Midwest Business Visionary Shares Insights

Jason Barnes, business broker and owner of A-VAC Sweeping, in Knoxville TN, has taken one of the sweeping industry’s most challenging and exciting business models to yet a new level—the definitive one-stop shop for property maintenance services. And, he has implemented an intensive quality control model, a superbly simple proactive customer service model, and an ultra-high-frequency customer engagement model. The three together constitute a truly spectacular service business operations system, by any standards. That’s a lot of adjectives and adverbs, yes, but you’ll see what we mean—in this entrepreneur’s results.
Barnes explains how it all started, “I purchased the business about 3 1/2 years ago from an individual who had two employees at the time. I’m business broker. The owner came to me for an evaluation. I like the service industry, so I decided to buy the business.”
He recalls, “The company was in rough shape. A lot of maintenance was needed, but the owner wasn’t able to be fully responsive, because he was busy running one of the business’s three service routes. I saw an opportunity there to build a great business, so I took it on.”

Rapid Growth for A-Vac
In just three short years, Barnes has already grown the company from the original three trucks to nine, and from the original three to now eleven drivers, plus day porters who drive A-Vac company trucks and keep customers’ properties tidy. The company also now has office management, in-house mechanics, and multiple account managers who oversee territories and monitor drivers’ work upon completion every day, and prospect for new business. A-Vac now operates in several Tennessee cities.
Barnes is currently working on a deal to purchase an additional sweeper business in January 2019, one that currently operates four sweeper trucks. He said that he also needs to buy two new trucks for A-Vac right now, because a current customer has awarded A-Vac two more of their properties. The two are located in Nashville, so Jason will launch new A-Vac operations in Nashville in May 2019, breaking into a new market for his business. A-Vac’s new Nashville branch will service the current customer’s two sites there and begin to build a broader Nashville revenue base.
The significant growth rate of A-Vac’s business is attributable to the dynamics of its exceptional quality/service/engagement operational system, its strong sales prospecting program, and Jason Barnes’ stunning business acumen and vision and adeptness in service business management.

A Real One-Stop Shop
“We want to provide our customers with a one-stop shop,” Jason explains. But, we don’t do property management. I don’t want to compete with my customers. He emphasizes, “Between scheduled periodic sweeping and interim portering, our team is on the customer’s property daily. Ours won’t be the lowest bid, but we’re adding a lot of services to simplify operations for our customers.”
“My customers rely on my company’s services because they don’t have time to manage vendors and contractors to get all of the necessary property maintenance work routinely done using their in-house resources. So, we provide a service that helps ensure that each of their subcontractors clearly understands and performs the scope of the work they’re supposed to do under their formal agreement.”
Taking care of all of a property’s maintenance subcontractors and our own employees offers our customers a great convenience in their management of maintenance. It also streamlines communications for them; they have the benefit of just dealing with us, as a single point of contact. They also have to prepare only one 1099 to be issued at end of their accounting year, instead of one for every one of their subcontractors.

Extraordinary Quality, Service, and Engagement System
“We build a relationship with our customer,” Jason states. As sweeper industry news reporters, NAS has, of course, spoken with many great company leaders who name relationship-building as their basic approach to customer retention and preserving a stable revenue base. But Jason Barnes employ an exceptionally simple, though conceptually monumentally tight quality control, proactive customer service, and customer engagement strategy.
Intensive Quality Control: First, A-Vac’s process features the highly value-added service quality validation practice of forwarding real-time photos to the customer after each site service visit. Jason explains, “We simply send photos daily to our customers, to make sure that they’re kept informed on the current status of the care of their assets.”
Each A-Vac driver is required to transmit a minimum of two pictures per property, by text or email to his/her A-Vac account manager every night. (A-Vac will be adding a tablet to each truck, to produce better quality photos, and to allow drivers to more easily use apps and generally manage tasks more efficiently and conveniently.)
Proactive Customer Service: The account manager examines the images to validate the quality of the service delivered at a site, then forwards the work quality confirmation photos and a communique to the customer regarding any notable changes in conditions on the property, such as visible damage to buildings, lighting, parking areas, walkways, landscaping, or other irregularities.
High-Frequency Customer Engagement: “We want to reach out to make sure that our customers are satisfied with our work every day,” Jason emphasized. So, the customer is encouraged to respond with any comments or criticisms they wish every day.

State-of-the Art Passive Marketing
Like all great quality/service/engagement systems, A-Vac’s does additional duty as a highly effective passive marketing application—with each of the company’s account manager communicating directly with 20-25 customers every day. Reaching out to everyone across the business’s entire customer base after every service delivery draws real-time customer satisfaction feedback.
Jason reflects simply, “To grow the business requires providing excellent service to existing customers. It can’t be accomplished through selling new accounts alone.”

A-Vac Sales Force
In addition to the couple of dozen customer service calls each A-Vac account manager makes each day, they each also meet a quota of prospecting calls. Jason explains, “We do more cold calls and door knocking than is standard for advertising.”
Having the sales structure overlaying its account services management structure in this way, A-Vac vests the strongest possible personal interest of account managers in ensuring excellent service of accounts acquired.

Barnes’ Business Philosophy
“I grew up here and know a lot of people in the Knoxville area, and I have other businesses in the area, so it was easy enough for me to pass contacts along for our sweeping and portering services.” Jason added, “I don’t work with customers I can’t see in person and look in the eye.
My dad was very non-contractual, always working based on a hand-shake. Though today business relationships are necessarily more contractual, I’ve carried that attitude with me. I think in terms of building business relationships more on personal trust than on the formal written agreements we make with people.”

Challenges and Practical Solutions
For industry newcomers, Jason notes that the biggest challenge for his business has been maintenance, which he warns “can make you or break you.” His advice is to “either be a mechanic, or know several good mechanics, so you can outsource all sorts of repair work on equipment and vehicles.” He said, he had to learn that lesson very quickly.
He further emphasizes, “Maintain the equipment extremely well with preventive maintenance, to identify issues before something becomes a serious problem.” (He also has a backup sweeper truck, to prevent downtime while a truck being serviced.)

A-Vac Service Philosophy
Jason said A-Vac instills in the company’s drivers, “Leave your mark on the property. We want our customers to know we were there. And, keep perspective that those are your accounts. If we lose those, that cuts into the amount of work you’ll have to do and can be paid to do.” He continues, “We are fortunate to have a very good team working to keep our customers happy.”
It’s fitting here to sum up Barnes’ perspective on his own role in the sweeping service business. This cutting-edge entrepreneur shares in the simplest and most familiar colloquial terms, “You’re not going to please everybody all the time. But, the buck has to stop somewhere, and it always stops with us. We don’t let ourselves blame deficiencies on weather, or equipment, etc.. Instead, we think, “Let’s just get there and get some quality work done.”

A NAS Company to Watch—A-Vac, Knoxville, TN
A-Vac’s intensive quality control activities, uniquely proactive customer service process, and unusually high-frequency customer engagement practices are each things of beauty in their categories of business methodologies. The ideal alignment of such stand-out processes forms a customer satisfaction system of a caliber that is the hallmark of a world-class service operation. So, it certainly seems fair to say that Jason Barnes’ Tennessee company, A-Vac, is a standard-bearer for customer experience in the North American sweeping industry.

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