A Road Well Traveled – The CMAX Story

Frank Gutierrez bought his first parking lot sweeping truck in 2012 and established a DBA named FJG Property Services. FJG are his initials. He says he lacked creativity, so he decided to go with that name while he was waiting in line with his registration paperwork. Gutierrez later changed the name when he incorporated the company, mainly because people couldn’t say FJG. It was a tongue twister and constantly causing an issue when introducing himself. So, he changed it to CMAX Commercial Maintenance. His son’s name is Christian Max, so… He says it rolls off the tongue, and it’s more meaningful to him, because it’s his firstborn son’s name. (Yes, we do think that’s both adorable and practical.)

The Lakers’ Role in Frank’s Success
Frank graduated high school in Ontario, went on to a local community college, and then started working part-time for Dearden’s Retail with Sprint Wireless. Most of his peers and bosses had some form of higher education with their Bachelor’s and even Master’s degrees. He was so involved in his career that he didn’t think he could justify attending a regular college, so he took online classes and got an Associate’s degree majoring in Business Administration, also with emphasis in Business Communications.
I had about $30k in debt from student loans. After spending $30k in school and getting an AS degree, it unfortunately did nothing for my salary, so I didn’t want to pursue college education any further by getting myself into more debt. Also, in my field of sales, experience paid more than formal education. By the time I was 26, I already had 7 years of experience in sales management. Having that much experience at such a young age always gave me the upper hand.
So, his investment in his professional experience was the key to Frank’s future in his chosen industry. I used to work for Radio Shack selling cell phones and had great success in sales as a teenager. I was once recognized as the top sales associates for wireless in the Los Angeles region. After my short stint with Radio Shack I went on to work at a neighboring company called Dearden’s. By the age 21, I was managing nine stores, with about fifty employees in the department. Things were great, but then in 2008 the economy went downhill. Bonuses, commissions and my overall salary dropped.
Around that time, one of my best friends from high school, Mike Vazquez, had his own sweeping company with his father Miguel Vazquez, and he mentioned his sweeping services. I asked, “What do you mean sweeping services? Do you sweep with a pan and broom?” Mike explained that he owned two sweeping trucks and said he was so busy with sweeping, he was having to turn down work. That was in 2011-2012. He told me he made in gross revenues of $250k. I said, “Ok, let’s talk.”
So, I went out to work with Mike for two weeks in a parking lot sweeper. I enjoyed the different atmosphere of working at your own pace, no longer dealing with retail hours and difficult customers. In a nutshell, you get to the job site, sweep the property, make it look good, and then everybody is happy! I fell in love with the business.
Another compelling benefit of the sweeping business for Frank was the greater freedom he had in his work schedule. Frank is a die-hard Lakers fan. With his own business, he was able to adjust his schedule to watch his Laker games. The flexibility was important to him, because he liked the idea of controlling his own schedule. He had once gone to work at Dearden’s early so that he could leave early and watch the Lakers play. He was on his way out to watch the Laker game, when he was asked to stay and close the store. Frank had no choice but to stay at work and, of course, the Lakers lost. Frank believed when he missed a game they would lose. A lot of sports fans find that there’s a lot at stake in getting themselves to their team’s games. Not only the team, but also the whole region counts on certain fans to make it there at any cost and get their eyes on those games. Otherwise, there’s simply no way to ensure that the team will win.
So, it made perfect sense that Frank would gravitate to a career that allowed him never to miss a Lakers game. And, for any doubters, Frank says that since that time, being in the business has been a bigger blessing than he could even have imagined. He now owns Lakers season tickets! So, the joke’s on…us? In any case, Frank enjoys the amusing framing of his business achievement on a foundation of personal responsibility for the Lakers’ success.

