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Profiles in Parking Area Sweeping

Sweeping From Disneyland to Downtown L.A.


Playing in the big leagues.

At just 29 years old at the time of this interview, Nancie Bustamante didn't exactly fit most people's image of the head of a top-flight sweeping company. When our editor, Ranger Kidwell-Ross, interviewed Nancie from her office in East Los Angeles, he quickly found that she was a true professional. Her firm, Nancie's Sweeping, has clout and a level of competence that many contractors only dream about.

WORLD SWEEPER: Although I know that technically you manage this company for your father, who founded it over 30 years ago, you have put together some outstanding contracts in the 3 years that you've headed it up -- parking areas for the city of Los Angeles and Disneyland to drop just a couple names. What has enabled you to get such a leg up on the competition?

Bustamante: It's that I'm a woman, of course! [smile, pause] Really, though, most customers in this field are men, and I think they would always rather talk to a woman who really knows her business. I find it's easier to get more immediate respect. Plus, I try to listen more than I talk, and that puts me in a position to truly learn what it is that people want to see us accomplish for them. Then follow through is up to me.

WORLD SWEEPER: You have some pretty big name contracts. Is that what you concentrate on, or do you have lots of smaller accounts, too?

Bustamante: Well, I must admit that I like the larger contracts more than the small ones. I don't like sweeping malls, for example, because they are 7 days a week, although we do some number of those. Private malls and so forth are smaller contracts for less money, and they have other sweepers coming to them all the time offering to do the job for less than whatever they are currently paying. Plus, the agreement terms are usually just for one year. When you contrast that with multi-year municipal contracts in which you deal with just a couple people and cover a much larger area for a substantially higher return, it's easy to prefer the latter.

Amazingly, I have found that even with all the contractors out there, there is still a large body of prospects who aren't educated as to their options. Take large construction-type companies, for example. A lot of them aren't even aware that there are little private guys like us who can provide their sweeping services for half the price. They just assume that there's only the one, shall we call them 'the Mercedes Benz company' out there, and that they have to go with their price. They don't know that they have a much more cost-effective option - like a Supervac on a Toyota - which is just as qualified and will do an equally good job.

Because I'm in the sweeping business, I think that everyone is aware of what we private contractors can offer. For example, the city of Pasadena thought that they needed to contract with the County of L.A. for their sweeping! Either they are too busy, or naive, or not even aware that other options exist. It goes to show that no matter how much you advertise in the papers or whatever, people still don't know you're out there. The fact is that here is a segment of customers where we can cut their cost tremendously, and at the same time do a better job. Government-run sweeping operations have much higher costs for employees and other overhead, and that's where we can really come out ahead. We are also going to have much better control over what gets done than these big municipalities can possibly have.

The City of L.A. for years had done their own parking area sweeping. They went to bids last year only because of large budget cuts. Now they can see how much money they are saving. We are doing the job just as well if not better, and are clearly more conscientious since we don't want to lose the contract. It becomes more difficult to maintain proper supervision in any operation as it gets larger, and when you add the problems of having something like sweeping being subject to government rules and paperwork on top of that, someone like us can make a big difference.

WORLD SWEEPER: I know that many contractors reading this will want more details on how to bid on these larger, and municipal, jobs. Do you bid by the hour or curb mile, and so forth? Are you willing to talk on these topics?

Bustamante: Sure. My personal preference is to figure my bids by the hour. It's easier to bid by curb mile, but I think less accurate. It really depends upon what the client wants. If you want to get a municipality to go out to bid, my thought is to get them interested in the concept of a 'trial bid.' Take a pre-agreed section of their account, research it, then bid it just like you would if they were actually letting bids on it. You should be able to open some eyes at the projected difference in cost, once you make them understand what their current costs really are.

WORLD SWEEPER: Most of the contractors who will be reading this haven't been able to put together the kinds of contracts that you have. Are there other things you do that make you that percentage point better?

Bustamante: Well, I'd say there might be a couple... For one, even though I could maybe make more money personally, at least in the short run, by paying my drivers the near minimum wage that some contractors down here do, I pay a premium price and provide uniforms, too. Since November of last year we have been union. There are higher costs involved, but unionization has gained us a fair amount of work that we couldn't have otherwise hoped for.

I recognize that my employees are trying to raise families and get ahead, too, and have done my best to foster a genuine feeling of mutual caring and shared responsibility. In return, they respect my requirements for excellent equipment maintenance and quality of service.

For example, every driver completes a somewhat involved preventive maintenance check every shift, and it costs them $20 if they fail to do it and then turn in the written results. This may seem harsh, but as a result of the cost everyone remembers 99% of the time. And, because we emphasize prevention on our equipment, it runs longer, looks better and everyone is proud to be running it.

We can keep newer sweepers, and everyone likes that, drivers and customers alike. Plus, I put am/fm radios in all the trucks. It helps keep the drivers awake, and who wants to sit there listening to nothing but heavy machinery all shift?!

Let's see... I also give a $50 bonus to any driver who brings in a new account. As a result, they bring in accounts all the time. Everyone has a stack of business cards with them, and they write their name down on the back. Then, when someone calls up to get a bid or whatever, we ask what the name is on the back of the card and that person gets the bonus. It's good business for everybody.

We also put cb radios and cellular telephones in each sweeper. We use the cb's when we can, and the cellulars [which are more expensive] the rest of the time. Both our office and our customers can get in contact with our drivers whenever it's needed. At Disneyland, for example, they used to have to go track down the sweeper operator if an area needed special or immediate attention. They like being able to just call. And all my drivers have beepers so that we can be super responsive to emergencies. I might add that we also offer 24 hour contact, and after hours that means me. I probably get 10 calls per week, but most of them are situations which need immediate attention -- for which we get paid extra. I think that type of thing is part of the responsibility of heading up the organization, and I'm glad to do it. [laughing] Most of the time.

One other thing we offer that I think is worth mentioning is a solid service guarantee of satisfaction. If someone doesn't like the quality of work that we do, then they don't have to pay. It keeps everyone on their toes, and I think that a customer can look at that philosophy of doing business and figure that we must be doing a good job or we couldn't afford to offer that guarantee. Which is true.

WORLD SWEEPER: One thing we haven't talked about is the type and number of sweepers you have, and whether you do anything besides sweep.

Bustamante: We run 9 units that are vacuum Schwarze sweepers, either Aaplex or Supervacs, and 12 Mobils and 4 Tennants. In addition to sweeping, we perform asphalt repair and maintenance, and scrubbing. In my experience, people don't want to go to one person for sweeping, another for striping, etc. They would much rather go to one company for everything. With us they can.

WORLD SWEEPER: To finish up, do you have any thoughts on where the industry is headed?

Bustamante: When I look at the future, it looks bright to me. There is a strong new area of demand which will present itself as more of the government agencies get out of sweeping, which is inevitable. Although you can't wait for business to come in to you, or you'll get rolled over by the recession, there is plenty of business for aggressive marketers who know their stuff and do a good job once they get the contract. It's such an expanding marketplace. I have found the growth and business potential in this industry to be phenomenal.

This article is reprinted from American Sweeper magazine, v1 n1.

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