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Profiles in Parking Area Sweeping

Ben-Yashar Has Better Ideas

The owner of East Coast Sweeping reveals his innovative approach to marketing, operations and equipment modification.

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross

Energy and innovation have made East Coast Sweeping the largest sweeping company in its marketplace.
(Above, from right) Uri Ben-Yashar standing with his mechanic, Allen Aldana, and manager, Nir Gerzon

Editor's Note: Three years ago I first met Israeli-born Uri Ben-Yashar, owner of East Coast Sweeping, at the National Pavement Maintenance Exposition. Every year since then, Uri has been a standard fixture at the NPME sweeping seminars. He can often be seen deep in conversation with other sweeping contractors attending the event. From my own conversations with him, I have found Uri to be a prime example of an innovative entrepreneur who's constantly working to find better ways to run his sweeping business. Although a relative newcomer to sweeping, Uri Ben-Yashar has also developed a wealth of good ideas on his own. He brings an unusual background to the business. Uri was born and raised in Israel, including rising to the rank of Captain in the Israeli army and, along the way, he has also acquired an MBA. Uri's perspective is a thought-provoking look at how he has become successful in the sweeping business.

WORLD SWEEPER: You've become successful in a relatively short time period. How have you accomplished this?

Ben-Yashar: I have definitely worked hard, and I've come a long way. I started as a small, two sweeper business. Now, after three years, I run eight of them. My growth is due to the fact that I do things on the sales and management side that are pretty unique.

It's not easy to get going in this business. Every year when we go to NPME, especially at the Roundtable, there are a couple of beginning contractors who have some odd question or another. The experienced people look at one another and start laughing. I can say from experience that it's really not funny. Those guys are trying to get started. They're trying to establish themselves and they really don't know where to go and how to go about it.

WORLD SWEEPER: How did you get started in the sweeping business?

Ben-Yashar: When I bought the previous owner out, three and a half years ago, the guy had just made a commitment to lease two new sweepers. So, although I didn't own any sweepers, I owned the payments! They were both Schwarze S347-I machines. Since then, I have had such good service with them that I have chosen to continue with Schwarze sweepers exclusively.

WORLD SWEEPER: Did you have plenty of work for the two sweepers when you bought the business, or did you have to immediately go out and sell?

Ben-Yashar: I had work for one of the sweepers and, for the other one, I had enough contracts for between two and three nights a week. From there on, I've been aggressive in the marketplace in order to grow. As a result of talking to the customers over the years, however, I know that my competitive edge has not been my price. Instead, it has been the level of customer service I provide. By that I mean whenever customers call me at any time, for any need, I try to satisfy them. I do it right away, even when the customer doesn't have what could be called a 'sweeping need,' per se.

I go so far as to help absentee owners bid work out to a local plumber or painter-for no fee.

In my area, there are a lot of absentee owners who either can't afford, or choose not to have management onsite. So, when one of the tenants needs something or another, the owners call me. It might be anything from getting a plumbing company, to getting an estimate for painting, or wanting me to do graffiti paint-overs - anything they need done, really. If I can't do it myself, I go so far as to help them bid the work out to a local contractor in the appropriate field.

WORLD SWEEPER: Do you charge a percentage for your arrangements?

Ben-Yashar: Nope. I don't do that at all. I just get the best deal for them and that's it. There is a value, however, because they remember what I have done for them. When I've got a rainy day because one of my hourly employees did not perform the best job on a particular night, and it materializes into a complaint, then they remember, "Hey, everyone is a human being. This guy has proved to us that he's more than just another contractor, and he's worth more to us than that." Or, if another small sweeping company cuts my prices a couple of dollars a sweep, they'll say "It's not just the cost of the sweeping, it's also the all around service I get from East Coast Sweeping."

Plus, some of the things I can do myself to increase my profit - for instance, graffiti paint-over. I'm all set up for it. When there is a need for that service, I have an opportunity to make some money as well as increase my relationship with that particular customer. As I said, the more you're involved with a customer, the less likely he is to dump you for a couple of dollars reason, or a one complaint reason.

