Louisiana Power Sweep Services

Before 2007, David Powell was just a hard-working guy, an unassuming industrial plant services worker. His job was putting up scaffolding, sometimes up to 400-500 feet high, so that would seem to make him a relatively daring type, as far as plant services workers go. But, he was looking for another kind of excitement. He was seeking the right opportunity to move on to a better quality of work life than he’d known up to that point. Powell tells NAS readers how he came to leave that field and make his way as an entrepreneur building his now highly successful Baton Rouge LA sweeping and exterior maintenance service business.

How it All Began
It was not fun working in plant services. I would work a job until it was completed and then start looking for another job. It’s a lot of chasing work. All the plants are along the Mississippi River. A worker has to float around from plant to plant. I’d drive an hour and a half each way every day to work. It was a pretty miserable way to live.
A friend of mine and his family were in the sweeping business for a while, and it got my interest. So, I looked into it as something for a more stable income. I ended up buying a $5,000 truck. It wasn’t running, so I worked on it till I could use it. I already had two small children by that time and a lot of responsibilities. I owned a mobile home, so I made a title loan on it to buy that first truck.
When I ended up going full time in the business, around 2011, I had no sales experience and not even any basic computer knowledge. Before I started this business, I never even owned a computer, so I didn’t know anything. I started with a couple of accounts.
I worked 20 hours a day for a long time, at least another 3 years, establishing the new business. I got up at 1:30 in the morning and worked till 5:00am. Then, I went to my day job and worked a 10 to 12-hour shift. Working in the heat all day wasn’t fun. It was kind of a humbling experience. I did that for about 3 years, until I had enough money to walk away from my day job.

Building a Thriving Baton Rouge Business
Today, Louisiana Power Sweep Services, under Powell’s leadership, has grown to a fleet of 7 parking lot sweeper trucks, a street sweeper truck, all late-model commercial service vehicles, and a number of commercial exterior maintenance equipment assets. The LPSS currently has a team of 8 people with David and 7 employees, including David’s wife Niki. David and Niki manage the business, and they do all the power washing and striping themselves as well as the more potentially problematic work, such as hot water applications for graffiti removal.
We asked David if he had ever felt pressure in the startup phase to compete aggressively on price. I came into the business with competitors that had a head start, with 20-year relationships already established. I don’t think we ever went the low-ball bidding route. In fact, at first we probably tended to be a little overpriced, but then you kind of get a touch for it.
But it was easier to be a little cheaper when it was just me. I think most of the time we’re fairly competitive; sometimes we’re a little higher than other bids. Some guys started in the 1970s, and they’re still on those old prices. Sometimes you can take a job for a little less, just to fill a gap in the schedule. We’ve learned that it’s not really as much about what you get per location, but what you can get during a 10-hour shift.
For getting new business, we don’t do a whole lot of sales. We just kind of take what comes to us. We do have tee shirts, logos on the trucks and a Facebook page, but we don’t have any special marketing schemes.

Today’s Challenges for LPSS
When asked about the biggest challenges he faces in his business these days, David’s answer had the familiar ring that reverberates from coast to coast, and north to south throughout the entire commercial sweeping industry—getting good employees. He offers a fresh perspective: Getting a quality employee isn’t always about the employee. It’s about your choice of employee. Finding a responsible person who will be a good asset is harder than just picking anybody who shows up. Sometimes the guys who are really desperate for work are not always the best employees. Sometimes, it seems the best employee is somebody who is working for somebody else.
Generally, I don’t hire people who’ve worked for somebody else in the industry. Because, they often have bad habits. The way they’ve been paid in the past can be a problem. I wanted to do everything the right way when I got in the business. It’s not always easy. When employees are used to getting paid on 1099s, they’re sometimes drawn to continue that. It may be because they don’t want to pay taxes, or they’re avoiding child support, or just don’t want to deal with regular W2s, or some other reason.
A lot of people in the industry want to pay people by the night, and often drivers may feel rushed. When you pay a guy well, he’s not rushed, so he’s taking his time to do a good job. Guys work from 9am to 7:00pm with us. That’s plenty of time for them to complete their work without rushing.

Accounting for Success
We provide services all year round. We do striping throughout the winter. We do cater to good customers. We go fix pipe ballads, do sign repairs (such as re-anchoring signage), fill potholes, and other work. We’re kind of a one-call company for exterior maintenance service. We’ll do various kinds of work for customers, or get them in touch with another service provider who does the specific work they need.
I think the biggest success we’ve found is from being responsive to calls and emails. I think that’s helped me more than anything—taking a call instead of letting it go to voicemail. I field the majority of the calls. My wife, Niki, takes some of them, and I do the follow up and get customers whatever they need. Niki does all the bookkeeping for employees, writes estimates, and does a lot of other work.
We have a home office, and we have an office at our business location. Niki mainly works from home where she links the two together (business and home work). My son is 15. This summer, he’s going to get more involved in the sweeping and maintaining the trucks, to earn some extra money. He’s done some power washing with me. Our sales and our service schedules work together pretty efficiently.
Sweeping employees do just sweeping, and all the daytime work is just me and Niki. That’s mostly striping and power washing, and we’re the backup operators, when somebody can’t be in. In total, our sweepers usually probably service 60-65 locations per night, and we probably cover about a 60-mile radius.

