Clean Sweep Indianapolis – The Toler Method

Here’s an extraordinary and circuitous story that looks back through the past eight years of developing an Indiana industrial power sweeping business from zero. It’s about a young man with a truly spectacular work ethic and wealth of courage and ingenuity who recognized an opportunity and embarked on his entrepreneurial journey with only a broom and a wheelbarrow!
Here, Tim Toler, founder and president of the thriving mid-western service company Clean Sweep Lot Service, LLC shares with NAS readers the story of his experience and thought process throughout the past eight years of building his industrial power sweeping enterprise into the great success that it is today:

A Humble Beginning

Around the early 1990s, while I was working at my regular job, I saw a guy at a nearby bank every Sunday cleaning the parking lot with just a broom and a dustpan. I asked the guy, “Do you work for a company?” He said he works for himself doing 10 parking lots every Sunday, for extra money.
A few years later, in 1993, I was working for a property development and management company doing maintenance work and groundskeeping. I saw that an Aldi grocery store had moved onto an out lot of a commercial center. I needed extra money because I had a wife, kids, and a mortgage. About two weeks went by and no one had picked up the mess on the Aldi lot.
People had thrown out tires and even furniture. I walked over on my lunch break one day and talked to the store manager about working to clean up the lot. He said he needed to talk to the district manager. A couple of days later, the district manager called me. I gave him a price. I said I’d like to do the lot cleaning four days per week.
I started the lot cleaning, and he paid me from petty cash about $120 each week. He had me just sign the back of a cash register receipt as documentation of the payments I received for the work. I thought, $120 for sweeping up — that’s pretty good!
After the initial cleanup, it only took a half-hour or so, or sometimes just 15 to 20 minutes to maintain the parking lot. After about a year or so, the district manager called and said he had to cancel the sweeping. He said, “We love what you do, but the corporate VP wants to try a sweeping company.”
Some months later, I got a call from the district manager. He said, “Corporate is coming in. Can you come and get the place looking nice? The other company is doing a bad job.”
I was recovering from surgery at the time and couldn’t do it, so I asked him to let me talk to my two sons and wife about doing it. My sons were like 10 and 8 years old then. I told him it would be $350 to clean it up because it was a mess. So, my wife and sons cleaned it up, while I leaned on a shopping cart and, with my OCD, pointed out areas that needed more attention.

Military Work Ethic in Entrepreneurship

Only some days after my family cleaned the lot, my wife came home from shopping and said that the Aldi lot looked like we never touched it. She insisted that I call about it. I called. They gave me the number for the district manager. Talking with him, he couldn’t comprehend that I did the work with a broom and dustpan. Finally, he accepted the fact that I was doing it manually, not with a sweeper truck. So, he gave me four stores, the nastiest ones they had. He said, “I’ll give you a month. At the end of that time, I’ll either hire you or tell you it’s not working out. My wife and kids and I then began going around on Saturday evenings and cleaning up.
I’m ex-military (Navy), so meticulous work is my thing, plus there’s a little OCD. On Monday morning, I was at my regular job and got a call from the VP of operations. He said, “I don’t need 30 days. I’m giving you all the stores I’ve got, which were 13 or 14 Aldi stores. So, I was working those, and the kids helped sometimes. I maybe had 95 man-hours total per month and was making well over $50k.
After being on Workers’ Comp through the recovery I mentioned earlier, I went back to work at my regular job. But, I had been looking at trash blowing down roads and in parking lots, and trash cans blowing over. I started seeing the blowing trash as dollar bills.
Around that time, I had been doing my daily devotional Bible readings for a while when, driving home one day, I passed a mall and felt guided to go in, even though I was dirty from working. I told the receptionist why I was there. The mall manager happened to be there. I went to her office with her, and I got that job.

Learning the Industry Ins and Outs

We needed a sweeper truck. We had contracted a sweeper company to do some work. I found out who Schwarze was, ordered a truck lease by phone. It was a 347 light, just around $50,000. I had gotten a loaner truck and learned how to drive with it. It was messy, ended up with bad brakes that cost me $3,500 in repairs, and it wouldn’t dump, because of a switch or some problem. I couldn’t dump it, so I temporarily ended up back with a broom and dustpan again to finish the work. Then, my shiny new truck arrived. It looked like a corvette to me!
I was off to the races. But, people weren’t paying for the benefit of my OCD (meticulousness) back then. After about a month of driving the truck, putting in about 16 hours, I was only making about $10 per hour sweeping, compared to $15 I was making on my regular job.
I realized there must be levels of service and pay. So, I asked the mall manager how things were going with our service and finally discussed increasing the rate based on the amount of attention required to deliver our quality of service.

