Clean Sweep, Inc., Industry Thought Leadership

Pete Phillips’ exceptional leadership skills, commitment to service business ethics, and willingness to help others have grown his business and made him an instrumental figure in the advancement of the commercial sweeping services segment of the US American service business subsector. Through his work with NAPSA (North American Sweeping Association), Phillips helps promote the principles of successful sweeping business operation across the national market. Here Pete shares with NAS readers the story of Clean Sweep’s beginning, growth, operations, technology, and exceptional environmental commitment and focus on the specific needs of his customers’ industries.
The Early Days of the Phillips Enterprise in Chattanooga
James Phillips, Pete’s dad, started Clean Sweep, Inc. 35 years ago, back in 1984. The whole idea for the business was born when Audeline Phillips, Pete’s mom, a busy property manager was having trouble finding a commercial sweeping service to clean her rental property parking lots. Her husband decided that that was something he could do and that he was interested in the idea of providing that kind of service.
James was an electrician in those days, but he was laid-off from the power plant where we worked. At age 55, and with his own wife as a waiting customer, he decided to make a change to commercial sweeping. Within just three weeks, he bought a sweeper truck and launched the new sweeping service business. He paid $22,000 for that first sweeper truck back then in the 1980s, a truck that is worth many multiples of that price today.
The startup was only a year after Pete had graduated from high school. So, he became involved in family’s new business right away. He tells the story of those early days. I had been working with him for only about 3 weeks when someone wrecked the truck. I had welders, so I became the mechanic, the schedule maker, and learned to do the accounting.
I graduated in 1983. I did work for a while as a circular engineer at Dunkin Donuts. (He explains that that role is focused on checking the donut holes for roundness, presumably while selling donuts, and probably by eating some inventory, by way of testing.) I would help dad sweep on weekends. I worked every aspect of the business, washed trucks, welded, worked inside hoppers. If you think education is expensive, you ought to try experience. (This is one of many great quotes to come from Pete Phillips in this article. We found him to be a fountain of expressions of business leadership wisdom.)
Clean Sweep Today
When his father retired year 1999, Pete stepped in and took over as President of the company. By that time, Clean Sweep had expanded into a thriving enterprise. Currently, the company has around 15 people on staff, including several office employees and about a dozen sweeper truck drivers.
Today, Clean Sweep continues to serve many of the same customers the company had when it started three and a half decades ago. Pete attributes the loyalty of his long-time customers to the business’s long track record of consistently providing reliable, fast, top-quality service. That, he finds, is the formula for continuing customer satisfaction and stable repeat business.
The company’s growth has been at a rate that has the Phillips’ buying a truck about every other year. Pete notes that a lot of Clean Sweep’s growth has been through purchasing routes from competitors, vs. incurring the costs of having a salesperson working to take business from competitors. He says that vendors who are struggling to meet reasonable standards (presumably for service quality and/or pricing) are usually ready to get out of the business anyway.
Pete’s mom finally did retire from property management about two years ago, when his father got ill. He reflects on his mother’s influence in his own and the company’s success: She’s one of the reasons we don’t have any excuses.
He further reflects on the important extra help he acquired in developing his own sweeping business management methodology. I started going to the industry expos. I originally had one truck, and my competition had eight trucks. Now, I have eight, and as it happens, they now have one. He credits those industry training events for much of his success.
Clean Sweep Eco-Friendly Processes
Pete emphasizes that water quality management is about the clean stream imperative. He explains that if we don’t keep it off the roads, it will end up in the sewers, which potentially can eventually affect the drinking water. He suggests that it’s actually cheaper overall to keep up with sweeping, than to address the economics of contaminating the water supply.
Clean Sweep customers can be confident that all of Clean Sweep’s practices are environmentally conscious. The company adheres to all city and state debris-disposal regulations, and holds monthly safety meetings to help ensure that the team stays updated on industry best practices.
For example, the company uses a shaker system, which separates its stream of waste and prevents about seven tons of waste per week from entering landfills. Clean Sweep has also worked to shift from use of diesel to all gas and propane.
Clean Sweep, Inc. is on the board of NAPSA. Pete’s company was Tennessee’s first sweeping business to earn NAPSA’s national certification. This is the industry’s leading certification, available only to long-established operators and requiring a clear adherence to numerous prescribed business practices.
The organization is very active in engaging sweeping company leaders and their teams in its industry education programs. NAPSA has something new and exciting currently in the works. Pete hints at the value of the upcoming opportunity and the timeline for the roll out:
Wait till you see what we launch in January!
Operations and Business Model
Pete has been working to shift the Clean Sweep team from performing about 70% of the business’s sweeping work at night and about 30% during the day servicing construction sweeping accounts to a ratio closer to a more equal split between the two halves of the daily schedule.
We provide other services, which make up about 20% of our revenues. Those include vacancy cleanouts, portering services, paving and asphalt maintenance, landscaping and groundskeeping , and power washing, among others. The portering has been the biggest growth service for us. People realize that keeping that “A” level look on their properties requires that kind of attention.
Our service radius from Chattanooga is about 50 miles. We have 8 parking lot sweeper trucks, plus broom trucks. We provide a lot of sweeping for road construction sites, housing construction, and manufacturers. For water quality, they have to keep their parking lots clean. That’s due to the Clean Water Act.
Clean Sweep Technology
The biggest change I’ve seen in the industry is tech, tech overload, myriad systems you can use, all with a monthly fee. You can get so much tech that it can end up costing too much per truck. We just pared down our technologies to programs that do the things we have to do — track our assets, track our time on our customers’ accounts, labor hours, etc..
