More Clean Of Texas, An Interview With Cole watts

How did your company begin?
My dad, Steve Watts, founded the company about 12 years ago when I was in high school. I used to ride with my dad in the sweeper when I was a teenager before I went to college. That was my summer job. After I graduated in 2009, I joined the company full time. My degree is in finance and accounting.

Why did your dad get into the power sweeping industry?
He found a good niche in the commercial exterior maintenance in the West Texas area. With a larger commercial list of services, he was able to coordinate the needs of the largest companies. He was the “eyes and ears” of the industry for a long time. Pledging to “treat your property, no matter the size as if it were our own” was something my dad took great pride in for his customers.

What is your business model? Your total employees and office locations?
We specialize in larger commercial spaces, a one-stop shop for our retail and commercial clients. We do parking lot sweeping, construction cleanup, municipal sweeping, power washing, and landscape maintenance as our main services.
We have about fifteen full-time employees, the breakdown being eleven in labor and five in office positions. Our main office is located in Abilene, about two and a half hours West of Dallas, and we have two satellite locations; one is in Denton and the other in San Angelo.

How much growth has your business sustained in recent years with the upswing in the economy?
With twelve years in the business, we’ve been seeing an upswing in our growth since mainly 2010. By the end of that year it had gotten better from a period of uneasiness. Property managers were hesitant because of the downturn in the economy during 2007 and 2008. But in the last three to four years budgets have increased and they are accommodating things they had put off, including repairs, increasing curb appeal, and better parking lot maintenance in general. Sweeping is not necessarily a necessity during bad economic times, but it’s so much more than just trash pickup. It’s dust and gravel removal, property beautification, and it will help increase the life of your property, including the asphalt when it’s maintained right.

How do you find new customers?
In the beginning we started with Walmart as our client. Then it was a gradual word of mouth referrals that kept us going. We used our reputation to get our foot in the door, talking to property managers figuring out what we could help them with. It was our opportunity to solve those problems for people and gain multiple services. My dad is a great salesman in gaining new clients.

How many contracts do you execute per week?
With all of our locations, it’s around 50-75 properties per week.

Have you added on any new services lately?
No, we are actually streamlining our services. You can’t do everything, you’ll stretch yourself too thin. We can’t do it all, so we’ve come back to our core services, pressure washing, landscaping, and sweeping. We are happy to do more, but we’ve found that since 2008 to 2009 we were saying yes to everything and were a little thin, overexerted. We were making revenue, but we weren’t focusing on what we do best. So it’s the opposite; we’ve gone back to the core to shore up the efficiency. It’s been very rewarding to do what we do best.

How did you arrive at creating a unique brand for your company?
Dad had over 20 years in sales. So his nature was as a salesman at heart. He created a well-known, respected brand in Abilene, just with his interpersonal relationships. So when I came on it was easy to keep it in place because of what he already had laid the groundwork for everything. It’s been a learning experience, since I’m an accounting and finance guy, but dad really did all the hard work because he created the expectation with customers. My part was taking that foundation and putting it out there for others.

Tell me a little bit about the daily operations and how shifts for your workers go?
I mainly put out fires. Everyday is a little different. There’s equipment to maintain, my dad Steve Watts is still President, but that’s mostly sales and talking to customers. I’m at the office going over work orders and managing back office operations. Plus, we tackle issues in other locations so that’s always interesting. We spread out into the satellite offices, and some days we’re on the road. The labor people work at night. Parking lot sweepers shifts are from midnight to 7 AM. Luckily they are self motivated and responsible people that we don’t have to be there when they clock in. Schedules are worked out that everything is automated by iPad. It’s taken awhile to get those good ,trustworthy people, but the out of town guys know how to take care of their business. They aren’t afraid to wake us if something comes up though.

What sweeper trucks, equipment, and machinery technology do you use?
We use all Tymco sweepers 210, and a 435 for other machinery. There are GPS tracking in each sweeper so at anytime we can pull up where a sweeper is with driver habits, speed limits, and “cookie crumb trail.” I can pull up the GPS on my phone to track my guys when about exactly per time. That lends credibility to what we do. It protects us, so we can prove we were there or not there. In the industry, a ton of people know that GPS is the way to go.

How does disposal work in Texas?
It varies from city to city, but parking lots are pretty straightforward; no hazardous waste, just trash, dust dirt, so the dumpsters provided by the city are used for that. Before we contact the city we fill them in on what we are dumping. Only one time has a city tested what we’ve dumped. Plus there are dumpsters at all our locations and the city handles the pick-up from that.

What kind of strategies and policies do you have when it comes to environmental issues?
We do have a little on the sweeping side. Our biggest deal is dust suppression. The Tymco is the cadillac of the sweeping industry because of the air regeneration. West Texas is in a heavy drought, so there is extra dust on parking lots, so it’s really easy to spread around the dust and particles that we don’t want people to breathe. Dust suppression with the Tymco is easy to do. Texas regulation are light on the environmental aspects, but we try to do our part where we can.

How much do new technologies factor into your business?
As far as sweeping, not much yet, but I haven’t taken a huge look at it honestly. In general tech is the need for analytics, so we talk to our Tymco sweeper they have a built-in system that will tell you every piece of data you need on that sweeper, with the breakdown of all of the details to turn it into something meaningful and help us work more efficiently and serve our customers. It will cuts down costs and drills down the numbers, so we can be more competitive with pricing.

Story by Katherine Nolan

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