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Profiles in Parking Area Sweeping

Leading Through Innovative Service

Virginia contractor provides what the customer needs.

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross

Karl Stauty is not only a member of the North American Power Sweeping Association (NAPSA); the company is also the second in the U.S. to become a NAPSA Certified Sweeping Company. He and his wife, Lorean, are also 'regular fixtures' at the yearly pavement maintenance shows. His business, Commercial Power Sweeping, is located in Suffolk, Virginia.


WORLD SWEEPER: Tell us how you got started, and a little bit about the current makeup of your company.

Stauty: I started out in the business in 1986, by buying a company that had one beat up sweeper. Today, we have over 30 employees, and run about 20 sweepers. Ten are parking lot sweepers. The rest are a combination of air and broom machines for street sweeping, milling cleanup, construction and so forth.

WORLD SWEEPER: But, even though you started out as a sweeping business, you now provide a wide range of other services.

Stauty: I soon found that a lot of our customers wanted a full-service company. With some of them, if you didn't do it all, you couldn't get the sweeping contract. So, besides sweeping parking lots, we started cutting grass. Then we added parking lot patching and re-striping. Now, with our bucket truck, we paint the high poles, as well as change out the lights and replace the ballast kits. We'll even paint the exterior of customers' buildings, if need be. At this point, I have a 3-man crew that specializes in building maintenance. They also do graffiti removal and the high pole service.

Although sweeping is our primary business, we have positioned ourselves as a complete exterior maintenance company. When it comes to the outside of their properties, we want to fill all of our customers' needs. It's something our customers very much appreciate, and it certainly gives them more to think about if they consider changing sweeping services.

WORLD SWEEPER: What is the most unusual service you provide?

Stauty: I'd say that would probably be the decorating service we provide during the Christmas season. It primarily starts the week before and the week after Thanksgiving, and we get the last of the decorations down by the week after New Years. Decorating can mean anything from pole decorations, to wreaths on the buildings, to rooftop lights or whatever else the customer wants. Sometimes, we'll send five men who will spend 12 hours to put up the decorations on just one center. We have a 23-foot metal Christmas tree that we put onto the roof of one of our centers. It weighs about 800 pounds. It's all steel, something the client had fabricated.

WORLD SWEEPER: Can you provide any tips on how to price that service?

Stauty: Most of the shopping centers either already own, or will go out and purchase, the decorations themselves. Some of the decorations are stored onsite, and some we have to pick up from storage warehouses. Primarily, we charge our customers an hourly rate, from hauling them to installing them. It's pretty much a cost-plus situation. Some customers will say, "You charged us $500 last year; how much will it be this year?" Much of the time it's determined by the type of decorations. A lot of the time the decorations are lighted, so you never know how many bulbs will have to be replaced and that sort of thing. You can get a lot of broken bulbs during transportation. We find the replacement bulbs, replace them, rewire if needed. We'll take care of anything that needs to be corrected on them. Sometimes we bring them back to the shop and reweld them or rewrap them. We've even taken decorations to a seamstress and had them fixed that way, too.

WORLD SWEEPER: Because you provide that service, it must give you an advantage to have a preexisting relationship established with the customers. Have you ever lost a good sweeping customer as a result of a snafu in your decorating service?

Stauty: We certainly don't take an unfair advantage of any of our customers. We also take steps to make sure there are no surprises. For example, when we take the decorations down, we always evaluate their condition and send the client a written report. That way, they know a year in advance the ballpark amount that they're going to have as a refurbishing cost when the decorations go back up the next year. When we bill, we also separate out what the cost was to put the decorations up, and what the extras were. Bulbs, welding, any materials we have to add or fix - we break it down on the bill.

Christmas service is a good add-on for sweeping.

WORLD SWEEPER: What got you started in this unusual service add-on?

Stauty: We had a couple of customers who had electricians doing it. At the time, they were charging $85 an hour for use of a bucket truck and $30 an hour for a two-man crew. That made my eyes pop open. Then a customer inquired as to whether we could do it, and so we gave it a try. Believe it or not, the first year we did it with scaffolding - that was plenty of incentive to get a bucket truck. By the next season I had purchased an old used bucket truck. You can get one that's usable for about $10,000 to $15,000. We've found the Christmas service to be a good add-on for sweeping, and our customers appreciate it. And now we use the bucket truck year around for the exterior maintenance portion of our business.

WORLD SWEEPER: On a different topic, how about discussing the strip chart recorders you have in your sweepers. How has that affected your business?

Stauty: We have them set up so they show us the movement of the truck, and when the sweeper is turned on or off. They're 24-hour charts that we change out daily. The employee who does the replacement puts the current mileage and hourmeter reading on both chart s - the one he puts in, and the one he takes out. The charts are broken down into 5-minute increments, and we gain a lot of information from them. For example, by knowing every time the sweeper is turned on and off, we know the amount of time spent for that particular customer.

The charts are also a watchdog for the employees. We can scan the collected data to determine whether operators are falling asleep, driving out of range - things of that nature. We can also tell how much time they're spending in each parking lot, the amount of time spent using a blower, when the truck was idle, when it was moving at high speed and when it was being operated at low speed. That's important information.

