East Coast Sweeping

For this month’s spotlight we caught up with Mr. Uri Ben-Yashar owner and operator of East Coast Sweeping, one of the largest full-service property maintenance companies in New England, whose home operation is located in Pawtucket, RI.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your background, and a brief history of your company? Can you say a few words about your education and training? How did you into the business? What did you do before you started your own business?
I graduated from Johnson and Wales University with a B.S. in Business Management and then I went on to receive my MBA from Bryant University. I started my career in the hospitality industry, managing both restaurants and hotels. After a few years I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to spend my life doing. I then knew I wanted to go into business for myself. At the time I had a friend who owned a small commercial sweeping operation. He worked with just two sweepers and maybe 2-3 routes every night. It was then I saw a great opportunity and so in 1993 I purchased the company from him. It was rough in the beginning. I think we had 2-3 operators and I all worked long hours to make it work.

Q: What is your business model? How have you structured your business? What plans, models, or organizations, configurations, did you envision when you thought about how you wanted to set up your business structure?
Right from the start I envisioned a full-service property maintenance operation because, during the first year of sweeping mostly commercial properties like shopping centers and malls, I knew that each of my clients had other needs that my company could fulfill. By 1994 we added a landscaping division, offering a variety of different services and by 1996 we added a snow removal division. I was keeping a close eye on the market and I didn’t want to extend beyond what we were capable of because top quality was always a priority. However, my strategy for operating a one-stop-shop was being realized when the next year we started an asphalt repair division. It was during the late 1990s going into 2000s when the trend in commercial and other forms of property maintenance were turning to third-party aggregation companies. These large companies started gobbling up many of the larger more lucrative contracts. This had a negative impact on us as with mostly everyone else. Prices began to drop, and with that service and quality began to deteriorate. It was certainly frustrating but then I had an idea. Why not beat them at their own game? So, in 2008, when the time was right, I positioned myself so that I was able to start my own 3rd party property maintenance company. I called it National Maintenance Systems.

Q: Tell us what services and divisions are now offered at East Coast Sweeping. How are the revenue streams distributed across the various divisions?
East Coast is now truly a full-service operation. We have four major divisions: Sweeping, Landscaping, Snow removal, and asphalt and concrete repairs. In terms of revenue I can tell you that about 80 percent comes from the sweeping, landscaping, and snow removal divisions, and about 20 percent from asphalt repairs.

Q: How do you secure new customers? What about your bidding and estimate process? What is the general size of most of your contracts?
Up until at time, around 2009, we really began to expand and diversify. In addition to having my sales staff out in the field meeting property management companies, retailers, and so on, my strategy for securing new clients changed and we started reaching out to a variety of different operations. My sales staff and I were now approaching industrial parks, hospitals, restaurant chains, housing and building associations, large office buildings, etc. We now service dozens of hospitals and medical centers, as well as securing numerous large and small restaurant chains. In addition, combined with promoting National Maintenance Systems, I attend as many technical and trade shows as I can. In fact right now as we speak I am at a professional retailer’s convention. At the trade shows we set up a booth and show videos and supply brochures, flyers, and other forms of exhibition to market both my companies. It is at the trade show where the top decision makers for large companies are there and we market our services in the hopes of securing additional large contracts. East Coast Sweeping now has a client base of close to 400 customers that we service on a regular basis, across most of the New England states. With National Maintenance we have about 100-300 clients, but of course being a third-party company, some of these contracts are substantially larger than the contracts we secure at East Coast.

Q: What are some of the distinguishing features and services of your company make it unique and that are attractive to your present as well as potential new clients?
I would say in addition to the outstanding customer services my staff provides, our size is one of our greatest assets. We offer enough full-service operations and we cover a big enough geographical area, that we do our best in sales and marketing to bundle up services for single as well as multiple locations if we are talking about a restaurant or property management chain. We now have two offices; one in Pawtucket, RI and one on Long Island at Bayshore, NY, and our service area covers RI, CT, MA, and most of NH. Potential clients see our size and success and thorough and complete services we perform, and this is a feature that draws them to us. In addition to high quality, our size allows us to offer services that some smaller operations are not able or do not perform such as any and all emergency services.

Q: Tell us about your fleet of vehicles and equipment that we would see on the road or at one of your properties.
When I purchased the company back in 1993 I started out with 2 Schwarze trucks, a 347 and a 348. I always liked how they perform and after a lot of research I realized that Schwarze was the company I wanted to buy from and I have been loyal to them ever since. Over the years our fleet has grown to the point that now we have about 30 sweeper trucks all total, and all Schwarzes. Now I prefer the single engine models and so most of the Schwarze’s I buy are the more modern models. I especially like the functionality of the Schwarze233s. I find that when it comes to sweeper trucks there are basically two philosophies. The one approach is to work with financing strategies and buy/lease a new truck every 3-4 years or so. With this approach, mechanics and maintenance is low, but you know how some of the percentage rates on financing packages can put someone in a lot of debt. The second approach, the one I prefer, invests heavily in mechanics and maintenance, and does little financing. I buy the majority of my sweepers used and keep them and work them until they cannot function at all anymore. Some of my sweepers have 300-400,000 miles on them. With this second approach, mechanics and maintenance is the main focus. Our main property in RI has a great garage with a group of excellent mechanics. Our yard is about 2 acres in size and our main building, which includes office space and garage, is about 80,000 sq. ft. We do almost every form of truck/vehicle maintenance in house, whether it is engine work, or transmissions, hydraulics, you name it and our mechanics can fix it. We are also a vehicle inspection station. Again, with this second approach there is a lot of capital investment in mechanics and maintenance, something you don’t have when you take the vehicle financing route. Both have their good point and bad points but I still prefer to invest in maintenance and try to avoid financing anything. In fact, I don’t think we owe any money on any of our sweepers. Owning an entire fleet of large sweeper truck outright keeps us out of being in debt. And this is a good thing. On the other hand, there is of course a lot of planning, scheduling and logistics in play to make sure our sweepers are running and operating at optimal conditions.

Q: Can you tell us a little about who works for the company and what positions they occupy?
Well, we have four full-time experienced and professional mechanics working on our fleet in the garage every day. I also have an equipment manager who oversees the mechanical work as well as making sure the mechanics have all the parts, tools, fabrication materials, etc. they need to get the job done. In our sweeping division there are the night managers that are in the field overseeing our sweeping operations. The night managers do the dispatching but most importantly they are trained to follow thorough quality control procedures to make sure our clients get the best possible service, whether is it’s chain of retail stores, a chain of restaurants, a property association, or any other type of clients. We also employ an operations manager who oversees our landscaping and asphalt repair divisions.

You can find out more about East Coast Sweeping by visiting their website: http://nationalmaintsys.com/