An Interview with Jim Dodson, Mid-State Industrial

How did your company get its start?
Mid-State Industrial Service, Inc. was purchased by my parents in 1970. At the time it consisted of one Tymco 300 sweeper and several Waynes, a tenant, and American Lincoln ride-on sweepers. There were my parents and two employees. The billing office was at the kitchen table. Within a year, the ride- on sweepers were gone, and they had another new Tymco 300. At that time all of the sweeping was parking lots and almost all were done at night, but from there it just grew. By about 1972, there was a large bridge building project going on in town. Dad picked up his first used Mobil sweeper.

How did you come to join the company?
By 1974, I had graduated from college, got married, and was working as a mechanic at a Mack Truck dealership here in Eugene. Dad came to me and ask me to come to work for him. As they say, the rest is history.

How are you different from other sweeper companies?
We try to be the solution to people’s problems. We are basically a public works department for anyone that needs those type of services. We have nineteen full-time employees. We offer every type of sweeping service. 24/7, parking lots, HOAS, shopping centers, office parks, mobile home parks, industrial parks, sawmills, construction projects, municipal sweeping. If it can be swept, we probably have swept it.

Where are you located?
We have one shop and office location in Eugene, Oregon. During the 1980s and 90s we had a location in the Portland area which at that time primarily served the municipal market. When my wife and I bought out the rest of the shares in Mid-State in 1995, we spun that operation off and it is now owned and operated by my brother Dan and his wife.

How do you secure new contracts for your company?
In 1980 we were looking for ways to expand. We didn’t really want to move too much out of the area and at that time we had about 90% of the sweeping in the area (that has really changed). We decided to get an industrial vacuum truck because it would serve our existing customers. In the mid-1980s we got our first combination jet/vac for cleaning catch basins and drain lines, again it serves our existing customer base. Those trucks have evolved to where they still do a lot of catch basins, but they also do a lot of vacuum excavation.

Do you find that word-of-mouth is the best way?
We still do some cold calling, some of the internet, but most of our work is repeat customers and word-of-mouth. We actually serve a pretty small population area, probably about 300,000 and most of our work is within a 25-mile radius on a daily basis. We will go farther for various projects if the customer is willing to pay for it. We have recently been on several mill and fill projects on I-84 in eastern Oregon about 300 miles from the shop. We are members of NAPSA and 1-800 sweeper.

How has growth been in the recent years?
The last couple of years we have seen double-digit increases in our growth.

How do you crews work shifts?
We have four night operators that have staggered to work days so that every night is covered. Those operators use Tymco 210’s and 435’s and one Night Hawk. We have two operators that take care of the daytime Tymco sweeping. All of the rest of the crew is cross-trained to either operate the Tymcos, Road Wizard and Johnston broom machines or the Camel jet/vac trucks or the Guzzler vacuum truck or the Vactor HXX hydro excavation truck. The daytime operators also perform some of the maintenance on their equipment. We also have about one and a half mechanics.

Tell us a little about environmental issues you are concerned with?
As with most everyone in the business, the environmental issues are huge. We have noticed a large increase in industrial type customers that are sweeping more often because of zinc issues. The problem is with the very fine dissolved zinc in the stormwater runoff. Here in the winter when it rains and you will get fined if your zinc concentrations are too high. Zinc is used in a huge number of everyday products. Tires are a big contributor. We have found that the worst areas are not around galvanized buildings, but where they have heavy forklift traffic.

How are you different from other companies?
We have always tried to solve the customers’ problems, whatever they are. We deal with a lot of emergency situations. Truck wrecks are an area where there often environmental issues that we have to deal with properly. We are teamed up with an environmental company that generally takes care of proper disposal. We also work closely with the county landfill people to determine the disposition of various waste.

How does disposal work in your state?
Routine sweeping debris is left with the customer if they have the means to deal with it. All of the night routes and some of the broom route debris is brought back to our shop where it is run through our trammel screen. The fines are hauled to a sand and gravel pit where they are recycled into the reclamation of the pit. The larger debris is hauled to the landfill. The landfill tipping fee is much higher than the gravel pit and the amount of material going to the landfill is less than 10% of what goes to the pit.

How does technology factor into your business?
We have active GPS in all of our sweepers. I am afraid that I am old school, I believe in the KISS principle. Today’s sweepers look pretty, but the basic sweeper is the same as it was when I got into the business almost 44 years ago. Many of the parts from those old units are still used today. Hydraulic drives are an improvement over the old mechanical drives, but all of the electrical systems and computerization has only made them more expensive and less reliable. Hydraulic motors, cylinders, and lever operated valves are hard to beat for simplicity and reliability.

How do you purchase new equipment?
We almost always buy new units, occasionally we will buy a demo unit. I don’t want to have someone’s castoff, worn out problem child. Although many of the sweepers can be continuously rebuilt, we replace on a schedule to keep an updated and reliable fleet. We buy the quietest sweepers that we can get, the Tymcos are all the SRE variation, they cost a little more, but are considerably quieter. The same with the LN variation of the Echo blowers that we use. We use large backpacks because we can get the detailing done much faster with them, especially during the leaf season and in the wet weather. In our area, it used to be like a lot of other areas of the country where you would have a lot with four corners and a sidewalk across the front. Nowadays there all kinds of planters with trees and plantings, walkways, and anything else that the planners think will make the place prettier but makes it much more difficult and time-consuming to maintain.

How do you attract new clients?
We have our name prominently and proudly displayed on all our trucks. We are the only ones in our area that do that. That baffles me. They have told me that when there is a complaint, that people don’t know where to call.

Anything else we should know about your company?
We have always been a can-do organization. We have done a lot of things that most people would not do with a sweeper. I developed a way so that we can sweep the rubber track surface at the University of Oregon so that we don’t scratch or scuff it. We do that before every home meet, several times during the NCCA’s and the Olympic trials. We have swept recently vacated horse pastures so that they can be used for parking during festivals. We have also swept astroturf football fields without damaging them.

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