I don't mind saying to my customer, "I know I'm not 100%, and I never will be 100%, because it's not me sitting behind the wheel. I've got to rely on hourly people and they will always have their ups and downs. However, I can promise you that whenever you have a problem, I'll take action on it right away. I don't care if it's a Sunday or a Saturday or if it's in the middle of the night."

I equipped all my trucks with cellular phones. That way I can provide immediate response when a customer calls me in the morning and tells me that a job was not 100% satisfactory at a certain shopping center, or else he's expecting a very important meeting this morning and sweeping was not scheduled there last night. Now I can direct my operators to the shopping center right away.

WORLD SWEEPER: How do you prospect and sell your service?

Ben-Yashar: I do most of the selling myself. Because I was born and raised in Israel, I speak English with somewhat of an accent. I think it is actually an advantage, however, since it provides something to talk about on a personal level.

I've developed a brochure that is a very important tool and well worth it. The brochure gives a little background on my company and the additional services that I give. In my education, I learned the importance of a business diversifying its services horizontally, or providing differing services to the same marketplace. So, aside from sweeping, I do power washing of sidewalks, asphalt repairs, line striping, landscaping and, this year, I'm starting to do snowplowing. I am able to provide - and receive - more from the same customers. It is a big advantage when you don't have to run and get more customers to increase sales. That's what I've been doing all along.

Another area we're looking at is doing more construction cleanup. I have two of the Schwarze M-5000 broom sweepers. Of course, in the spring, they're working full-time doing cleanup for my customers, but other times of the year they've been sitting around too much. In order to increase their worth, I'm working to get more construction work, as well as starting to do sweeping for small cities and counties that do not have their own sweeper. The M-5000s are great for spring cleanup and heavy duty construction work.

WORLD SWEEPER: Do you take any other steps to get or keep customers?

Ben-Yashar: Many times employees used to come and tell me, "A guy stopped me today and asked me about the company; he's going to call you because he wants sweeping done." I would ask him, "Did you get a phone number, did you take a name?" Usually the answer was, "No, I forgot." - and that's a hot lead! I now have a bonus system. Any employee who brings a lead that materializes into a job gets a part of it. Now my employees are much more active on it. They'll not only get a name, they'll come back later and ask, "Did you call that guy, did something come out of it?" It involves the employees much more on the sales side.

Any employee who brings a lead that materializes into a job gets a bonus.

To make sure the customers are happy, my goal is to call upon all the customers every two weeks. I'm working on a system where we will list all our customers, prioritized mostly by the frequency of work that we do for them. We want to take ten, fifteen minutes out of the day and make some retention calls to make sure that everything is okay and see if there are any needs. A customer we sweep every night, call once a week; a guy that we do once a week, maybe call once every two weeks. In the course of two weeks, though, I want to call all of our customers just to make sure everything is okay. I'm convinced that's the way to find any problems before they might result in loss of a customer, as well as finding out if they have any new needs.

I am also always working to reduce my prices by getting a better handle on my costs. I break it down to a cost per sweeper, and I break down my overhead costs, and I figure out my percentages, and so forth. By strictly monitoring my costs, I know how to expend right, how to cut things short, and to make sure that my costs stay where they're supposed to.

Another thing I did recently is purchase mechanical tachographs. This is a relatively inexpensive instrument, around $250, that's pretty easy to install into the chassis. [see Onboard Computers Combine Science and Sweeping] One of the problems I've encountered in the past is operators taking too many long breaks, and going to sleep on my time. The tachographs help very much to deal with that problem, because the readout on the machine doesn't lie. It tells you exactly, if between 1:30 and 3:00 in the morning, the truck was not working.

The drivers have to fill out a very detailed schedule stating their time in and time out at every shopping center. If that information doesn't match what the tachometer says, then I know there's a problem. My plan is to put a lockbox to hold the tachometer unit into each sweeper, then just swap the tachographs around. That way, I don't have to have as many tachographs as I do sweepers. Once I sat my drivers down and showed them how I could read the output, they became believers. I am, too, since enough efficiency has already been gained to basically pay for the units.

