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Profiles in Parking Area Sweeping

photo of Three Rivers Stadium

Takin' It To The Streets

Sweeping Three Rivers Stadium
is just like cleaning your living room...
only wider.

At 11 p.m. on any night the doughnut shop on Route 286, half-way between Washington Township and Plum (just outside Pittsburg) becomes an informal office for the crew members of Three Rivers Power Sweep. They meet here to fill up on coffee and review the nights work before setting out on the half hour drive into the city. They won't be back by here until morning.

Three Rivers Power Sweep is owned by a couple of enterprising sisters. "To make a go of our business, we have more or less taken to the streets of Pittsburg the principles we practiced in our respective homes for years and years. It's just like cleaning your living room, only a little wider," Smith says.

The business was originally purchased and operated by their parents, and later bought by their brother. In 1981, the sisters bought into the business and began learning the ropes. In 1989, the company separated into two parts, with Linda and Kathy taking over ownership of the parking lot cleaning end of the operation.

Under their leadership the company took on both a new name, Three Rivers Power Sweep, and a new level of professionalism. Stotler says that starting with a broad customer base allowed them to jump in and really learn their way around the equipment and territory. Three Rivers Power Sweep now handles everything from routine cleaning to snowplowing and line striping.

photo of owners

The sisters have taken advantage of their differing styles to give strength to the business. "Because we are sisters as well as partners, it may have been easier to choose our roles," Stotler admits. "I am happiest surrounded by paper and Linda gets a kick out of trying to figure out why the sweeper won't pick up, or what that noise is in the auxiliary motor. Linda has an easy way with people and I like things organized. If we had two Kathys or two Lindas, it would create a less productive situation. We're lucky, since our personalities compliment each other."

Buying their first sweeper was a monumental decision. They learned quickly that the condition of equipment can earn respect. Stotler recalls that first unit and how it turned heads. She says, "It was a big red 4 wheel drive Ford with a refurbished sweeper body and a plow attachment. We had to put wide tires on it for stability and that added to its awesome appearance." Their fleet now consists of 2 full size sweepers and a small one which is kept for doing garages. For a while, they considered moving the business to a separate building, but for now have opted to continue working out of their own homes. They have decided there are advantages to keeping things the way they have been.

There isn't any big secret.
It's just like housework - do the corners.

It didn't take long for them to gain confidence in their new roles. Stotler says, "We actually feel sorry for a mechanic or service station that tries to sell us a story because they think they're dealing with two uninformed women. Boy, will they get a surprise! Between what we have learned through our own trial and error, and our support system of mechanics, body workers, engineers, and construction workers, we have limited our serious errors in the repair end of the business. Our relationship with our mechanic is one thing that allows us to keep the business at home."

Their first big break in the business came out of a visit with Carol Veal, the minority business administrator for Pittsburgh's Department of General Services, which assists minority and women owned businesses. Veal suggested that Stotler and Smith write to the local stadium authority describing themselves and their service. This was done, and at a later time an opportunity to bid for the work at Three Rivers Stadium came up. The work was the same they had been doing, just on a larger scale with a few added problems to deal with. With help from their accountant they came up with an offer they could work with. Stotler claims, "This experience taught us that what you sow one year will bear fruit in another. That realization makes things look more accessible. We know that it takes time to cultivate accounts, so there is less apprehension in going for it."


Stotler believes that their success has been due in part to a desire to keep learning. They have been willing to listen to family members, paid business consultants, and the Dusqesne University Small Business Development Center. She says, "There is also no better teacher than experience and are we ever experienced! We have had to learn each step - and sometimes more than once - until it became part of our way of doing business."

Two women in charge of a cleanup crew raised a lot of eyebrows at first. When they started working at night, they got in the habit of driving around the parking lot scanning the cars for suspicious looking people. As part of their training they teach that whoever is the driver should always keep vigilant in watching out for the person on the ground. As a safety rule they also have their blower operators immediately look around for any safe escape routes if they get visually separated from the sweeper.

The sisters feel they have avoided trouble, even though they sweep some isolated areas, because of staying alert. "When we're out operating the equipment we get stared at a lot," says Smith, "especially when we're filthy. People aren't used to seeing dirty women." They have worked hard to gain the respect of fellow night-shift workers and others. Stotler says, "What's changed people's minds is that we get the job done. That's what clients want to see."

"When we first started, we felt like there was a big secret out there in the business world that no one had told us about, "says Stotler. "But as you begin to deal with people and get jobs, you find there isn't any big secret. The format for this job isn't foreign to us; it's just like housework - do the corners."

This article is reprinted from American Sweeper magazine, v4 n2.

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