Canaday Sweepers, Inc., Altamont, NY

In upstate New York, three decades back, a fledgling service business began to bud into what would become a regional institution, Carver Companies. Carver has grown from a one-man, one-dump-truck-and- backhoe operation, into a very large company with numerous divisions. Here, Michael Braunlin, manager of the company’s growing commercial sweeping division, Canaday Sweepers, Inc., shares the story of Carver’s inception and expansion, development of the sweeping services division, and insights into the Carver business model:
Carver Acquires Canaday
About 30 years ago, Carver Companies was started by Carver Laraway. His story is a one of those truly great American stories of starting from the ground up and pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. Carver set out with a small backhoe and a dump truck. He worked his one-man excavation business, and built it up by responding to other needs customers had, ultimately growing the company into the large organization it is today, with multiple divisions serving a range of external property maintenance needs.
Today, Carver Companies, still owned by Laraway, is an expansive, bustling enterprise. The corporation now operates ports in four states. Carver has a thriving construction business. The company also owns quarries and sand pits. It has a trucking division and owns the Canaday sweeping company.
Carver bought the Canaday sweeping business from his friend, Mike Canaday, in 1993, and it became the commercial sweeping division of Carver. Canaday currently has 21 employees, with Mike Braunlin as Canaday’s Operations manager. The staff also includes an office coordinator, about 5 drivers who do day sweeping and about 10 who do night sweeping. The division has around 15 trucks, used for a variety of different types of sweeping. The fleet includes Nighthawk, Tymco, and VacAll units, including industrial models for services at milling companies and catch basin work.
The Canaday division provides commercial and industrial sweeping as well as a variety of pavement repair and related services. Most work is performed within a radius of about 60 to 70 miles from Canaday’s location in Altamont, although the team does provide services at more remote locations. For example, later this week, some of the drivers will go into Massachusetts and Vermont.
Mike Braunlin, Operations Manager, talks about Canaday’s services, operations, growth and future plans:
I came on board last October (2018). I had worked with Carver through a different construction company. Prior to joining the Carver team, my background was in the asphalt and concrete construction and maintenance industry. The sweeping side of things was a natural extension of that, so when a position became available with Canaday, my experience was a good fit.
I was actually an English major in college with hopes of going into Public Relations, but I graduated during financial crisis when a lot of people in that field were being laid off. It was a time to be open to new opportunities. Being able to take a risk and go in a new direction is what led me to construction and eventually brought me to Carver Companies and leading our Canaday team.
Canaday Division Growth
Canaday Sweepers started in the late 1980s. Mike Canaday had a solid service operation going with 2 or 3 trucks at the time he sold the business to Carver. He had built a good reputation in the local market. When Canaday became a part of the Carver family, the company began to take off and has realized steady growth over the years. The division now serves customers throughout the local region nightly and works consistently all year. The drivers are always busy, sweeping year ’round and snow plowing in winter as well.
We’re fortunate that with 30 years in business, Carver has a strong name in the industry, which has helped make Canaday the premier sweeping company in our area. We have well-established relations with property management companies, retailers, and construction companies in the area. Plus, our other Carver companies bring business into the sweeping company and vice-versa. For example, we refer people who have large construction projects they need completed to our sister company, and Carver Construction often receives referrals from the Carver materials division, Carver Sand & Gravel.
Canaday has added multiple lines of business over the years, in order to accommodate requests from existing customers and provide more value. Because of our size and scale, we have larger trucks that can do heavier work, and then, after construction is completed, we can continue to service nightly with smaller trucks. So, we have the resources to provide for the whole range of customers’ needs on their sites.
We still do go out after bids. Sweeping is sometimes an afterthought for customers. Part of our explanation of services and pricing is that New York is not the most inexpensive place to live. We have to pay a fairly high wage compared to the national average, and we have to be able to offer good services to customers. We get a lot of leads from property managers and other customers who know other property managers and business managers. We’re fortunate that they like our services and strongly recommend us to others in their area.