I also have a pretty unique way that I do bidding. There is a certain cost that I apply for driving time, and there is a certain cost that I apply for working time. And when I expand my services into an area where I haven't been yet, I will go to a customer and tell him, 'Here is your cost.' And, I will go on to tell him that I feel his cost is a little high because I have to exercise some significant driving time to get to his shopping center. I go on to promise him that once I get more customers in the same area, I will reduce his prices. And when I do come back with a reduction when I expand into his area more, he definitely remembers the uniqueness of that happening.

That's part of my philosophy of customer service - you don't just say a thing in order to say it, you also prove to them that you will do it. When you go to a customer and you reduce his cost without him asking, you've gained some high points in his mind.

Another issue is employee control. I have a manager, and I try to send him out twice a week at night to quality check the work. The way I do it, I have a sheet where I have quantified each of the aspects of the service we provide. For instance, if you go into a shopping center you have the sidewalk, the corners, landscaping beds, entrances, and the rear of the center if applicable. Each one of those aspects gets quantified from one to ten. Then it gets averaged out. We set it up such that a score of seven is what we call the 'customer's expectation point.' If a certain driver gets less than seven, then we get on the cellular phone and call him back to the center. If he gets too many sevens, then we'll sit and talk to him. We'd like him to be at about eight. We'd like him to be one level above what the customer expects. That way we should never get a complaint, because the customer should always be satisfied.

WORLD SWEEPER: In three and a half years, you've gone from start-up with two new sweepers and not enough business to keep them both working, to eight sweepers. If you were to sum up the key to your success, what is it?

Ben-Yashar: Number one is the customer service. I think that many in the business do not understand the importance of customer service nowadays. If a customer calls you and you don't call him back the same day, to me there's no customer service. I think my competition - not all of them, but some of them - do not understand the changes in the last decade, the shift in the importance of customer service.

Everyone can clean a parking lot. But it's the attention, the promptness, that makes the difference. When the customer knows you're prompt, he can sleep quietly knowing that you're cleaning his parking lot every night, doing the best you can. I think that's the key.

Ben-Yashar's better equipment ideas:

Uri Ben-Yashar also has no qualms about modifying either his sweepers or business practices to make them uniquely suitable to his company's situation. Here are some examples he cites:

  • We install a spotlight directly above the driver's door or under the wing window, in addition to the one the factory provides near the broom. It is a great addition that helps us to see into the landscaping or onto the sidewalk. That way, we can make sure there is no litter hidden in the shrubbery.
  • We also don't use backpack blowers. Instead, we use handhelds because we find them more maneuverable. When there is a need to get behind a bench or something like that, it's harder to get a backpack blower into the right spot. When you use a handheld blower, you can put it underneath much more easily. Also, the drivers prefer to use the handheld units rather than the backpacks.
  • Another problem we've encountered with the blowers is they were getting broken very fast, even though we stored them in the back compartment of the truck. The breakage stopped, completely, since we designed a box that fits the blower exactly. A blower can only go in one way, and therefore it doesn't get bumped around. That increases the service life of the machines.
  • We also refill our own plastic broom segments. After costing it out, including the labor it takes to install them, we save about $20 on each broom. Over the long run, that adds up.
  • We have added another modification to our sweeper hoppers because of the high percentage of sand we have in our area due to the harsh winter weather. We put heavy-duty rubber on both the side and top deflectors on the inside of the hopper. This definitely increases their life-span in our geographical area.
    We attach the rubber in the same way that the rubber liner is attached to the main fan housing. We use round-headed screws which we get directly from Schwarze. The screws are made so the heads don't leave much of the surface exposed, but rather sink into the rubber. Before we did this we changed out our plates about 3 times in every 2 years. Now we only replace the deflectors maybe once in that time period.
  • Finally, I install racks onto my sweepers to hold garbage bags. These are nothing fancy, just trays that hook on with hinges. As you can see in the photo, the metal tray drops flat onto its chains when opened. We find these to be very handy to transport full garbage bags around a mall property until we get to the dumpster.
tray down
Tray Down
tray up
Tray Up

This article is reprinted from American Sweeper magazine, Volume 6 Number 1.

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