How Being True to the Team Has Paid Off
Frank looks back, to give us a snapshot of his company’s progress over the years. In 2012, I started off with one truck and a route of $2000 per month. Last year (2018), I ended with $2.2 million for the year. In January and February of this year 2019, we eclipsed what we did for the entire year of 2015. We now have over 22 employees. In 2012, I owned one truck. Now we’re about to buy our 12th sweeper. In 2015, we had three sweepers, a power washer, and about 20 employees. We did $570k in revenue. In 2018, we had same number of employees, but we did $2.2 million in business.
The big difference is that when I started the company, I relied heavily on subcontracted work. Throughout the years, we’ve built relationships with our clients and other partners. I still do work for some of the same subcontractors who got me started. Without the opportunity they gave me, I never would never have started this. I just don’t rely on them providing me as many jobs any more. We have established a reputation in our area, where we get new request for services daily.
Today, Frank still works with his high school friend’s company, Trinity Property Services, with which CMAX shares an office space in Ontario, California. CMAX provides services throughout Southern California, including the Inland Empire region, ranging from Ontario, Chino and Rancho Cucamonga, all the way to Redlands, San Bernardino, Corona, Riverside, San Diego, Irvine, Orange County and Greater Los Angeles.
After the Devastating Woolsey fire, which burned a lot of Ventura and LA County, CMAX was hired to clear away all the fire debris. Frank’s team uses three Schwarze A4000 sweepers working six days per week, 10 hours per day cleaning up the areas. (The Woolsey fire cleanup is a nearly $400k project for CMAX.)

What Makes CMAX Ideal for Its Customers
What I’ve been getting from my customers in feedback is that we’re always readily available. We make ourselves available to our customers. I got a call this morning from a customer who had an inspection scheduled at 10:00 a.m., and I managed to get a truck on site for them by 7:30 a.m.. We service the majority of Amazon’s major facilities in our region. On Sunday, I got a call asking us to come and sweep the street beside their facility for an emergency clean up. I got a truck there within an hour and a half. Now they’ve contracted us to sweep the streets exterior to their facilities as a reoccurring service. We always answer the phone, even at 2:00 a.m.. That’s me answering at 2:00 a.m. and throughout the day. It’s my cell phone number that everyone is calling for CMAX.
In addition to the company’s 12 sweeper trucks, 6 porter trucks, 3 power washing trailers, and a dump trailer, CMAX will soon be picking up a new venture, with a dumpster bin washing truck. The staff of 22 is a combination of inspectors, sweepers, porters, power washers, field technicians, administrative support employees and yard workers.
Asked if he has looked at hiring or assigning someone to pick up those 2:00 a.m. phones calls for him, Frank is reflective. I want to say I would like to have somebody answer my calls, but I think the reason I’ve had the success I’ve had is that people appreciate the fact that they can talk to me and not have to talk to an operator or an assistant. I don’t know if I can ever let go of that—at least not let go and be able to maintain things to my standards. I recently hired my brother. I’d like to say that one day he will be the one running the office. But, I want to know that when customers talk to him, it’s like they’re talking to me.

A Fuller Picture of CMAX’s Business Model
We started with just parking lot sweeping. Now, we do retail centers, industrial, construction, street and HOA community sweeping. We’ve really diversified our customer profile. Because of the relationships we’ve developed with property owners and managers, we’ve become the go-to company for other types of services they need, like minor construction, handy-man work, emergency cleanups, etc. So, we’ve expanded our work to provide full commercial maintenance services.
The complete list of Frank’s company’s services includes: Construction Street Sweeping, Power Vacuum Sweeping, Steam Power Washing, Day Porting, Handy Man, Bulk Item Removal, Graffiti Removal, Tenant Improvements, Building and Window Wash, Flooring installation, Glass Replacement. CMAX has also just added dumpster trash bin cleaning service.
Frank explains his motivation to embark on the new service venture in trash bin cleaning. In California, there was a new law passed in January 2019, requiring restaurants and supermarkets to have organic waste decomposed and properly dispose of. So, washing the bins is a new option for companies to keep the contamination under control.
For example, an employee of a fast-food restaurant that makes hundreds of burgers daily puts on gloves and pulls a bin that’s been in the heat all day long. Salmonella and all kinds of other bacteria become airborne and land on his apron and gloves. He washes his hands, but it’s still on his shirt and arms. So, he’s contaminated. Without clean bins, that’s more likely to happen. Washing them once month, once a quarter, or even once a year is more than it’s ever been done before. It hasn’t existed until now as a way to help control contaminates.
If a restaurant has a seating area outside, flies and odors are also a problem near garbage bins. Sanitizing and deodorizing can help. The bin cleaning process heats up to almost 200 degrees and washes at 24 gallons per minute. It cleans a 10-yard dumpster in one minute. The truck flips the bin into a hopper, which captures everything. Then, we properly dispose of the water at a clarifying station. It doesn’t just go down a storm drain.