Canaday’s growth has varied over the years, but has averaged adding a new truck or two about every four or five years. The company usually buys new equipment, but we do keep an eye out for a great deal on preowned trucks.
Canaday Quality Management Model
We always have someone in the office, at least from 8am to 5pm answering the phone. We strive to always pick up the call on the first or second ring. When customers call our line after hours, there isn’t a recording that gives them a long list of options that don’t lead to a live person. Instead they get a message that gives them my cell phone number and another option to leave a message. So, customers always know how to reach us.
Our customers can communicate with us however they prefer — phone call, fax, text, email, whatever works best for them. Each of our drivers has tablet, which allows us to share information with customers, take pictures, etc. It helps customers feel more comfortable with us, and it lets us provide better service to them.
We’re always tinkering with our technology, to help improve service efficiencies. We’re in an industry where technology can be overlooked, but it’s always evolving, so you have to be open to that. We use Eagle Eye software to dispatch and update routes in real time with drivers, and that links directly with the GPS we have in each truck. (Eagle Eye is a state-of-the-art cloud-based system that supports the entire commercial sweeping enterprise, including route scheduling, activity tracking and reporting, fleet management, billing and data analytics.)
In emergencies, we service lots of different types of businesses. For example, we provide quick response to support trash companies in urgent situations. If they have a spill and need service to sweep, or if a city calls and needs to have a catch basin cleaned out right away, we have the advantage of being able to respond quickly to help customers.
We check in regularly with our customers, just extending a phone call every now and then, to ask how the services are going. We try to be out in our community, to help them be apprised of anything that comes up on their properties. For example, people sometimes dump illegally at shopping centers. We make customers aware of issues we find, and they appreciate us providing an extra set of eyes.
That kind of support helps build trust. Our customers know we’re looking out for their interests, and they reward us with additional business. They sometimes ask us for referrals to landscapers, painters, or other contract service providers. Carver does offer landscape services, so the company may be able to fill that and various other needs, or we refer another good provider.
Our focus is on our relationships with our customers, so in any way we can help them, we do it. For example, for any parking lot repairs, sealcoating, or other pavement work, if Canaday can perform the work, we do it. Or, we call in contractors we have long relationships with, and then we remain on site with them as project managers during the work.
We do pay attention to pricing. We make sure we price adequately for the market. We’re not the cheapest, but we make sure our pricing is fair. Our emphasis is service quality, so we don’t need to race to the bottom on price.
Canaday Sweeping Division Services
Canaday provides a complete range of parking lot and roadway cleaning and maintenance services to our customers, including:
Sweeping and Portering — Our service team sweeps parking lots, roadways and construction sites, and we clean walkways and catch basins. We provide portering, including changing the garbage cans at some locations, handpicking areas surrounding parking lots. We’re generally keeping a close eye on cleanliness of properties we service, and we’re looking out for dumped items and disposing of those.
Cleaning and Camera for Drain and Sewer Lines — We provide camera service in catch basins, when customers call us to clean out catch basins, we can see if there are issues between catch basins. Or, if one is collapsing, for instance, we can repair it, if possible, or our construction company can excavate the entire line and put in new one, if necessary.
Power Washing — We’re getting asked more and more often to do power washing. Customers seem to find a lot of value in that. The more lines of service we can offer our customers, the more it strengthens our relationships with them, so we seek to solve any problem they have in or around their parking lot. We want to provide a complete parking lot maintenance solution.
Paving and Repairs — We repair potholes and do crack filling on parking lots, roadways, walkways and curbs. Canaday also provides complete paving, asphalt overlays and sealcoating, striping and restriping for parking lots and driveways.
Canaday and Sister Companies Synergies
Canaday is fortunate to have a great head mechanic and two assistant mechanics. I can’t speak highly enough of them. Our head mechanic has about twenty years of experience and is a vital member of our team. His incredible wealth of knowledge and attitude of being able to solve any problem has kept us running, and it’s what has allowed us to expand. One of the reasons we’re so reliable is because our equipment is so reliable, and we’re able to resolve mechanical problems efficiently when something does come up.