Growth of LPSS
Most of our growth has been in the parking lot sweeping, from year to year. We’ve been growing at a rate of about 100k per year. This year we’ve picked up about $250k in growth. So, we’re on pace to do about $1million in sales for the year. The sweeping is about 90% of that, and the power washing and striping is about 10%.
Word of mouth, our website, Facebook and Google AdWords are our main sources of new business. We don’t have a big huge budget for advertising, but we do a little bit. As far as going out and knocking on doors and shaking hands, every time I’ve done that I’ve picked up a lot of work, more work than I want to do, but it’s always price-based.
It feels like we’ve done pretty well, considering how small the market is here. We’ve thought about moving into other markets, but haven’t pursued it. Sweeping takes time. It’s not a quick matter to go out and get enough accounts to make it worthwhile to go into another market. You basically have to buy another company, or you’ve got to find an employee willing to work only a few hours per night until you get it going.
I don’t know if we’ll be adding new trucks any time soon. We may provide more service in New Orleans and the north shore area. Opportunity comes when you’re prepared.

Team Building at LPSS
The barely 11-year old Louisiana company has already had one of its employees for 10 years. That’s an impressive accomplishment in and of itself for a new company—keeping staff long-term, even while the business went through those earlier years of initial growing pains. David Powell’s employee management method is simple and straightforward:
I don’t think we really do anything really special to try to retain employees, other than treat them with the same respect we expect to get back from them. We try to stay realistic about their needs and their family problems. But, we don’t’ do anything extraordinary. We haven’t reached the point where we’ve felt like we need a supervisor.
What we offer is a good plan for employees, because they can work four nights to total 40 hours, and they can work overtime if they’re willing to take it. We guarantee them 40 hours. If they work 37, we pay them 40 hours. If we have harsh weather and can’t run trucks, we’ll still guarantee them 40 hours.
New employees go through 80 hours of training. For 40 hours, they go out with another driver and shadow him. The second week, they’ll take over driving, and the trainer will shadow the new employee. In the final days, we’ll get involved and fine tune the training, evaluate the guy, and make sure he’s ready to go.

LPSS Technology
All our trucks have GPS systems, and they’re monitored at the office. We do our payroll time recording off of that system, instead of using a time clock. The trucks have route sheets, with all the drivers’ scheduled work on those. For our basic accounting, we use QuickBooks. Talking to David Powell, one gets the clear impression of an entrepreneur with strong skills in streamlining and general efficiency. So, it’s unsurprising to learn that his operational management system is one grounded in these time-tested choices of resources, systems and methods for ensuring service quality and accounting accuracy.

Distinguishing the LPSS Brand – Company Ethics Policy
On the point about service quality, Louisiana Power Sweep Services offers something unique to its customers and employees—the company’s stated Ethics Policy. David explains that LPSS representatives attend all the NAPA functions, and that they go through the training offered at their events. They’ve attended the trade shows for the past 10 or 11 years. They’re also members of some industry and other professional organizations. David notes that some of the training is pretty eye opening, and that his team has implemented a lot of that at LPSS.

Industry Foresight from LPSS
We asked David if there’s anything he foresees that could impact the future success of LPSS. I see a lot of retail closings. A lot of companies are dropping some of their locations. I don’t think it’s going to affect our industry much though. I think it’s a lot of internet sales that are causing that, like through Amazon. They can get you things so fast, their logistics are unreal.
Other than that, I don’t see anything, except maybe that the cost of equipment could go awry. If equipment goes up, people may have to raise prices. As costs of everything else go up around us, the cost of employees’ time will have to go up. A guy who makes $15 to $16 per hour won’t be able to live on that. The total living cost could become our biggest issue.

Advice for Sweeping Industry Newcomers, from David Powell, Owner of LPSS
We asked the LPSS owner to share some words of wisdom with new entrants to the U.S. American sweeper market. Powell’s advice: Get a plan, work it, and the plan will work. It’s a job; it’s a 24/7 job, and it can take over your life. Find a trade show, and go to it, and network with other people in the industry. Listen to their problems, because, sooner or later their problems are going to be yours, and you’ll have more intel on how to handle them.
Sweeping with friends is a Facebook group. It has 382 members. It’s been a good tool. I think it’s been good for us with truck manufacturers. They’re members of it too. It gives everybody a voice. You can reach more people now, and find out that you’re not the only one having various issues. You get to communicate with each other, with guys across the country. That gives you someone in the business to talk to, so I recommend using that resource.

A Model of Enterprise Building in the Sweeper Industry
David reflects on the rough road through the early days and indicates that things were considerably more severe than as alluded to in our very brief skimming in the beginning of this article. He recalls the extreme struggle and risks. It was the kind of experience that forces an individual to dig to the depths of die-hard persistence. Only those who’ve walked that mile in those shoes can ever fully comprehend what it is to do that.
As he pulled the fledgling business up into operational stability and on to becoming an enterprise that is on track to exceed a million dollars in revenues this year, David Powell ultimately came to embody the great American success story. His is that kind of inspirational history of an intrepid individual, facing down monumental challenge and wrenching it into opportunity. His achievement is an organization that today provides employment for a growing team of people and an important service to the community. Certainly, throughout his journey to build a thriving business, we find in in David Powell of Louisiana Power Sweep Services an exceptional role model for aspiring business owners in any industry.

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