Marketing and Branding at CMAX
The first sweeping contract I ever got was from a conversation I had with my barber. I finished sweeping one early morning and went to get a haircut straight from sweeping. My Barber asked me, “Why are you so dirty?” I told him I’d been sweeping. He mentioned that someone sweeps his parking lot but always leaves a mess. So, I told him well I needed to find out how to get a hold of his property manager, to see if there was any opportunity. Fortunately for me, he gave me the contact information for his property manager.
She (the property manager) gave me my first opportunity to bid a property of my own, and I’ve never looked back since then. We got the job. It was $400 a month sweeping a small shopping center 7 days a week. We still service that account to this day. And we still charge the same $400 we did in 2012. She then recommended me to another property manager, who opened the door for me with another local realtor. To this day, that company is one of my biggest clients, and we continue to work closely with the management team there. (Frank expresses a great depth of gratitude to those two property managers who gave him those all-important early opportunities, and who each are still such a big part of the success of his business.)
So, since we started working with those first customers, it’s just been all word-of-mouth. I’ve never done any significant advertising. We are a part of the NAPSA community and have made some connections through that. Also, Sean and Scott, from the Sweeper Shop and Quality Sweeping have provided a great amount of support and referrals and have really helped us grow in the industry.
Interestingly, Frank says he stopped labeling trucks with phone numbers. They still have CMAX on them, but he says he stopped bothering having the phone number added, because he’s never actually gotten a job from having the number on the trucks. He says the only people that called had random minor complaints about things that were natural and unavoidable while people are working to sweep areas with sweeper trucks.

Frank Gutierrez’ Own Winning Team
We asked Frank what daily operations are like at CMAX. I’m basically out all day in the field, putting out fires. Later in the day, I work on bookkeeping, paperwork, scheduling, payroll, etc.. But, in order to be able to plan out and execute operations, I have the integral parts of my team who make it happen.
My wife, Cristina, is the sole reason that I’m able to do what I do. She takes care of our house and our three beautiful kids. The amount of time she devotes to our kids allows me to do what I do. I work long hours. My day starts at 5:00 a.m., and I’m still working at home on my computer past midnight sometimes. She has compromised, to help me do what I’ve needed to do to run the business efficiently.
My brother-in-law, Jesse, is my right-hand man. He walks guys through repairs out in the field. If there are property issues, he’ll step right up. He’s basically our go-to field manager. He gets all the big projects started. He figures out what works and what doesn’t work. We tag team the projects. He’s the more hands-on technician. I’m the back end, handling the paperwork, negotiating the deal. We’re a killer duo.
I’m forever in debt to him (Jesse). When I first went into business, my truck payment was $1100. Gas was $800, insurance was $300. My monthly income from our route was $2000, and yet I owed $2500 monthly! Basically, Jessie was working for some Jack in the Box meals and the occasional Red Bull I would buy him when we swept at night. He makes this all possible really. The clients know me, and they know Jesse. He makes sure the team executes what we’re supposed to do.
Both Jesse and my cousin Harold worked for me for the first 6 months for free! Harold doesn’t work for me anymore, but when I can, I still give him something as a token of appreciation. Frank tells this story with his usual tone, which is a blend of moderate amusement with his whole entrepreneurial experience and gratitude for the people who’ve been a part of it all along the way.

