City Wide Sweeping: Cleaning Houston for More Than a Quarter Century

When Ralph Harrington launched City Wide Sweeping in Houston, Texas more than 25 years ago, he says, “I knew instinctively that I had to understand the mechanics of my equipment and how to keep my fleet running, as well as how to sweep streets and commercial lots.” And he is convinced that without this holistic view of his industry he could easily have been swept away by the competition. Instead, the company has grown to take in almost half a million dollars in annual revenues.

The Necessary Tools
As a young man, Harrington attended Bailey Technical School in St. Louis, Missouri, and credits this decision in large part for his current success saying, “My father also ran a successful business, and I learned a great deal from him, which helped me run a dump truck company, as well as become the owner of a gas service station.” He adds, “When I first moved to Houston more than 30 years ago, five years prior to starting City Wide, I worked my way up to general manager of Champion Maintenance, and this was my first experience working with sweepers.”

Harrington considers himself a real nuts and bolts guy, and studying mechanics has turned out to be a crucial skill set that he couples with his ability to talk to anybody at any level of the business community. He says, “I enjoy, equally, working in the shops talking technical issues with the mechanics, helping my operators on a job site, or discussing the benefits of our City Wide maintenance plan in a CEO’s office dressed in a suit and tie.”

Equipment Expertise
Harrington is well-versed in the use and repair of sweeping equipment, noting, “When I first started my sweeping company, I worked for Masco as one of its repair or contact facilities and have built a reputation for being extremely knowledgeable about their equipment. I am proud to say that they still consider me the go-to person when other businesses have issues in the Houston area.”

City Wide Sweeping uses only truck mounted Masco sweeper units, which, in Harrington’s opinion, are “the most efficient, quickest and cost effective equipment available. We use a three-cubic-yard model, recirculating vacuum sweeper that is specifically designed to sweep cans, glass bottles, diapers, stones and rocks, sand and grit, as well as broken glass. The unit also features a high-speed hand blower, so we are able to clean difficult areas such as sidewalks and loading docks.”

On-Site Servicing
Harrington emphasizes that every one of his trucks is serviced on-site on a daily basis and equipped with GPS technology. “It has always been my experience that the Masco products give me the best performance because they contain fewer moving parts with lower noise output,” he says. The trucks are easy to maneuver and operate with water-cooled engines that have electric ignitions, and all come with a backpack blower. He also says, “The stainless steel hoppers resist corrosion, which is a real plus, since the Houston area is known for its humid weather, and rust has always been our enemy.”

City Wide’s maintenance plans are based on the diverse needs inherent in each business site, whether commercial or private. According to Harrington, “Each site has its own set of variables, including the type of business, size, terrain design and paved surface condition. We offer flexibility and formulate our plans solely around a customer’s needs.” He adds, “Some businesses require a regular sweeping schedule, while other customers just need a one-time cleaning.” The company’s sweeping sites include business parks, container yards, malls, hospitals, business campuses, shopping and strip centers, loading docks and garages. Their services include vacuuming, litter removal, emptying and relining trash receptacles.

A major factor that sets City Wide apart from other sweeping services, Harrington explains, “is that we are completely self-sufficient. We do all of our own sweeping and cleaning. Plus, we repair and maintain all of our own equipment, and do not hire subcontractors.”

Many of City Wide’s mechanics have their own equipment, as well. Right now, the company has six full-time employees, but for seasonal or special events, or if the region experiences weather-related problems, they will hire part time staff. Harrington also speaks as a proud father of his daughter, Kristie, who contributes her marketing skills to the company, saying, “She’s very talented. She designed and manages City Wide’s website and Twitter site, as well as owns her own company, Abstract Device.”

A Proactive Approach
On the economic front, Harrington is quick to point out, “Like most companies in my industry, I’ve seen our revenues fluctuate according to changes in market demand, but being proactive and maintaining a solid reputation has helped us weather the periodic downturns.” Today, City Wide is proud to include Hooks Airport, the Boeing Company, Kingwood Hospital and Academy Sports & Outdoor among its customers.

When asked what advice he would give to a young person who wanted to go into the sweeping and cleaning business, he states, “It is critical to keep your fleet manageable and keep your eye on everything and everyone. This is a 24 hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week, year ‘round proposition if you are going to do it right and keep your customers happy.”

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Story by Daurelle Golden Harris