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MetroSweep's T.E.A.M. Concept

Company image-building, employee involvement, meticulous professionalism

"Every significant breakthrough is the result of a courageous break with traditional ways of thinking."
-- Scott Covey, Author, "Principal Centered Leadership"

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross

MetroSweep is living this statement every day of its working existence. Owners Russ and Kelly Barker were willing to make the break with traditional employee roles, job descriptions and data collection methods to bring their company to the leading edge of the sweeping business. In exchange, they and the MetroSweep team have grown to a company of 29 full time employees with headquarters located in Waterford, Michigan, and a Service Center located 30 miles away in Sterling Heights.

MetroSweep's internal company motto is T.E.A.M., which stands for 'Together Everyone Achieves More.' "Our intent in coining this slogan," says Kelly Barker, President of MetroSweep, "was to have something that would combine the concepts of empowerment and accountability. Empowerment is very difficult for most company owners to understand, because to have true empowerment of people you must have trust. If you don't trust the people you are working with, then you must use control instead, which is the technique of most power sweeping companies we have seen. Then there is no more respect for the money which the owners have invested than there is respect for the effort and dedication which it takes from the employees to perform the work."

Company owners, Russ and Kelly Barker, are a brother and sister duo, and each has management skills which complement the other. Kelly oversees all financial, legal and data processing teams, while brother Russ oversees field service teams. Their team concept is one of peer accountability. The company is divided into three separate profit centers, consisting of lawn maintenance/landscaping, snow removal, and the core business of power sweeping. The sweeping center is further divided into air sweeping and mechanical broom. Each component has a team leader, someone who is responsible for the division and its members. "Because we have a true teamwork situation, though," says Kelly, "no customer will ever hear the phrase 'It's not my job' at MetroSweep."

Both of the owners credit the success of their T.E.A.M. concept with allowing MetroSweep to make some other significant breakthroughs in the management and operation of their power sweeping company. One of the most important is their data collection program, through which they gather the hard data they can use to gauge performance, job quality, pricing and equipment performance.

Mark Miarecki directs the company's management information systems. "Our experience," he said, "is that many contractors have no real idea how to bid a property. When they do bid it, they don't know if they are at the site for the right amount of time. Most sweeper-adaptable software packages available in the open marketplace are suited only to the accounting requirements of the industry, not to the routing, scheduling and job costing (and profitability) of contracts." After a 5 year investigation and several software prototypes, MetroSweep elected to design, program and implement their own proprietary software system, the MetroSweep Operations Management (MOM) program. It handles all phases of data collection, from routing and scheduling of sweeping to truck servicing. Consideration is currently being given to licensing the program to sweeping contractors outside the Michigan area.

"In today's real estate environment, property managers need to account for every dollar spent for maintenance," notes Kelly. "In the past, a man picking up trash with a broom and shovel might have been acceptable. Today that is neither environmentally sound nor financially appropriate. MetroSweep provides managers with the most current information about when their parking lot was serviced, how long it took, how many trash bags were used, etc. This information is invaluable when researching any accidents or complaints, and also provides positive proof of the pricing required to do a good job in the long run."

MetroSweep's corporate headquarters is currently in a 7,500 square foot facility located on 2 acres, and a new 10,000 sq. ft. building on an adjacent property is on the drawing boards. A three person mechanical staff handles all preventive maintenance, broom replacements and engine replacements. Management cites the value in having a high level of communication between the repair staff and the operators. They employ a 'Hot' (Let's do it now!) and 'Not' (Not pressing, but equipment doesn't leave until okay'd by maintenance!) bulletin board system. Safety and job performance are considered paramount. The mechanical staff must complete a checklist on each piece of equipment before it leaves the secured yard, which ensures that breakdowns are kept to a minimum. That's also how they make certain that their operators have all they need to complete their sweeping runs, whether that means customer 'We Were Here' drop slips, trash bags or backpack blowers that operate smoothly.