Additional Interesting Challenges For Frank and CMAX
We asked Frank about the most major challenges his business encounters, and unsurprisingly, we got the same answer that sweeping companies throughout the industry give. The most difficult thing for us is the truck maintenance, and the other is employees. But, without the employees, we’re nothing. I’ve been blessed with some really, really good guys.
We have had a lot of guys in and out, but I think what’s made our group so successful is the loyal and dedicated staff we have. I’ve seen other companies with revolving door situations. Every couple of months we may get a guy coming and going, but the core of my team are people who’ve been with me almost since day one. Having great employees is everything.
Frank says that the last thing he has ever wanted to do is create an environment where employees hate coming to work. He says he’s always told his team that maybe one really wants to work, but, as he puts it, “We have to work, so why not give ourselves a positive mindset and make the best out of it. We can control what we’re going to do, the pace we work at, the time we start and end, and other factors to our favor.”
In pursuit of that control, Frank has added some bells and whistles and comforts to the CMAX office break room, fondly nicknamed “the black hole.” It’s got TV, movies, Netflix, couches, Internet service, fridges full of food (at least some of which is free). It’s the veritable Google of sweeping industry workplaces. CMAX employees don’t have to feel a sense of urgency in rushing out of the workplace and straight home after work. They actually sit back and relax if they need or want to.
The staff goes bowling and golfing together. There are pizza parties, steak nights, etc.. Frank mentioned that this Friday, they’re having a taco truck. The point is to try to keep a light mood, by providing some welcome distractions. He states his simple philosophy: Work is work, but we’re going to work with people we like. I think that’s what’s worked for us— keeping a positive atmosphere.
We also have a group message thread that contains a never-ending thread of things we see while we’re out there working, funny stuff, shocking stuff, ugly stuff, all kinds of stuff. I think we’ve formed a pretty strong comradery. I make myself approachable to my guys. I let them know that they can talk to me directly any time they need to, and I’ll always help find a solution.

External Issues That Could Impact CMAX
I keep hearing whispers about brick and mortar stores being shut down, because of Amazon and others. But, I don’t think it will ever all go away. People like to go out, catch some fresh air and dine out. And, a lot of distribution centers are being built to accommodate these superstores, like Amazon and Walmart. We’ll just be sweeping the distribution centers instead of retail stores, if they close the retail stores.
Way down the line, there may be AI (artificially intelligent) sweepers out there sweeping the trash, and there are a lot of environmental improvement things happening, including ideas to get away from gas-powered sweeping. So, those are little hurtles we may have to get over. But, as long as there are people, they’re going to make a mess, and we’re going to be there to sweep it up.
New Technologies That Could Change the Way CMAX Works
All of our trucks are equipped with GPS, to make sure they’re where they’re supposed to be. We get emails and playbacks, to help us stay fully informed on what’s happening. Beyond that, technology-wise, I haven’t explored much. I do know that there are a lot of new systems out there that can help you with invoicing, and help you with new operations and job opportunities. But, I feel like some of those functions kind of take away the human element, and I feel like that’s kind of our strong point. So, I think it’s kind of important, even by email, to keep in mind that you’re talking to a person and not an automated system.
For example, I sent an email recently to a customer saying that a truck was down and told her we’d be out there to her location within about three hours. She appreciated it and said, “Hey, by the way, I need you to sweep another site.” Frank emphasizes that that’s the kind of situation in which he really doesn’t like taking away the human element of communication. He’s very aware that that kind of communication is important to maintain, because it gives his customers better service and it can create an opportunity for his company.

Frank Gutierrez’ Words of Advice for Industry Newcomers
Based on my own experience, I would share with anyone trying to do this business—first, it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. You need to be ready to roll up your sleeves, get in the truck yourself, know what to expect and what the truck can do, and do the leg-work yourself. Trying to hire an employee for minimum wage and just collect money from that is not going to be a successful approach. Don’t try to take short cuts. Especially, make sure this work is something you enjoy. How will you expect your drivers to like it, if you don’t even like it yourself? If you’re not willing to do it yourself, then, I would suggest, don’t even get involved.
After our time with the CMAX owner, we’ll add to that advice. For a winning method, we can recommend: emulate Frank Gutierrez. His warm, positive sense of humor would be a huge benefit to the relationship-building needs of any business. Frank enjoys an amused perspective on the dicey start of getting his business up and running, on his early struggles against the onslaught of financial difficulties, on the heavy weight of his responsibility for the Lakers’ success, and apparently on most any other professional and personal obstacles he’s ever overcome.
The choice to maintain a cheerful business demeanor and a generally positive outlook can be contagious to employees and customers alike. In Frank’s case, it’s the stuff of the inspiring narrative about the growing CMAX enterprise. His story is one of persistence in hard work and applying a young man’s exceptional business management acumen, grit and wit throughout a great entrepreneurial adventure. So, for anyone thinking of entering the business, it’s well to keep in mind that that’s how it’s done by those who are among the best in the industry.

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