A business needs a written process of how to do everything, and needs some way to follow the process. You need to know how much things cost. If you’re not tracking, you don’t know what it costs. Price makes no difference, if you’re not making money.
We now use just three systems, which are all integrated. We use Quick Books for our accounting. Fleetio takes care of our hard assets, and Eagle Eye takes care of our soft assets. It was really important for those three to talk to each other.
In Eagle Eye, every call is put in, so you can find out where the caller got your number, who to thank for the call, and what the need is to keep marketing to them. From the phone ring to the service visit, everything goes into one system. We use it for our GPS tracking. We know everything from how long we’re on the lot, to how many dollars per man hour it’s costing, to how many trash cans we changed. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. (Another great business management maxim.)
Eagle Eye is my customer resource management tool. It does my scheduling, tracking and billing. It also gets the numbers from Fleetio — how much mileage, when the driver got fuel, how much they got. One beautiful thing about Eagle Eye is that I can be in Atlanta and take a tablet and still run my business. That software does a lot of other functions that we don’t even use.
We asked how the integration went. Pete’s response: The integration process is never ending. The more you dig, the more you uncover, and the deeper you go. But, the integration and making a budget are the two things that have helped the most over the past two years.
Quality Leadership from Pete Phillips
We take care of our customers. If we screw up, we say we screwed up. We make it right, and move forward. All of the information that the National Pavement Expo (a NAPSA get together event) provides, and being a NAPSA member has been invaluable. We train all of our drivers through NAPSA’s CSO (Certified Sweeper Operator ) program. They all get their certification through NAPSA. Pete expresses that his involvement in leadership with NAPSA has also been very rewarding.
Clean Sweep remains a member of BOMA (Business Owners and Managers Association). Pete has explained to another interviewer, who wrote on awards that he has received from industry organizations, that working with members of BOMA helps his team stay current on needs of property management and on any new legislation that his company needs to know about in order to make any necessary adjustments.
Clean Sweep Marketing
As for marketing, as one might expect, given the high level of business savvy possessed by the Clean Sweep owner, the company utilizes all of the standard marketing resources of which service business owners normally avail themselves. The trucks all display the logo, there’s signage on building, and the company uses 1-800-SWEEPER for lead generation.
But, Pete Phillips goes farther, employing online pay-per-click marketing, using social media, including LinkedIn and Facebook, all linked. He also advertises on Google AdWords. But, he says his primary source of new customers is the Clean Sweep website. He says it makes the phone ring. All together, he spends about $50k per year on external marketing.
Pete goes on to talk about the all-powerful word-of-mouth component of his comprehensive marketing program. Maintaining relationships with current customers is kind of like marriage, in a financial sense. It’s a lot cheaper to keep ‘er. The point is to make sure you keep in touch with your customers. You don’t want to have to resell what you’ve already sold. Referrals are huge from satisfied customers. Plus, when they expand, they need more from you. The idea is to work to become indispensable for them.
Daily Operations at Clean Sweep
All new Clean Sweep drivers are given a goal of 40 hours behind the wheel to come up to performance standards, a policy reflecting another inspirational quote of which Pete reminds us, “An unaimed arrow never misses.” He further emphasizes helping people succeed. It’s important not to give people a mark they can’t hit. Give a person some clear directions, and watch him excel. (That’s three inspirational points clustered together, to make his comprehensive point in both the most eloquent and plainspoken way. We start to wonder, what wise thing will he say next? Who is this guy?)
We provide health, dental and vision insurance. It’s not uncommon for a driver to make $50k, but they work hard for it. You’ve got to pay people well and take care of your employees. It’s a people business. It’s a service business. We’ve had people working here for 13, 14, and 15 years.
Our staff is not lazy. So, if a new employee doesn’t fit that culture, they won’t last. A bad hand won’t stay on a good crew, and a good hand won’t stay on a bad crew. (Yet another great business axiom.) We find someone who blends well with our way of doing things. We actually do personality testing to help determine fit.
We’re constantly hiring, always keeping an ad running, because I don’t know when the next rock star is going to show up. Teamwork , integrity, excellence, then fun — after we get all that going. That’s our culture.
Advice for Industry Newcomers from Pete Phillips, Clean Sweep, Inc., Chattanooga TN
Another great motto Pete offers is: If you can’t make a profit, maybe you need to raise your prices. His advice, of course, alludes to the common problem expressed by established sweeping business owners throughout the country. Startup owners lunge onto a local market, in the proverbial race to the bottom on prices. That’s not good for the new business, the existing competitors, the customers, or the industry.
To understand more about Pete Phillips’ way of doing business, he invites peer businesses to visit the Clean Sweep Inc. website. He also recommends visiting the WSA and NAPSA websites. He emphasizes that the two organizations offer a wealth of helpful learning programs, events, and information. For new sweeping services market entrants and for those who need more training and development guidance, he recommends both organizations as invaluable resources.
His final advice: If you show up and do what you say you’ll do, you can do well.
By the end of the interview, it became abundantly clear that Pete Phillips is a uniquely adept thinker and speaker on service business philosophy. Further, beyond building a successful Tennessee sweeping service, Pete Phillips has lived his professional life helping elevate the industry by educating peers on environmental benefits of commercial sweeping, safety focus, and industry best practices.
Thanks to Peers Throughout the Sweeping Industry from Pete Phillips
Pete asked NAS to convey his and the Phillips’ family’s thanks for the great outpouring of caring after the death of his dad at age 85 last month, July 20, 2019.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!