West Michigan Sweeper, An Interview with Mat Andrews

West Michigan’s premier and family owned sweeping company since 2003 is WMS. West Michigan Sweeper is owned by husband and wife team, Mat and Stephanie Andrews, who took over the company in 2014. They have continued a long standard of excellence in the Midwest through their top-notch sweeping business. Today we have a spotlight interview feature with Mat Andrews, so let’s hear what he has to say about his sweeping company.

How did your company begin?
It was started by another husband and wife team. They had aspirations to make it bigger, but in the 10-11 years they owned it, it was still a one truck operation. Both of them had other jobs as well. I had a young daughter at home and my wife was a stay-at-home mom, but I was traveling a lot, so I thought owning my own business would provide me with flexibility and freedom. I bought WMS in 2014.

What is your business model with office locations and total employees?
We’ve been growing like wildfire since we started. Now we have nine full-time employees. Our main office is in Rockford, which is a suburb of Grand Rapids. We have one satellite office in Big Rapids.

How much growth has your business sustained since you bought it and the improvement in the economy?
Since we started in 2014, we double business every year. Grown 100 percent. After the first year we doubled and it’s on track this year for a great increase. It’s all been going well.

How is competition in your area?
There’s minimal competition in the area, on the street sweeping side there is only one other company. We’re about to go into that next year. I would say there are about six companies that do parking lot sweeping, smaller companies, but we just found that in this industry most of the existing companies were one man and a truck, stuck in their ways with minimal customer service. We’re really targeted that and it’s been working out great.

How do you find new customers?
The biggest part is probably relationships and referrals, one little project will turn into more. We work hard on educating our clients so they see the value of our work. Property managers get new properties and they take us along with them. That’s probably our driving factor. I also belong to a bunch of groups and associations in the area, to expand our reach even more.
It seems like in our industry, margins are small but with high-frequency work, a lot of shopping centers are the focus. We do our fair share of those, but with competition, it’s still only 20 percent of the market. We just focus on the other 80 percent of the work in sweeping. We’ve found in the meanwhile guys are cutting their staff and their service goes down. Quality isn’t there. They end up coming back to us anyways. It’s definitely a waiting game. The smaller companies aren’t charging enough to keep their equipment running. We invest in new equipment so we can offer a top-notch service.
How many contracts do you execute per month?
I would say monthly, we’re somewhere 500-1000 contracts. That might be one contract that has 40 properties, so it’s kind of hard to measure exactly.

Have you added on any new services lately?
Recently we’ve started on mobile power washing. We have a big power washing unit that hauls water, so we have got into that lately. We just do it for existing customers and as a part of our maintenance service.
We also do some paving and pothole repair and line striping. We found that by going that route, it allows us to educate the customer on maintaining their investments. A parking lot costs quite a bit. So we sell sweeping as aesthetically pleasing and try to really drive the longevity of protecting their investment and extending the life of the parking lot. It’s always more than just cleaning.

How did you arrive at creating a unique brand for your company?
It’s been difficult on that front. In a lot of people’s mind sweeping is sweeping. They don’t look further than that. We focus on service. We’re not always going to be the cheapest, but we don’t overly worry about what our competitors are doing. Sometimes we are less, sometimes more. If a customer isn’t happy with their current provider, we’re always happy to go out a give a better estimate.
Realistically we educate on what it costs to do a good job. Some get it. Everyone has a budget, so we try to focus on where we stand out differently as far as quality goes. The training of our employees. Software for our drivers that makes everything easier. Our quality allows us to focus on the little things for our customers. We have GPS in all of our trucks, so we can monitor quality. Plus, we visit job sites regularly. I can see if things are up to our standards. We can fix things right away. Not to say we don’t make mistakes, but we can get in front of things. We try to do the right thing.

Tell me a little bit about the daily operations and how your workers’ shifts go?
Most of our guys are third shift, especially during the winter. 90 percent is third shift. That changes a bit in the summer and spring.

What sweeper trucks, equipment, and machinery technology do you use?
We have pretty much have a variety of everything. Schwarze, Nighthawk, Elgin, and a Liberty. We might get some Tymco’s, so we pretty much have almost everything out there. I’m not partial to any one brand. Each brand has their unique niche and purpose. Nighthawk has been great for shopping centers. Schwarze is great on the customer service side of things. Tymco’s have been really impressive lately.

How does disposal work in your state?
In Michigan, it just depends on the job. Government contracts are dumped in very specific dump stations. But sadly enough outside of that, there aren’t a lot of restrictions on that. Hazardous waste should be disposed of more properly. Our competitors don’t do that. We rent dumpsters and have a variety of open top containers that we use.

What kind of strategies and policies do you have when it comes to environmental issues?
I know that some of my competitors don’t invest in the dumping costs like we do. We’re members of NAPSA, World Sweeper, and 1-800-Sweeper, and we really try hard to create a higher standard for ourselves so hopefully, everyone in the industry goes in the right direction. It’s more a problem down the road if they don’t get on the bandwagon of caring about the environment. Stormwater runoff, dumping costs, we try to explain to our drivers that just because it looks clean doesn’t mean it is clean. We try to set up schedule and maps that make sure everything is getting an even sweep and is really clean. We drive that home.

How much do new technologies factor into your business?
One of the biggest is tech that does make us different from everyone else. We got new software last year. It wasn’t easy at first, but we worked through the headaches. The GPS is hugely successful and really helps with the customer and driver disputes.
The new tech that’s coming next summer is dash cams, and we’re going to do forward and rear facing cameras that record before and after any event that occurs in the truck. A third party reviews it and if it’s noteworthy they send it along to the office, so we can fix problems before they occur. Guys drifting off to sleep on shifts or other things. We can talk to them about what goes on to make sure habits are formed the right way. We’re pretty excited about that next summer. We just had a conference call with our insurance agent and we’ll get a break on premiums with that.

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