trust, many prefer to turn day-to-day maintenance over to one company. Increasingly more often, that company is a sweeping contractor who can repair asphalt, empty waste cans, change lights, stripe parking lots, and replace signs. And if the sweeping company does not have the equipment or expertise to do the work with its own employees, it finds someone reliable who can do the job.
Sweeping companies have learned that diversifying their services – offering that so-called “one stop shopping” – can help make up for slow times during the snowy winter season. It also helps them to secure contracts for properties that require an array of work, from line striping to the never-ending asphalt maintenance, to simple trash cleanup along walkways and delivery entrances.
Sweeping, for many contractors, is more than just sweeping.
“Sweeping has always been our primary focus,” explained Gerry Kesselring, Owner of Contract Sweepers and Equipment, based in Columbus, Ohio, and with an office in Cincinnati. “But we also offer power washing and snow removal to our customers. Some things we do in house, some we subcontract.”
Kesselring said his fifty-year-old company is unusual in that it also provides equipment to other companies that want to get into the sweeping business. The company has new and used sweepers and related equipment for sale, lease, or rent. “We understand sweeping better than anybody. Sweeping drives what we do. We can sell you the equipment; we can rent you the equipment; or we can perform the service,” he said.
For successful contractors, although sweeping is the main focus, the auxiliary services can be lucrative, Kesselring said. “We do offer the other services, mostly for commercial (clients). We’ll replace trash cans and pick up trash, for example. We try to be the single-source call. It gives them a single source the property manager can trust.”
Kesselring said that in the case of out-of-town property owners, a sweeping contractor can be an invaluable watchdog – literally someone who can watch the property for the owner. “A sweeping contractor is on your property more than anybody else. We see things that others don’t see, so if you’re out there, you can see the signs are down, these lights are out, this tenant has moved out in the middle of the night,” Kesselring said. “You have to educate your customer in the commercial sweeping world [to recognize] that we can provide the information you need.”
Bud York of Superior Sweeping and Snow Removal in Idaho Falls, Idaho, owns a company with a name that clearly reflects the diversity of services. York has been in the sweeping business for more than thirty years; he took over Superior in 2005. Today, his company provides line striping, power washing, asphalt maintenance, and lawn care, along with snow removal and sweeping.
“The reason for the diversity is most corporations, especially the big ones, want a one-shot contractor. They want to send out one check instead a lot of checks to a lot of different vendors,” York explained.
By expanding his company’s offerings, York said he has been able to secure lucrative contracts with three Walmart stores and one Sam’s Club in eastern Idaho, as well as four large supermarkets. He hopes to eventually expand even further across the state.
“We went from about $150,000 in sales to more than $500,000 a year in business just from taking on the diversity of doing everything,” York said.
Forging successful partnerships with subcontractors has been key, according to both Kesselring and York.
“I teamed up with other subcontractors. I provide asphalt maintenance; I don’t do it [myself] because I have experts who do it for me. They give me a bid, and we go over and meet with the owner,” York explained. “You do not have to diversify into every little thing. You team up with them, use them. You do not have to buy all the equipment, you just provide the service. The only thing I don’t provide myself is asphalt maintenance.”
Kesselring said property managers really appreciate having a contractor whom they can trust, and that trust has to extend to the subcontractors they employ. “After fifty years, we understand who has been around, who does good work. We understand real value.”
Of course, multiple-service diversification is not right for every sweeping contractor. Moonlight Sweeping in Rogers, Arkansas, is a good example. Angie Dean is an owner of the family company, which has been in business for seven years. Sweeping is their main work, with some power washing as needed.
“Striping and other things require many different types of equipment that is expensive,” Dean explained. Power washing, which Moonlight Sweeping has offered since its inception, has relatively low equipment costs for the ten-employee company. Adding more services is not in their long-term plan.
“We get requests for window cleaning, and if we know somebody we refer them,” Dean said. “We prefer not to subcontract out because we know what kind of job we do, and we can specialize in sweeping.” Moonlight has large and small clients; a lack of substantial diversification has not affected business, according to Dean.
York has a few tips for sweeping companies that do want to expand their services. First on the list: do not expand too quickly.
“It’s a matter of being able to take care of your customers. Most companies want you in and out in night time hours so you don’t interfere with their customers when they are coming in during the morning. To do that, we have two sweepers that run full time. Snow removal and de-icing also needs to be done by 7 a.m. We’ve had other competitors who have taken on more than they can chew, and they lose the contracts.”
Another piece of advice? Don’t be afraid to use contractors. “I’ve used subcontractors in winter for snow removal. Just make sure that they have the equipment necessary to do the job.”
Customer service, specifically personal contact, is vital. “Stay in contact with the managers. We call at least once a month to make sure everything is going okay. I think (sweeping contractors) get too busy with other things. It’s good to have a (sub-contractor) you can trust, but it’s good to have that face-to-face contact so the property manager knows you’re interested in his business. The little properties are just as important as the big ones. You get more little ones, and they make you just as much money as a few big properties,” York said.
“It’s a matter of knowing your limitations. Having a good banker to back you and making sure you have the equipment to take care of the people and to go above and beyond what is necessary is important,” he added.
Kesselring said diversification is great and can be quite profitable for a sweeping contractor, provided he does not overlook his main job: sweeping. “You can’t lose focus. Don’t lose focus on your core business,” he said. “You are what you are first. You are a sweeping contractor, and you had better be making money on that. If you are not making money every night sweeping, then you are in the wrong business.”