We Know What You Want

Before Alex Gerber and Adam Teckman built Cobalt Real Estate Services with offices in San Antonio and Dallas, they worked for a shopping center developer. Because Teckman had also been a property manager, they felt it gave them the inside knowledge to build a solid company when the recession hit their employer.

“It was a good time to offer one-stop shopping for clients,” says Gerber. “We went out and bought a sweeper truck and our former employer was one of our first clients. We understood what they were looking for—one phone call, one check—and we learned quickly that our customers had properties throughout the state. Once they were happy with the service we provided for one property, it was easy to bid on others.”

Offering sweeping, pressure washing, portering and facility maintenance, Cobalt has never lost a client because of service, though they have occasionally been outbid. “We know what our costs are and in turn, what our competitors’ costs are. When we started out, we bid a few projects under cost just to get our foot in the door. So, we know when there is an unknown doing the same thing. Sometimes, the property managers in larger outfits aren’t able to go to bat for their vendors when there is a large price difference. Sometimes, it just comes down to cost, but we’ve never lost a client because of our service.”

No matter what the cost, Gerber and Teckman ensure that their team is responsive to their customer’s needs. “It’s the biggest thing they want,” says Gerber. “At the end of the day, trash is trash. If you need to sweep 7 days a week then it doesn’t take much time for it to get dirty. We treat everything with urgency. We don’t win bids because we do that, but we win future bids because of it.”

Cobalt also incentivizes their guys to take pictures of problems on the property. “When a sweeper sees graffiti or another problem, takes a picture and sends it to the day supervisor, the supervisor issues a work order request to the property manager. Typically, they’ll come back with an okay to take care of it by the time the porter gets to the property. The sweeper is then compensated for being proactive.”

Growth

“Adam was a property manager and had hired and contracted sweepers through the years, so we had picked up a few things from the industry,” says Gerber. “We knew we wanted to buy a brand new Tymco sweeper—that it was the best thing to have and less likely to break down while we were trying to win clients. They are based in Texas, as is IDS, and we wanted to use local. We went to sweeper school and learned about the truck. We just threw ourselves into the water.”

Gerber and Teckman began by sharing routes. They grew enough to hire a guy, then two guys. Today, they have 32 employees, three Tymco 210s, one Tymco 435, and several small pickup trucks and pressure washing rigs. Gerber enjoys sweeping but finds himself behind a desk most days. “We grew to the point that we had enough clients in the San Antonio and Austin area that I moved to open up another office. When we hire a new supervisor, Adam and I train them and I do ride alongs once a month. We have enough employees to cover when others are sick, but occasionally I cover if we are short.”

These days, each office has a supervisor and a head sweeper that are in charge of hiring. “We have multiple father and son combos that work for us along with their friends. It creates community and makes for a great work environment. We also get calls out of the blue from guys saying they saw our trucks and want to come work for us.”

Gerber also gets the opportunity to sweep when they get a call in the middle of the day for a construction clean up. “If we don’t have someone to do it, I’ll drop everything and go,” says Gerber. “But I understand the cost of me dropping everything, so it needs to be profitable.”

“Our growth has been great,” says Gerber. “We’ve taken a financial approach to the business and know down to the penny our operating costs. We’ve optimized our routes and we make sure that we aren’t sweeping for free. But, we make sure that we are responsive to our customers’ needs. Their biggest concern is staying within budget and making sure that the people they’ve hired are doing the work. We let them know that we were in
their shoes and know what they want and need. We are the vendor that sat in their seat and will provide the best service that they can afford.

“In general, business is a balancing act of making sure you have revenue and making sure you don’t spend all of that revenue. We run our business as efficiently as possible. We are well aware of the costs of replacing employees, so we pay our employees the most we can while making sure that we don’t spend all that we earn. We’ve had some turnover but our key guys have been here since the beginning and we try to promote from within. Portering is typically our entry-level position. We want to provide an opportunity for growth for our employees and I think we’ve proven we can do that.
“Creating a business from the ground up has been an exciting opportunity to control my hours and destiny. We knew that the only way to be successful was to understand it from an operational standpoint. Our knowledge of the business helps us understand our bids, the maintenance on the trucks and saved
us money early on.”

“We are excited about continuing our growth. I foresee more sweepers offering a variety of services—it’s the only way to keep the lights on. There are only so many parking lots and large shopping centers in a city. Inevitably, it will be cost-driven and I think sweepers will get more efficient at keeping costs down. We could have more trucks, but we don’t need them with route optimization. If you aren’t the biggest, then you have to run lean to compete with the biggest.”

Story by Jennifer Taylor

Resources

For More Information:
■ Cobalt Real Estate Services, visit www.cobaltrealestateservices.com
■ Tymco, visit www.tymco.com
■ IDS, visit www.idsequip.com

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