Going National: A Look at 1-800-SWEEPER’s Past, Present, and Future

Though 1-800-SWEEPER has become an industry giant, it wasn’t always that way. What started as an option to make it easier for regional customers to reach Progressive Sweeping has grown into a national organization that provides lead generation, support, education, and networking for other contractors in the power sweeping industry. But how did it grow into this industry resource? We took the opportunity to speak with Michael Lucht, President of 1-800-SWEEPER to get the dirt on how the organization was developed, how it helps professionals in the sweeping industry, and the challenges it has faced along the way.

Early History and Concept

Founded in 1978, Progressive Sweeping was working on expanding its market in 1984 when area codes were being decentralized. Given the growing number of phone numbers with different area codes that were fed into their office, they knew that as populations grew and the number of area codes was continually expanded, they would need to find a better option for current and prospective clients to connect with them. The first attempt to get the 1-800-SWEEPER number was stifled because, even though the number was domiciled with and available from the company’s phone carrier at the time, it was designated as a national account number with a $40k minimum expense in long-distance calling fees required before they would release the number! However, soon thereafter, upon reading a Wall Street Journal article announcing the de-regulation of 800-vanity numbers that allowed for portability, Mr. Lucht got back in touch with his phone company and was able to secure 1-800-SWEEPER for his business. However, as time moved forward, Mr. Lucht started to think about what he could do to leverage his company’s 800 number. Because his company was regional, he began to consider how he could expand the use of the number to help other companies in the industry. After a year of contemplation and planning, he introduced the co-operative concept to a dozen fellow contractors during an NPE West meeting in Las Vegas in November 2010 that would evolve into becoming the first nationally recognized brand and only co-op buying group in the power sweeping industry. But his initial concept of creating a marketing/lead generation and purchasing co-op has since grown significantly to include a range of other benefits for member companies, including relationships with over 40 vendors in the buying cooperative, education, training and hiring tools, and the Sweeper Summit & Equipment Expo.
“It was my vision but, of course, it took a lot of people to commit to getting involved, and we launched the business in July 2011. I believe we had 21 companies committed to the organization at that time.”

Going Live for Increased Growth

The 21 member companies, that were individually recruited, represented their commitment by writing checks for the first month of membership fees when they signed up, with the understanding that those checks wouldn’t be cashed until they could launch the organization with enough monthly revenue to hire staff and cover overhead expenses. The organization hit the benchmark number they’d set as a goal and officially launched in July 2011, allowing 1-800-SWEEPER to take on staff and vote on the founding group of 4 board of directors that included Carl Barton, Mark Carter, Gerry Kesselring, and Doug Sauder. However, even at that point, the organization’s future was speculative being the first of its kind in the industry with many unknowns ahead. But, 1-800-SWEEPER created a spark of collaboration and ignited the self-starting tendencies of professionals in the industry and failure was not an option. The organization faced some strong challenges. Gaining trust and getting companies to commit to an organization and brand that complemented their own company was foreign to many independently-minded business owners. However, the benefit of having access to an organization that drives more business to them and saves them money by leveraging their buying power with others in the industry, allowed 1-800-SWEEPER to gradually overcome these challenges and concerns over the organization’s ability to sustain the business model. As their confidence grew, more companies became receptive to not only becoming Partners but also putting the organization’s number and logos on their trucks, increasing the brand’s marketing presence both locally and nationally.

Standing Out From the Crowd

Though the number had started as a vanity number, it was now quickly growing as a brand in its own right. That required some careful thinking to ensure that people calling the number were being directly connected to a member of a Partner company who could provide the service where it was needed, rather than a company that simply matched the area code they’re calling from. To get around this issue, 1-800-SWEEPER set up a call center, open 24 hours a day with live operators who answer all calls uniformly and input the service information on their monitor, which immediately validates the lead’s service location so that they’re connected with the right Partner. The software they developed automatically directs the lead’s information to a proprietary 800 app on the Partner’s cell phone to improve response time and make it easier for the caller to hear back from the local Partner sweeping company within a short period of time.

