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Profiles in Parking Area Sweeping


by Quality
at J&S

Outbid competitors with customer loyalty

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross

Jim Sallee insists on quality first -- and he's annoyed with those who do business differently.

One of the industry's biggest problems, Sallee asserts, is newcomers to the sweeping business who undercut prices. Many new sweeper owners don't have a real idea of the true cost of doing business, he points out, until it is too late. "Some new guys feel it is better to work at any price than to not have the work, but this is actually not true." Undercutting prices benefits no one: When quality suffers, the client is usually too embarassed to switch back to its original contractor; and because the start-up company isn't making a profit, it can't grow. "For every sweep done under market rate, the contractor is giving his equipment away."

J & S Sweeping, Inc., which Jim and his wife Kathy operate, proves that providing high quality service for realistic prices can be a very successful combination. From a start-up operation in 1972, J & S has grown to 15 trucks with sealcoating, striping and pressure washing sidelines. Frank Dowell, operations manager, has been with the company for four years, and the Sallees' son Greg, a recent accounting grad, has joined the team.

The Sallees have built quality into the operating structure of J & S. A routinely implemented quality control program has greatly increased customer satisfaction. Every month a manager inspects lots for four drivers on a rotating basis. It's a matter of record which lots were checked, so everyone knows that the system is fair and thorough. The inspections are random, but if a customer complaint is received, that lot is included in the inspection schedule, and the property manager is invited to be present at the inspection.

The second cardinal rule of Sallee's quality philosophy is keeping property managers involved and informed. He invests a lot of time in making sure the clients understand the value of what they're getting. Developing customer loyalty is cost-effective, he knows, because "keeping the business you have is the easiest way to grow. Then you don't have to spend a lot of time replacing business which you have lost to competitors."

"The whole nation is programmed to get the lowest price, then after that they want the highest quality." Sallee educates his clients to understand that for $10 they will not get the quality of a $25 sweep. He starts by making the client aware of all the "hidden" expenses of reliable sweeping service, such as overhead and insurance.

J & S management promotes on-going communication with property managers through meetings, even when this requires long distances to be traveled regularly. A policy of strict honesty and integrity is maintained, "especially important since in this industry the manager isn't there during the time the lot is actually swept."

If a sweep is missed or a truck breaks down, Sallee says that "you don't need to keep track of your excuses!" if you're always straight with the client. He also cites honesty as "being realistic with the client about what you can do, not building false expectations which can't be met. Ensure that the property manager can rely on your word. This builds customer loyalty -- essential ammunition at a time when a $5 difference in a competitor's bid could lose you an account."

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