Leveraging for Growth

When the Great Recession hit in 2008, I lost 40% of our gross income. Everybody was bringing power sweeping work in-house or cutting it out completely. Then, third-party guys came in. Even broom-and-dust-pan guys came in. Even now, competitors in our market will do free sweeps for a month, then cut your price in half. There other guys who buy these $10,000 used sweepers and go out and clean a Walmart for $30. I can’t compete with that.
But already back in 2008, I’d started noticing there’s got to be other ways to make some money. I was again reading my Bible, and I believe God impressed on me to get into construction sweeping. Banks weren’t loaning out money. But, I have good credit and the company has good credit. So, I started looking into the mechanical sweepers.
I started looking at Challengers and asked Charles at Challenger to work with me to take one in trade. I called the banks I’d been dealing with. I needed $145,000. About a week later, Charles called me back and said they would do the trade. We agreed on a price. I talked to a guy from the bank. I figured if I could get financing, I would do it. So, on Labor Day weekend of ’08, I started driving it around — a brand new truck. That truck closed deals with potential customers for me, and it still does to this day.
Then, I went up and talked to an excavation company. Their supervisor told me to come on back and do the sweeping in a couple of days after they were done with what they were doing on the site. Back then, I was charging about $90 hour. I probably did about $40,000 in two or three months.
Next, I bought two 35 Pintos on international chassis. I worked in one truck, Bruce drove the other one, and we had another guy in another truck. Then I bought a Tymco 435 international chassis in 2015. I did about 4,000 hours in that one myself.

Bigger Thinking, Bigger Trucks, Bigger Jobs

In 2009, my first big construction sweeping job came, and sweeping on parking lots started coming back a little bit, but not to the prior level. After ’09, I realized it was time to get out of the dinosaur mentality (getting stuck in your ways and getting left behind). I have a competitive nature. Sitting in one spot, I get stagnant.
I had logged a good 20- to 30,000 hours in trucks over the years, and I just kept thinking the prices in parking lots were not making any money. The trucks had gone from $50,000 to $80,000, tires cost so much, and diesel has gone from 85 cents a gallon to five dollars a gallon. I knew I needed to move up.
The next logical move for me was into construction sweeping. So I got hooked up with a big contractor. I sent my Operations Manager, Bruce (now with me 13-14 years) to work with our new construction customer. Bruce fostered the relationship, and now we do all that company’s construction site sweeping work. That was one of the first major milestones for us.

Meeting Needs Builds a Business

I had accumulated a lot of nuggets of information since starting the business — watching YouTube videos about sweepers, back-to-back, watching those. I had also learned a lot of first-hand, doing asphalt /milling sweeping for about 5-6 years, when I saw the European sweepers. They’ve got water on them and high pressure. I started thinking about the dinosaur thing again. The water system our trucks had just wasn’t doing the best job. So, I decided to get a bigger truck, instead of the non-CDL types.
Then, a Scarab sweeper seller called me about an M65T. I flew down to their location to look at it. I bought it. I was the very first person in the US to buy one. They had space-age looking equipment on their lot. They showed me the high-pressure washer. I tested it in a neighborhood near there and ended up purchasing the Scarab sweeper.
With about $5,00 to $6,000 in parts added, it works great. Environmental Solutions installed it all at no charge. The jobs we’ve done with that thing — there’s no comparison with other trucks to doing slurry with that thing.

Asserting the Value of Quality Through Pricing

I also started driving Tennant trucks for property owners. I found I could make broom on a Tennant sweeper last four months. I’d save them $40,000, by not having the Tennant come to work on the equipment. Then, I’d go through the chain of command to get more than the standard three percent.
Then I bought a Mathieu 210. I put three scrubbing brushes and high-pressure water on the Mathieu 210, which turns pumps hydraulically, and I started selling jobs for it. I started leasing out the Mathieu at the airport. (We’re located right here at the airport.) Airport construction had been sucking up all my labor. I couldn’t service all my accounts outside the airport. So, I rented it out all last summer and recaptured some of my customers outside the airport.
Next, I bought a Ravo, 500 series. That thing is just an animal on sites. All the fans are turned hydraulically. The fans are placed on top of the hoppers. You can’t even tell they’re running.
Last year (2019) ended on a good note. I bid on a municipality. I had done my research and got a contract for three years to do that town. Now, I think I need a bigger region. I went to Shane at Best Equipment and I started looking at what’s on the ground. He found me a Tymco 600.