We have a few part-time people we can call in when we get really busy, and when we get extremely busy, we’re able to share drivers between our sweeping division and our trucking division. Labor is always a challenge, even as big as we are and with all of the resources we have, especially since most of our drivers have to have a CDL Class B license.
Because of the size of Carver, we are able to attract and retain good employees, but as we continue to grow, staffing is a challenge we continue to face. For others without our scale and resources, it’s worse, but we still have a challenge with it. It’s certainly something we’ve had to work with our customers on when we’ve had to raise rates in order to raise hourly pay to attract and retain those good employees that we need in order to provide reliable and high-quality service.
We have one administrative employee in the Canaday division. In a high-volume low-margin industry, one advantage of being part of a larger corporation is that some of our bookkeeping and HR is shared between the sister companies. That allows our admin person to be totally dedicated to phones, emails, invoicing, answering customer concerns, and responding to customer requests.
Looking to the Future at Canaday
We’re always trying to improve our efficiencies in order to keep our prices in line. We also remain open to trying new things. We keep an eye on the market, and we keep a continual conversation going with our customers, in order to find out how their needs are changing. Our mechanics make sure we’re keeping vehicles in good working order. We’ve also developed a strong network of suppliers, in order to make sure we’re receiving competitive pricing on equipment, parts, tools, and other supplies.
Having a diversified company that offers a number of different types of services and providing ancillary services helps make our customers’ lives easier. Maintaining strong relationships with customers, along with operating efficiently and staying lean is what I think will get us through any possible future economic downturns.
We’re always evaluating our business, doing a continual SWOT analysis on our company, and working to improve. That’s one of the things that has allowed us to survive and thrive. We’re also constantly looking for better methods and keeping a critical eye on how we’re doing business. These are the keys to success for us.
It’s a high-volume business. The trucks are not cheap. Labor wages are going up. That’s good for our employees, but it’s a challenge to raise prices accordingly. Making strong relationships and keeping an open line of communication with customers is more important than ever. Overhead is significant, and margins are not large. So, we see that being efficient is how we win.
Advice for Industry Newcomers from Mike Braunlin
New competitors come into the sweeping market in our area, it seems like every year or two, and then a lot of them disappear quickly. They tend to come in very, very cheaply with their services. We’ve found that the best way to persevere is to be honest about service costs with our customers. It sounds cliché, and I’ve repeated it a lot, but if we just competed on price, we’d be out when the upstarts come in with lower prices. Pricing fairly, providing great service, and communicating often is what allows us to stay in business and grow.
Other established local businesses are people you want to build relationships with, especially since the big box dealers can be more difficult to communicate with. If a new sweeping company comes into the market and takes on 8 or 10 stores for a large chain, then the following year they lose that account, they are out of business. Focus on other local businesses that can appreciate the services you offer and are looking to form good working relationships with quality service vendors. That’s where you’re going to have your biggest wins, because those are relationships you can build on to achieve consistent growth.
Canaday and Customers
Adding to Michael Braunlin’s advice for new entrants to the commercial sweeping industry, we would add that any entrepreneur would also do well to follow what we will call Carver’s utterly customer-centric Canaday Quality Management model. Even if your business is not positioned to accommodate customers by offering a one-stop shop for sweeping and related services, per Carver’s business model, or you prefer to focus on sweeping only — by all means, do pull out all stops on service quality.
We would emphasize striving, as Michael and the Canaday team do, to build and maintain customer relationships through continuous communications and over-delivery at every opportunity. Business leaders in any industry should want to make their commitment to serving customer’s interests as recognizable as it is in Michael Braunlin’s consummately customer-focused comments throughout the entire interview above.
New York commercial sweeping customers are very fortunate to have such an exemplary market leader as Canaday, and the entire industry can benefit from Braunlin’s world-class leadership example.
Source
mbraunlin@carvercompanies.com

Canaday Property Management

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