Building A Legacy

CAM Services, Southern and Central California’s top property services company, is led by a former TV actor who lives on a sailboat, a diplomat’s son and a former screenplay analyst and restauranteur. Strange bedfellows indeed, but CAM Services has a solid foundation which these three men have used to build their legacy upon.

In the mid 80s, a commercial developer grew tired of dealing with multiple companies to maintain his properties. He asked his friend Jim Swindle to start a firm to provide all services, from landscaping to parking lot sweeping. Swindle, who dreamed of being a writer, saw the offer of free office space and figured the extra money would come in handy.

Until that moment, Swindle had managed restaurants from Malibu to Monterey, taught writing at UCLA, provided social work in New York City ghettoes and analyzed screenplays for Hollywood studios. With no prior experience in the industry, he founded CAM (Common Area Maintenance) Services in Van Nuys, Calif. in 1987 with the vision of providing honest, professional property maintenance services to Southern California’s commercial real estate market, and of course, free office space for his writing career.

“The phone never stopped ringing,” Swindle says. “So, I had to stop writing.” His commercial developer friend not only provided CAM Services with an instant portfolio of clients, but introduced Jim to other property owners and developers.

During their first year of business, CAM Services and their six employees contracted with five or six property management companies for approximately 40 small retail centers using two trucks.

Constructing CAM

By 1991, they had outgrown two buildings, employed 20 people and contracted with more than 150 shopping centers. They added irrigation repair, landscape improvement, commercial handyman and steam cleaning services to their offerings and grew their clientele even more. By that time, David Herrera, president of CAM Services, was introduced to Swindle for a possible account manager position.

Herrera was looking for new challenges. A son of a diplomat, he had returned to the States after working for Ernst & Young in Spain as a microsystems coordinator and purchased a limousine company with a friend. Around that time, his friend and UCLA classmate, who was in charge of sales at CAM, told him about the position.

“I was instantly impressed with the company and its business objectives, so I sold my limousine company interest and the rest is history,” says Herrera. “Looking back, I think we shared an entrepreneurial spirit that made CAM seem like the perfect job for me. I worked my way up through the company, learning all aspects of the operations as I advanced.” Herrera recently celebrated 23 years with the company.
CAM Services has grown to more than 120 employees, serves 550 clients in the commercial, institutional and multi-family residential properties valued at more than $7 billion through a variety of services and maintains 1,300 properties. With new offices in Orange County, Central Valley and Fresno, CAM Services added construction, tenant improvement and production painting to their portfolio of services.

Building Trust

CAM Services give their customers peace of mind. “Our clients know their property will be swept properly and as scheduled because our sweepers are equipped with GPS units that track what time our trucks enter and exit each property,” says Herrera. “In fact, using our new FieldOne software, clients can go online via a secure web portal and monitor their property’s ongoing services. Adding to that layer of trust, we have the best area managers in the business. They not only check the quality of service at each job, but they act as the client’s ‘eyes and ears’ on their valuable asset.

“Second is our experience and professionalism. We’ve been in business almost 30 years and some of the best-known brands in commercial real estate, retail and restaurants trust CAM Services for their property maintenance needs.

“Lastly is our focus on customer service. We pride ourselves on turning clients into raving fans by providing the industry’s best customer service. Because we’re a one-stop solution for busy property managers, our clients often hire us to provide multiple services, such as landscaping, day porter, high-pressure steam cleaning, office janitorial and construction and tenant improvements, which can lead to efficiencies and back-office cost savings.

High-quality Equipment

CAM Services has approximately 30 sweeper trucks. “We typically use Tymco 210s or Skavin’jer units mounted on a Toyota chassis. They seem best for the two types of sweeping methods we offer: blower or pan-and-broom teams and vacuum-mounted sweeper trucks.

“Blower teams are used at small properties, such as strip centers, where a sweeper truck is too large and inefficient to operate effectively. Instead, a blower team, usually two individuals with backpack blowers, will detail the property by blowing from the storefronts out to the middle of the parking lot.

“A vacuum truck team consists of a driver and a blower. The blower preps the storefronts, as described above, while the driver covers the main areas of the lot, finishing close to the storefronts after the blower prep.”

CAM Services also uses Landa high-pressure steam cleaners which are capable of 3,000 psi and 210 degree heat. “For environmental purposes, we utilize water-reclamation and filtration units, which dramatically cuts wastewater–something that’s important to us as the state’s drought continues. To that end, all our cleaning solutions are biodegradable.

Growing a Brand

Herrera adds, “Over the past 27 years, thanks to the hard work of our team, CAM Services has become known as the ‘go-to’ company for property maintenance services, and word gets around when brands like CVS Pharmacy and Jack in the Box turn to us to fulfill their property maintenance needs, even as they expand to new locations. We also do work for UCLA, Yum Brands and such cities as San Diego, Malibu and Burbank. In some cases, we’ve conducted a variety of sales and marketing activities to bring new clients on board, from networking at trade shows to hosting ‘lunch and learn’ meetings in which our team brings lunch to a property management team and then uses the lunch hour to talk about our services.”

Herrera says they have steadily invested in their brand during the last 10 years by hiring sales people to target strategic geographic areas. Scott Collins, a former TV actor starring in 35 national TV commercials for names like Honda, Subaru and Baby Ruth, was brought on as Director of Sales.

“With Scott, we got lucky as we were looking to fill our sales director position when we heard from him. We’ve always worked hard to maintain the best executive team in the business so we were delighted when we discovered Scott as part of an executive recruitment effort. Scott spent most of his career in maintenance, construction and sales, and he has a ton of great ideas. We were instantly impressed with his credentials and past success, especially in the area of customer service, so we brought him into the fold. As for Scott, he was living in Arizona, where he had served in regional sales positions for companies in California, Arizona and Nevada, including Frazee Paint.”

“We’ve also allocated a marketing budget that enables us to advertise in select industry magazines, join industry networking organizations (like BOMA, IREM, ICSC, CAI, ACRE) and participate in select tradeshows, such as ICSC’s RECon Las Vegas and Western Division Conference in San Diego.

“We are a major sponsor of ACRE (Association of Corporate Real Estate, which covers L.A. and Orange counties, as well as parts of San Diego and the Inland Empire). I recently served as ACRE’s president.

“Over the last few years, we have moved away from printed brochures and focused on Internet marketing by boosting our website’s capabilities, sending out twice-monthly e-blasts and a quarterly newsletter. We have a CAM Facebook page to build our community presence.

“We also host fun events to build personal relationships with our clients and our team, from corporate suites for professional basketball, hockey and baseball games to an annual trek to the Del Mar horse racing track and other fun outings like bowling and skeet-shooting.

New Horizons

“Our biggest challenge, although it’s one we welcome, is laying the groundwork to extend our reach into Northern California. We’re being diligent about hiring and planning to make sure we bring the same quality of workmanship and customer service we have in Southern and Central California. We want to do things the CAM way, and that’s the right way. So making sure all the T’s are crossed and that our high standards are being met takes time.”

Story by Jennifer Taylor

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