Their MOM computer program maintains a full log on the supplies used, along with miles driven and other data. This gives them the most up-to-date information possible concerning vehicle service needs. When service work is performed, it is logged back to the system.

As it is becoming in many places now, noise is a factor in their area. Dale Pasi, MetroSweep's Field Operations Manager, says that they have proven to their own satisfaction that the best way to deal with noise problems is to be pro-active. "Unchecked, noise ordinance problems can keep sweepers from performing their services after dark. This could only result in increased costs and lower quality, since the work would have to be performed during daylight hours when cars are parked on the property. Daytime sweeping also increases the likelihood of accidents between sweeper trucks and other vehicles. We work closely with the appropriate officials of all the cities where we operate to solve noise issues. We also operate a fleet of Schwarze Supervac 347's, all of which have sound shields. Our Master Mechanic, Mike Woityra, has further modified the shields to gain even quieter operation.

All operators go through a 2 week training period before they are given a sweeper, and satisfactory performance includes more than knowing how to sweep. Part of the management philosophy is that employees perform better when they look better. "With one look at any member of the MetroSweep staff, from the crisp uniforms to the business appearance," said Kelly, "our performance level is instantly understood."

This business-like confidence is also reflected on every sweeper: the front of each MetroSweep truck proclaims the company motto, 'Sweeping for a Cleaner Tomorrow.' Russ and Kelly say it's not just rhetoric. They believe sincerely that everything they do will make this a cleaner world for the next generation. "Having a cleaner, better tomorrow is important," says Kelly. "Since trees provide natural purification for the environment, MetroSweep plants a tree in a state park for every new customer we sign. We recognize the waste problem better than most, because of the mountains of trash we haul away every day. That's pushed us toward developing a paperless office, and also toward a program of giving back to the environment some of the purification it needs.

"Most property managers and real estate owners don't really understand our business and the environmental impact of it. Therefore, one of the principal ways in which Metro-Sweep markets its services is in a newsletter. We design and produce it internally, and it is sent to all customers on a quarterly basis. Many of our recent themes have reported on the importance of EPA Stormwater II, which is something many property owners need to know about."

MetroSweep 'Art Director at Large,' Ellen Moser, has created two identification logos for the company, Rusty the Broom and Trashy (see pictures). These are also emblazoned on the company's sweepers, and help to give the firm a unique sense of identity and personality. Everyone in the company knows their equipment stands out, which provides even more incentive to keep it all in top shape. The organization's combination of a sense of humor and crisp professionalism has given them an edge that is hard to deny. When we asked for information for this article, it arrived promptly and was professional throughout, from the brochures and other company information to the personalized folder that contained them. All in all, it was a package seldom seen in the sweeping industry.

"The experience which we have in management, team empowerment, and management information services makes us superior to all the existing companies in our marketplace," asserts Kelly. "We're now the biggest company in Michigan, but we don't take that lightly. We have worked hard to help the business to grow, and are now developing business networking with other companies throughout Michigan to provide our management expertise, programming resources and name affiliation on a fee basis. We insist on working with people who can be made to understand the empowerment philosophy. Many owners will not invest in employee training, and are convinced that the business will go downhill if they let go of any control. We believe that without letting go, the business will fail to thrive and everyone involved will lose, the management, the employee and the customer."

Does it work? For Metro-Sweep, the proof is in the results: During the last five years, the company has tripled its revenues every year, with 1994 revenues projected to exceed $2 million. "We are different from other companies in our area, in that we aren't just trying for volume accounts on a very low -- or no -- margin basis," concludes Kelly."We have a responsibility to everyone, from our employees and their families to our customers, to be in business 5 years from now. You don't make that commitment and then lose money on contracts. Our customers want a market price to do the work, and in return expect that the work will be done right the first time, with no excuses. We owe it to them to price properly, perform properly and be in business when they call us next year. That's only possible with a sensible bottom line."

This article is reprinted from American Sweeper magazine, v3n3.

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