Ace Surface Maintenance Inc. – An Interview with Ira Schwartz

Ace Surface Maintenance is a company with a big heart. In this interview with the owner, Ira Schwartz, you’ll see just how he started his company on a whim over 30 years ago. His adventures over the years and his dedication to his brand are what makes Ace exactly what is it. An award-winning company that does excellent sweeping.

How did your sweeping company begin?
This might be a little more information than you want to know, but it was back in 1987. I was experiencing a bit of a midlife crisis and I decided to start my own business after working for a local sweeping company in Phoenix. I quit that job and started my own sweeper company. I bought a used ride-on sweeper and picked up a couple of accounts by myself and to the surprise of many I picked up more accounts even after that. It just kept going. Then after three months, I hired a part-time operator and devoted my entire time and energy to building the business.

How do you feel about the sweeping industry today?
After 30 years and a lot of stress as many business owners face, I’m still here. I’m doing 200-300 different locations, running six sweepers all year long. I also have three pressure washing machines and one scrubbing machine. Most of my work though is an equal amount of retail centers, industrial parks, and office buildings or garages.

What is your business model look like? How many total employees and office locations?
We just have the one office location primarily in Maricopa County, which is in the Phoenix area. I have 15 employees and one office worker. I do all the sales for Ace Surface Maintenance, so we keep it a pretty tightly run ship. Our goal is to keep the business going with the most modern equipment and techniques available. We want to be cost-effective and efficient for all of our customers.

How much growth has your business sustained in recent years with the upswing in the economy?
Sweeping in Phoenix hasn’t really rebounded as of yet, a lot of customers have done less with sweeping and after the downturn of 2009 and 2010, they have really reduced service on sweeping, more so than our seeing any growth. So I haven’t seen an uptick in sweeping as of yet. Granted, it’s not as bad as it was during the downturn, but I’m not sure it will return to what it was before that recession.

How do you find new customers for sweeping contracts?
I do a few things. For one thing, I’m a member of BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association). So I schmooze some people at meetings, and add a little alcohol for best results! The networking through BOMA helps. Plus, I place ads through the Yellow Pages, so I get calls through that and the internet, of course. I get lots of service calls through Google searches in the Phoenix area that goes to our website.

How many contracts do you service in your area per week?
I’ve done work for just about everyone it seems over the past 30 years. New contracts are happening at a rate of about two per month. I’ve been doing business with some people for 30 years. People are retiring though. I’m not retiring, but some of my customers are, so that’s changing the amount of customers we have each week to some extent.

Have you added on any new services lately?
No, not at all. I’ve been doing the same three things for years, sweeping, pressure washing, and garage scrubbing. I have a ride-on that cleans the concrete. I do garage and warehouse concrete floors. We have a reputation for excellence though, which we’re very proud of. We’re dependable and efficient in everything we do.

How did you arrive at creating a unique brand for your company?
The quality of my work has stood out as far as longevity goes. There’s nothing special, just basic stuff to run a good business. We’ve won awards in our area and in the industry for our work though, which is probably why we’ve managed to stay in business all these years.

Tell me a little bit about the daily operations and how your working shifts go?
99 percent of the business is done on the third shift, which for our company is 10:30 PM to 7:00 AM. The overnight crews are what keep this operation in motion. They’re great guys and they work very hard for us, which I appreciate.

What sweeper trucks, equipment, and machinery technology do you use?
I use Nighthawks primarily on 3/4 ton trucks and a Schwarze machine. An American Lincoln Scrubber, and pressure washers on a trailer mounted units, just to name a few pieces of our equipment. Our garage scrubbing service is the best! We can make any garage floor as clean as it can be with the machinery and technology we use.

How does disposal work in your state?
We’ve got landfills in Arizona and 20-yard waste containers from local outfits to dump in those, or we just go directly to the landfills to get rid of any waste product. It’s not really a hard issue to deal with as far as disposal goes.
What kind of strategies and policies do you have when it comes to environmental issues?
Everyone wants the trucks to keep the dust down. Water is an issue out here in Arizona. We don’t use acid with scrubbing because everything has to be biodegradable. But overall dust is the biggest issue in the desert. Once that wind gets kicking up, sometimes those dust storms can be a problem leaving a lot of dirt and debris in those parking lots.

How much do new technologies factor into your business?
I got the max! Aftermarket sensors, my trucks light up Christmas trees. I was reading an over-the-road magazine and I got these sensors from Brooklyn, New York. I have cameras installed on the sweeping heads, so if they get too close the cameras’ sensors go off to warn them. I have to do that for insurance reasons. My insurance wants the claims to a minimum. You have to keep guys awake at night, so that’s where the sensors come in.

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