WINDS OF CHANGE

windsofchange Property managers have a lot on their plate and sweeping isn’t always at the top of their list of problems. We give our customer the best experience possible so that they don’t have to follow up.
Driving through rural Texas, I spotted a lone old oak tree on the horizon. The wind buffeted my car and I worried that it would push me off of the road. The oak tree bent away from the wind as if the wind had forced it to grow sideways. I wondered if it survived because it changed to suit its environment.
When the recession hit, many businesses tried to hunker down and withstand the winds of change. Others, like C&L Sweeping Services in New Jersey, decided they needed to adapt to their new economic environment.
“It was tough, but we worked by our rules of keeping long-term debt low and our receivables short,” says Gabe Vitale, owner of C&L Sweeping. “By doing that, and because of our long-standing relationships with customers, we weathered the storm. We used that time as an opportunity to prune the tree. We evaluated our C players, kept our A and B players and grew from there.”
By adapting to the changing environment, C&L was able to do well during the recession. “It really wakes you up,” says Vitale. “We started looking at our costs. You can get complacent when things are going well. My job is to make sure we stay on our A game and don’t get complacent again.”

LEARN AND ADAPT

Vitale believes in training. He pays for new managers as well as his main team of managers to attend the training at National Pavement Expo each year. Employees of C&L undergo local training in New Jersey as well.
“I also belong to a CEO group called Vistage International,” says Vitale. “It’s a group of CEOs that come together to help make our companies better. I have a board of directors that challenged me to take our company to the next level.
“Being involved with NAPSA also helped with our growth, and there are four or five NAPSA members that are also Vistage members, also known as FOG. They understand my business and they can help work out our challenges.
“Another great shot in the arm for us was joining 1-800-Sweeper. It has given us a tremendous boost allowing us to cut costs and bring in new revenue.
“Ultimately, it doesn’t make a difference what we are selling. We sell our experience and relationship to our customers. Whether it’s selling solo cups or paving, we supply and deliver what we promise–it is what our customers expect from us.”

GROW

Vitale joined his parents’ business in 1989 after he graduated from Arizona State University and worked in medical devices for several years. His dad was at a point where he wanted to sell or expand. Vitale joined as co-owner and expanded the business during the savings-and-loan crisis in the late 80’s, early 90’s. “We had four sweepers when I came back. We’ve been blessed over the years, and have grown our business through our relationships with our customers.”
C&L expanded their services through customer demand and building solid long-term relationships. When Vitale became co-owner, C&L provided sweeping for streets, parking lots, municipalities and construction. Today, they continue to provide those services as well as property maintenance, graffiti removal, parking deck scrubbing, inlet repair, fencing, water reclamation, asphalt milling and repair (crack filling, pothole and seal coating) and paving.
“We just bought another power washing company this year and have added that to our tool box,” says Vitale. “These acquisitions have allowed us to grow our company and gain knowledgeable employees. It improves our culture. Change is good.”
C&L, which stands for Vitale’s parents Charles and Lucille, has 45 employees and 25 sweepers. They operate Night Hawks, Silent Nights, Mobiles and Broom Bears. “The guys really like the single-engine sweepers,” says Vitale. “They are easy to use and less expensive to operate. The Mobiles are like an old pair of gloves. We just keep rebuilding them.”
For power washing, they like their newly acquired Hydro Tek equipment. “Our operations team makes the equipment decisions that they feel is best for the team.”

PROVIDING PAIN RELIEF

When a customer is experiencing pain, “We are the Aspirin for their headache,” says Vitale. “Property managers have a lot on their plate and sweeping isn’t always at the top of their list of problems. We give our customer the best experience possible so that they don’t have to follow up.
“Provide the service you say you are going to and watch your margins. It is okay to say no to a project if it doesn’t fit your company. We try to provide our customers with an alternative company if we have to say no. Sometimes you have to say no because your company can’t handle the job the way it should be done. Sometimes you have to say no because the profit margins aren’t there. In the end, if you say no to a job that you can’t do well, the customer will respect you more.
“Go over the top with customer service. Communication is good whether you are communicating good news or bad news. Just make sure that you are the one communicating the truth.”

PLAN

“Always have a plan. When you have a plan, it is much easier to achieve when you write it down.

“Don’t be afraid of change, even with your team. We don’t fire too many people. We make it so that they know what is expected of them.

“Always educate yourself. NAPSA and 1-800-Sweeper, and FOG are part of that education. Those organizations help you think outside of the box. The minute you think you know it all is when you will lose.”

For more information: C&L Sweeping Services: www.sweeping.com

RESOURCES
Elgin: www.elginsweeper.com
Nite-Hawks: www.nitehawksweeper.com
Silent Night: www.skysweepers.com
Hydro Tek: www.hydrotek.com

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