Mastering and Promoting the Industry

Considering circumstances, a lack of communication is the key to avoid. I’ve learned never to just assume they (the customers) know something. I started noticing that customers were keeping my guys over four hours on construction sites. This is even though, with the union, if they work a minute over four hours, they have to be paid for eight.
So, I started to think about the fact that we do need to be able to wash those trucks down between dumps, instead of scraping them. So, now our time begins at the time we leave our shop and ends when we finish washing down our truck.
Now I try to legitimize sweeping and get it recognized as work that’s on the level of crane operation and big equipment operation. It means that the guys get treated with more respect. I think we’re doing well at getting that perception upgraded. The guys that sit in these trucks, I know what they go through because I’ve been there. I’d give them the shirt off my back. Above all, you’ve got to take care of your guys.

Toler’s Clean Sweep Fleet and Team

So, Shane found me a nice Tymco 600 for doing the municipality job I mentioned earlier. I still have a 135 on an International chassis. I told Shane I need a 500x. He found me one. I bought it, and we’ve been busy ever since. I brought on a new driver. This guy could be the mirror image of me. The way he takes care of that 500x is as if it was his. I’m bringing on another guy on the first of next month.
We now have nine sweeper trucks, 3 duty trucks, a 350, a 250, two big trailers, the Ravo (which we’re using at the airport), the rolling dumpster, mowers. We have 14 employees plus me. There’s my wife Becky, and Trudy, Kent, and Adam. They’re all administrative. I’m looking to grow that staff. Bruce, my night supervisor, and Daniel have both been with me for around 14 years. My son works for me. He played ball in Europe for a few years, before coming on board.

Future Growth Plans for Clean Sweep

My rental dumpster service bill was very high, so I got rid of the dumpster service company I had been paying to dump twice weekly. To replace it, I bought a Skid Steer dumpster on wheels and a truck to pull it. In a little over 2 years, it will pay for itself. I’ve told the guys I want the business for it. I told them they need to start selling it for maintenance compliance sweeping jobs. We can now do a total clean up on a construction site.
Next, I’m looking at milling machines. I’ve been interviewing people who do that work. I’m looking to start that too. Parking lot cleaning is about 15% of our income. Our main focus is on the construction side. We provide environmental services for the construction union guys. My wife owns that. She’s in the process of getting her minority certificate (for minority-owned businesses).

Advice for Industrial Sweeping Business Newcomers from Tim Toler

I’ve seen guys and women start businesses and hire people right off the barrel head and keep working their full-time job. There’s probably an 80 percent failure rate when they do that. You need somebody to back you, and you need to be willing to get in that truck yourself. If you’re going to get into the sweeping industry, you need to sit in the sweeper and drive it for a couple of weeks, not just ride with somebody — but get in it and drive it yourself.
Lots of guys have more money than knowledge. That’s the biggest thing. Learn whatever business you’re going into. If you’re thinking about going into business, first figure out what it is you like to do. Many people don’t really know what they want to do. I was one of those too. I was an athlete, but I didn’t want to continue in school. Nobody had asked me what I wanted to do.
But, when I was eight or nine years old, I was fascinated when they put the street closure signs up. Now, it’s not work for me, because I like to do it. Just make sure this business is for you before you start.

On the Story of Tim Toler and Clean Sweep

like so many other exceptional business leaders, Toler naturally gives his team the credit for his business’s growth. We found he is also is in habit of crediting equipment suppliers with helping him get what he has needed to succeed.
This story of how Tim has driven the growth of his power sweeping business, by consistently obtaining the best equipment to fit his customers’ and employee’s needs, should be required reading for anyone looking to enter the industrial power sweeping market. It reads like a roadmap by which Toler has brought Clean Sweep its exemplary growth over just eight years.

That exciting level of business performance and Tim Toler’s straightforward, transparent manner further appear to account for the high rate of customer loyalty that can be expected to help secure the market position of Clean Sweep Lot Service LLC in Indianapolis industrial construction site sweeping services well into the future.

For more information about Clean Sweep Lot Service, LLC, call 317-339-5722 or visit the company’s website at http://www.cleansweeplotservice.com/about-us/.

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