Terrific mechanics and keen business smarts are at the heart of most successful sweeping enterprises. But a Discovery Channel contest winner? No doubt the only sweeping company that can claim an employee with that credential is CJ Parking Lot Sweeping of Warren, Michigan.

As Greater Michigan’s largest sweeping contractor, CJ Parking Lot and its employees have an impressive resume. Take their founder and owner, Ray Confer. He was one of the founding members of the North American Power Sweeping Association, a group that has been instrumental in offering support, enhancing services and promoting the power sweeping industry.
CJ Parking Lot, which serves 100 square miles of greater Detroit, claims an innovative system designed to keep as many of its trucks working as efficiently as possible. Some fifteen or twenty dumpsters are placed throughout the region, allowing drivers to dump their loads in a nearby waste container, cutting inefficient and expensive drive time. The result? “Many of CJ’s drivers can work on ten to fifteen jobs a night,” said Ali Mulaj, head sweeping technician/foreman.
Mulaj, now twenty-nine, joined the company washing cars when he was just fourteen, eventually working his way up to an assistant mechanic and then to head sweeper technician/foreman. He’s been with CJ Parking Lot his entire career, using his natural affinity for mechanics to design and build parts for the machines and to secure a provisional patent on an all-electric sweeping machine.
When Confer first started the company in 1979, he owned a pickup truck, a hand broom and a shovel. He swept parking lots and gradually got together enough money to buy his first sweeper, a truck-mounted variety that he shoveled out by hand.
The company today has 100 Elgin sweepers, both mechanical and vacuum, and its fifty-two full-time employees specialize in sweeping of all types, from parking decks to airports to construction sites to race tracks. Confer learned early on that the key for his company was to specialize in one thing: sweeping, and to leave the rest, like snow removal, to others. It has been a recipe for success.
Mulaj cites the talented mechanical staff as another big reason for the company’s success, “Everything is done in-house, from engine building to research and development. We have all the means to repair things with our mechanics, and we build a lot of our parts ourselves.”
CJ Parking Lot works out of a 4,000 square-foot office building and a 6,500 square foot workshop that houses a staff of six mechanics. “A strategic maintenance program is important; we have no downtime,” he said, “The main key is to keep the cost of the maintenance down and buying right. If you do that properly, you’ll be around for a long time.” Mulaj believes maintenance is much easier on equipment that is good to start with. Therefore, “buying right” means CJ Parking Lot purchases fairly new equipment at auction or purchases a manufacturers’ demonstration model. That combination ensures that the equipment has not endured hard usage and still has plenty of miles of life remaining.
Mulaj noted that, with the government’s requirements for increased emissions equipment on sweepers, the machines are more prone to breaking down, and breaking down means lost time and money, “It’s more challenging now more than ever to keep these machines running,” he said.
In addition to an efficient maintenance plan and an innovative operating system out on the field, CJ Parking Lot has also come up with a state of the art cistern system that allows the company to reuse water when it washes down its trucks and hoppers. The concept is simple and has terrific environmental implications. Here’s how it works: the wash water goes down to an interceptor, the sediment settles and, from there, the water flows off to an oil interceptor and then to a grease interceptor. After going through all of those systems, the water is purified and recirculated for another wash. Landscape dirt, such as mulch, grass and other “green” items, are run through a screener and sold for fill dirt. The rest of the debris is taken to a landfill. “The system saves disposal and water costs and benefits the environment,” Mulaj explained.
As for that Discovery Channel contest? Last year Mulaj was invited by the TV channel’s producers to participate in its show, “Motor City Motors.” Hosts and brothers Dave and James Kaye, along with their father, John, invite Detroit-area mechanics (and the mechanically inclined) to create a one-of-a-kind vehicle over a five-day period. Mulaj’s team, with help from a few sweeper parts, were given an older motorcycle and had the task of turning it into a machine that could drive on ice and land. Mulaj’s team won.
The success of CJ Parking Lot Sweeping is more than just the story of a cable TV show or a water recycling system or a dozen dumpsters placed around a city. Mulaj believes it is a reflection of a commitment to sound maintenance practices, wise purchases and a willingness to find and keep a good staff of mechanics.
Mulaj is quick to acknowledge that small or even medium-sized sweeping contractors do not have the same sorts of resources or connections that CJ Parking Lot enjoys. A big benefit of being a big sweeping contractor is the company’s relationship with manufacturers. Mulaj said, “A lot of the sweeping manufacturers send us their newly designed trucks first and consult with us. All the major manufacturers do that.”
There is, however, at least one lesson smaller companies can glean from CJ Parking Lot’s success: find a good technician who really knows the equipment and work hard to develop a loyal and trusting relationship with that mechanic. A good mechanic can mean the difference between success and failure.
Some free publicity on The Discovery Channel doesn’t hurt, either.  
Story by Marie Elium