Commercial sweeping is an option

By Jeff Winke

When he hears the phrase “leaving money on the table” a Midwest paving contractor sees his smooth oak kitchen table with several stacks of Benjamin Franklin hundred dollar bills on it. “I’ve got 25 Benjamins I’ve collected and keep stashed in a hidden cubby in my home that I think of as my last resort ready cash. I know it’s ridiculous but I do enjoy taking them out periodically and spreading them on the table. They are tangible evidence of savings and in a crazy way seem more real than the figures on my investment statements.”

For asphalt paving contractors, a question to wrestle with is: Should I expand my business into commercial sweeping? What is the good and bad of adding this service to the mix of capabilities available to existing and prospective customers?

“To my way of thinking, if you don’t add sweeping as a service, you’re leaving money on the table,” stated Matt Starnes, Bucher Municipal North America Inc., Mooresville, North Carolina. “It’s sort of like playing with toys and leaving them spread all out. Yes, you did the paving job, but you didn’t clean up your mess. Be a full-service paving contractor. Do the work and then clean up your jobsite.”

Providing full-service sweeping service should include inspecting the jobsite and providing the customer with information about abandoned cars, pot holes, worn striping lines, and failing catch basins. There should also be a check for missing signage and damage to property, bollards, lighting fixtures and parking blocks.

A contractor considering adding sweeping as a service is best advised to hook up with a sweeper machine manufacturer that offers a full range of sweeper products that include vacuum, mechanical, and air regenerative technology. Work with a company that offers a sweeper product range that extends from narrow, agile compact sweepers through to heavy-duty truck-mounted sweepers designed for wide surfaces. A supplier can help in selecting the correct technology and the right size machine for the needs.

“Probably the best thing a contractor can do before buying is to rent a sweeper,” Starnes said. “See if you and your crew have the ability to work a sweeper. Also, renting first is a good way to see which sweeper is best for your application. Many companies have try before you buy programs, so you can test before making the purchase.”
Adding new equipment to a fleet is always a big decision. Here are three considerations before purchasing a street sweeper:

1. Know What You Need — Not all street sweepers are the same. Street sweepers move at different speeds, offer different types of disposal, and work well in different environments. Knowing your requirements before you shop for a sweeper helps point you in the right direction.

2. Learn the Different Types of Sweepers Available — The three main types are: (1) Mechanical broom sweepers which are best for municipal and contractor operations, road construction, and applications of infrequent need, (2) Regenerative air sweepers which are best for regularly maintained areas, light debris, and flat surfaces, and (3) Pure vacuum sweepers which are best used on porous pavements, uneven surfaces, and sites with deep overlaid curb lines.

3. Machine Price is the Start — Calculating the total cost of ownership will ascertain the investment value. Definitely identify all the types of costs a street sweeper truck will incur over its lifecycle to ensure a wise purchase.

There are advantages to expanding a business into sweeping.

“You become a one-stop solution for your customers,” stated Starnes. “Most people want a company who can do the whole job. It’s a hassle to hire someone to do a paving job and then have them source out to another company for cleanup.”

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages to adding sweeping capabilities to a services offered mix is that it can provide another income stream. When paving slows down, there could still be income coming in from sweeper cleanup jobs.

There are plenty of potential customers who need sweeping. Potential customers include property managers, shopping centers, schools, strip plazas, hospitals, car dealerships, grocery stores, and every other business, agency, or organization with parking lots that need to be kept clean. Any time there are leaves, paper, cups, food wrappers, cigarette butts, and broken glass on a parking lot it can leave a negative impression about the business.

The simplest and most elemental advice for pursuing new sweeping customers might be to be human and share what makes you different. In a crowded market, differentiating is essential. Customers want to know what a company can do for them that other cleaning firms can not. Start by assessing the competition – what do they do that’s unique, not only in their messaging but in their actions? Use Facebook, online reviews, and word of mouth to listen to what the market is saying about competitor’s services. What needs are not being served?

rom a service delivery standpoint, it might involve a greater emphasis on green cleaning products, flexible cleaning schedules (evenings and weekends), and so on.
Communicate clearly to customers what is different by building more intimate relationships through marketing. Start a blog, or send out newsletters offering cleaning tips to demonstrate expertise. Do what can be done so customers better know who they are dealing with. By offering information that can help customers and prospects connect, it can lead to loyal customers later on.

“Potential sweeping customers are out there,” Starnes said. “Look for construction, municipalities, home building sites, parking lots, industrial sites, airports, basically anywhere there is a surface that collects debris, a sweeper can help,”

Again, the key business question a paving contractor needs to ask is if they are turning away from a potentially lucrative opportunity by not pursing a commercial sweeping operation to add an income stream. Are they leaving piles of Benjamin Franklins on the table that could be in their pockets?

Jeff Winke is a business and construction writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He can be reached through