From R&B to Sweeping

Wells SweepingAs a musician in the 1970s, Jay Wells was getting tired of playing gigs and perpetual traveling. “We played all over California and the west coast—ski resorts, Las Vegas, Los Angeles—we did it for eight years,” recalls Wells. “A lot of the clubs were in shopping centers. We’d pack up our gear at 2 or 3 in the morning and I started noticing the parking lot sweepers. I found out they were cleaning the parking lots and thought, ‘hey, I could do that after we wrap up as an extra thing.’”

The band had been playing down in San Diego at Flannigans. Their agent sent them to Redding, CA for a two-week gig. “I didn’t want to go, but it was what we had unless we wanted to wait a couple of weeks for him to line something else up.”

The trip turned out to be life-changing. “The first or second night, I saw someone sweeping,” says Wells. “I walked over and Jack Rogers’ wife was driving and one of their boys was blowing. We talked awhile and she invited me to come over to their house to take a look at a sweeper that they were building in their garage.”

Despite the propensity of musicians to sleep in the next morning, Wells dragged himself out of bed and drove over to Rogers’ house. “I was so interested, that I got up early and bought my first sweeper in 1979,” says Wells. “I had never seen this type of sweeper before. I had noticed the Tymcos and Schwarze, but this one didn’t have an auxiliary engine—it just ran off the truck. Jack was the first guy to build a single engine sweeper. He took me under his wing and I attribute a lot of my knowledge to him. He was such a great, down-to-earth guy and such an innovator.”

Wells dissolved his band and formed Wells Sweeping in Sacramento. “Jack and I became very close. He mentored me in my early days of sweeping. Within two to three years, almost every sweeper had converted to Jack’s sweeper in the Sacramento area. I just kept adding sweepers to my business. Even in the early 80s with the national recession, California was doing very well and my sweeping business grew fairly steady over 20 years—15 to 20 percent per year—without doing a lot of marketing.”

“Sweeping really got started in the 60s,” says Wells. “In the 70s it ramped up with the Tymco 210s, then came Jack Rogers with the what is now the Nite-Hawk. We contacted a couple of television stations and they did interviews and put us on television. It was like an airplane taking off—sit just kept growing through the 80s and 90s.”

When Wells saw more competition coming, he started diversifying in the 80s with floor scrubbing and street sweeping. “Diversifying has been a major reason we are still here,” says Wells. “We started doing day stuff too like construction clean up so that by the early 90s, we had diversified enough to stay competitive. When we realized that we needed to work with the unions to stay on jobs, we negotiated with the teamsters in 2007. And, when we realized that CARB was going to go ahead with all of their regulations, we got into retrofitting.”

Wells Sweeping now provides construction sweeping, floor scrubbing, commercial and industrial, municipal sweeping, dirt hauls, parking lot sweeping, retrofitting, porter service, site clean up, and hazardous material clean up.

To remain competitive, Wells Sweeping also joined 1-800-Sweeper as one of the founding members.

Wells also has an interesting business model. Wells Sweeping is an assembly of partners. “We have a partnership where partners have a different percentage,” says Wells. “I’m a partner, my son is a partner, and another 11 owners are partners. Because of that, they care about doing the job right and the contractors wants to use us again. I went through days when I had employees and had a lot more issues on the job site. Now that I have owner/partners, I have fewer problems, and our safety record is great.”

Wells explains that several of those partners are construction field managers and they manage their own jobs. They are the owner/operator just like in a typical sweeping company and each partner has management duties along with the operation and management of a job.

Each of the owner/operators has their own trucks. Wells Sweeping is actually two companies: a sole-proprietorship and an LLC. They have about 25 to 30 trucks—running no more than about 15 at any one time. If they have a sweeper go down, or even 2 to 3 go down, they can send in a back up.

“Mobil has been our main sweeper since the 80s,” says Wells. “The Tymco 600 is also a mainstay. We also have a Schwarze

A8000 for our large high dump, a Schwarze A9000 as our large air sweeper, a Schwarze M6000 broom, some twin engines and some single engines and we recently added an Elgin Eagle to the fleet. We still run Nite-Hawks and some Mr. Airs. I think some of our night contractors have the Tymco 210s.”

“For parking lots, Nite-Hawk has been my preferred sweeper,” says Wells. “I just don’t see why you need two engines for a parking lot. I learned that you can sweep a parking lot without an auxiliary engine in ‘79 and that was a done deal for me.”

Wells has learned a few things along the way. “When we find out we have a problem, we deal with it aggressively and immediately,” says Wells. “If it is a major maintenance problem, you don’t want to wait and have it become a bigger problem down the road, because things can get out of hand real quick. Having all of your licensing and requirements up-to-date is also important. I spend a lot of my time analyzing the local, county, state, and federal laws to ensure that we are in compliance.”

Wells has learned that the sweeping business can keep you on your toes. “I was sweeping a shopping center in the mid 80s and I went to the back to clean,” recalls Wells. “I was sweeping along the side of a wall. When I looked up, I could see something dark laying along the side of the building. I stopped right before I ran over it—it was a homeless person in a sleeping bag. He was all rolled up in a black bag on black asphalt at night and hadn’t even heard me because the Nite-Hawk was so quite. I just happened to look up at the right time, or I would’ve run over him. So, I suggested another place for him to sleep. It could’ve been a bad thing if I had run over him. It was just a crazy situation that turned out okay.”

From disabled veteran to musician to sweeper, Wells has learned to roll with the punches and make crazy situations great.

Story by Jennifer Taylor

Resources

For more information:
• Wells Sweeping: www.wellssweeping.com
• Elgin: www.elginsweeper.com
• Masco (Mr. Air): www.mascosweeper.com
• Nite-Hawk: www.nitehawksweepers.com
• Schwarze: www.schwarze.com
• Tymco: www.tymco.com

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