We also use our charts as our supporting information for getting our excise tax fuel rebate. [See associated article entitled Federal Fuel Tax Rebates: Do You Qualify?.] The charts give us a solid record of how much the auxiliary engine is used [as a supplement to the hourmeter]. We called the manufacturers to find out how much fuel the engines use. It only takes about 10 minutes a day to calculate all of our parking lot sweepers. We've found the charts to be a great investment. They don't tell as much as a GPS system, but they're only $300 per sweeper, too. That makes them very cost-effective.

WORLD SWEEPER: What other methods of operation make your company unique in your marketplace?

Stauty: Something that's taking off in our area is the advent of the Nextel two-way radios. We're on the same band as our customers, so we have direct communication with our property managers with the radios. During the day, property managers are often on the road, as I am, and the use of the radios has really lowered our cell phone costs and really improved service, if anything. We've gone from over $400 a month down to a flat $70. The radios have a cell phone built into them, but also have the two-way radio capability as well. Most of the contractors we use are also on the radio system. The radios have voicemail, and double as digital pagers. If I get out of range, or leave the radio in the truck, there will be a notice if someone was trying to reach me. I provide all of our property managers with the direct numbers for my supervisors. Now, they call directly to the supervisor who handles the aspect of our business they need help with, which saves me a significant amount of time.

WORLD SWEEPER: Is sweeper noise a factor in your area?

Stauty: No, not to the extent that I hear others talk about it at the shows. Beacon lights are probably more of a problem. We only get about a dozen calls a year about noise. Where they're building homes and townhouses all around shopping centers, it is becoming an issue. It hasn't really slammed us yet, though.

WORLD SWEEPER: What's the most interesting or unusual job you've done in recent times?

Anything our customers call about, from illegal dumping to building maintenance, we try to have it handled within 36 hours.

Stauty: I'd have to say that would be the cleanup during the resurfacing of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The old bridge is miles in length, has 3 tunnels and is privately owned. They call it one of the 'engineering wonders of the world.' During the project, they milled down the entire bridge surface. Unfortunately, the surface has a three-and-a-half to four-inch metal expansion joint placed about every 220 yards. When the milling machine would get to within a foot or two of these, they'd have to switch over to a hand-milling machine. Because of that situation, we really couldn't use a mechanical sweeper, even though milling is a real strength of the Schwarze M5000. It wouldn't go over the expansion joints.

So, we had to sweep the whole thing with our regenerative air sweepers, the Schwarze A7000 and the Tymco 600s. Someone tried to take an Elgin out there, and it got all torn up. They had to go back to doing the edges the old-fashioned way, with a broom tractor and a front-end loader. We had to modify our skid plates by welding angle iron onto the sides of them, so that when the sweeping head came up to the expansion joints, it would ride over them rather than ripping the head off. We had to get it clean all the way up to the expansion joint. We used our hand hoses at the corners. It was a slow-going, time-consuming process, though, and our drivers hated it. If the day's work was six miles down the bridge, it would take them an hour to drive to the jobsite because of the expansion joints.

WORLD SWEEPER: Overall, what do you consider the keys to your success?

Stauty: Providing great customer service. Anything our customers call about, from illegal dumping to building maintenance, we try to have it handled within 36 hours. That's from the time it's called in to the time we service it. A lot of our customers don't bid out these types of minor things, they just call and say "Here's what we need." That stimulates some serious loyalty when someone is contacted by another sweeping company that's trying to get the business by offering to sweep for less. And, when we do building maintenance for someone we don't sweep for, there's usually a 15-to-20% cost increase attached.

We still don't advertise in the yellow pages. We never have, because we've built a referral-based business. In our area, they have what are called IREMAS, International Real Estate Management Associations. Most of the major players, in terms of property managers, are members. When they have their meetings, they talk to each other about who is competent at the various services. That's one of our biggest sources of referrals. We're considered one of the highest cost providers in the area, but we provide so much service that we're also the most cost-effective choice in our market area.

We do all of our own repairs inhouse, except for transmissions. This past year we added a computer program that specializes in vehicle maintenance. It has a learning curve, but now we track every cost associated with each vehicle. From in-house labor, repair parts, tires, fuel and everything else that's put into it. I can tell the cost of operation down to the last penny. I can figure it by hours, by mile or whatever. It's called Maintstar [by Bender Engineering, (562) 598-4741]. We got into it for about $1,000, and it works for up to 100 vehicles. It's given me more information than I've ever had before. Now, it will even kick out work orders for preventive maintenance that needs to be done. It also controls inventory. I think it will provide many long-term benefits to our company.

Each of our drivers has a regular route, although all have been cross-trained. We start our routes at the furthest distance from the shop. The two-way radios allow us to cross over to help each other at the end of the night's sweeping. If someone's running behind, whoever's done early will come over and help out. We've also gone to letting our drivers work four, ten-hour shifts. And, we're working on a program this year to allow our drivers alternating schedules, so they can rotate weekends off.

We offer our employees full medical and paid vacations - the whole nine yards. It more than comes back to us, though, in terms of employee loyalty and longevity. We only have to fill about one position a year. One of my supervisors has been with me for nine years, and my nighttime sweeping supervisor has been with me for seven. My philosophy is to treat both customers and employees the way I'd like to be treated. To me, that's the way it should be.

Commercial Power Sweeping

If you would like to contact Karl Stauty, send him an email.

This article is reprinted from American Sweeper magazine, Volume 7 Number 1.
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