Putting the Right People in Place

To be able to pull off this kind of organization, it takes having the right people in the right part of the organization. A four-person board meets bi-weekly to discuss and vote on a range of issues, including prospective Partners and a variety of other organizational businesses. The first 1-800-SWEEPER staff employee hired back in 2011 was Carolyn Bell, who has since continued with the company as the Director of Marketing & Communications, working with the website development team, creating newsletters and articles, social media, and undertaking an assortment of projects to grow the reach of 1-800-SWEEPER, as well as orchestrating and managing the groups largest project, the annual Sweeper Summit & Equipment Expo.
Ben Steyer joined the company in February of 2018 as the Executive Director and has since gained a solid grasp of how the sweeping industry in general, and especially 1-800-SWEEPER, is based on relationships, building trust, being receptive and responsive to Partners, and remaining diligent. He’s constantly reaching out to keep existing Partners up to date on changes as well as recruiting new sweeper companies into the organization to help build coverage in areas where there is not a Partner.
Andy Williams joined the team in March 2019 as a Business Development Representative, acting as the liaison connecting vendor/partners with member Partners to strengthen the buying group’s leverage for gaining discounts and attracting new vendor/partners to grow the group. He spends a great deal of time seeking out new vendors that understand the buying power the cooperative represents and setting up discounts and working with member Partners to lower their expenses and improve their buying power. Partners understand that though leads can’t be promised, the savings Mr. Williams negotiates can more than makeup for the membership fee.

The Importance of Participation and Intellectual Gains

However, these benefits still require work and a commitment from each Partner to get the best benefit out of a cooperative like 1-800-SWEEPER. Paying the membership fee alone doesn’t guarantee service leads, but the Partners that commit to engaging the organization gain the competitive advantage of exclusive vendor discounts and the wide range of benefits from hiring tools to educational opportunities offered by 1-800-SWEEPER that will certainly be valued.
“Those that have participated have realized huge advantages and many opportunities for not only savings but also the sharing of intellectual capital that we have in this organization. Some folks that are new in the business, maybe less than 10 years, . . . we can dramatically flatten the learning curve.”
When the time came around in 2012 to host our first annual meeting, a Board Member, Carl Barton, suggested naming it the Sweeper Summit. The following years saw 1-800-SWEEPER add the only industry-specific outdoor Equipment Expo to the Summit, as well as more and more educational opportunities for Partners, vendors, and invited guests. The organization has also developed the only industry-specific benchmarking survey that provides Partners with an opportunity view of where their company stands compared to the operating ratios of others in the industry, with training available on how to report numbers to help provide purity of data.

Going Digital

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the 1-800-SWEEPER organization had to step up its game to keep things rolling for its Partners. As with so many companies, their membership saw a brief pause early in the year due to the pandemic, but as an essential service, the Partners and organization quickly picked up speed in getting back underway, with many companies seeing numbers that exceeded the previous year by the end of 2020. Not a single member Partner of 1-800-SWEEPER closed their doors. However, that doesn’t mean that the organization didn’t have to adapt to the changing conditions. Their 2020 June mid-year meeting had to be held virtually, as did the 2020 Sweeper Summit. This required the organization to develop digital assets to ensure that they could carry off these meetings, and as they learned from the process, several large manufacturers sent in comments and compliments on how smoothly the mid-year meeting for 2021 had been run. This year the organization is planning an in-person Sweeper Summit & Equipment Expo 2021 in November in Las Vegas with their traditional outdoor equipment venue.

As 1-800-SWEEPER approaches its 10th Anniversary of operations, the success of the national organization in moving from a simple vanity number to a solid cooperative venture can’t be doubted. With the past success they’ve leveraged for their Partners, which currently number over 50 companies, this organization will still be going strong for many years to come.