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Profiles in Parking Area Sweeping

Bobby Jones

Planning, Quality, Honesty, Sweeping

BJ Sweeping Services was built the old fashioned way.

by Barbara Hudson

Bobby Jones slowly built his BJ Sweeping Services to its current fleet of 8 sweepers by starting with a broom and a box, doing quality work, and making wise decisions. Eight years ago he was working full time for Kroger's grocery store in Oxford, Mississippi. One day, the owner of the mall complex, who was visiting from out of state, stopped in at Kroger's in search of someone to handpick his center's parking area on a weekly basis. Bobby volunteered to take it on.

"When I got my first check," said Jones, "I looked at it and thought, 'That's not bad. Put on a pair of gloves and get a check every month.'" It wasn't long before his remote boss helped him progress to a small Billygoat® which he used for two years. "Before long, I was cleaning three centers with that Billygoat, still working at Kroger's full time, and rarely finding enough time for sleep."

It was 1987 when Bobby decided he needed to get a truck-mounted sweeper and get serious about sweeping as a job. "All I could afford was a used sweeper, and what I ended up with was a big, bright orange truck -- but the price was good," laughed Jones, "and I figured at least everybody would be able to see me." He borrowed $2,000 from his aunt and convinced a banker he was a good risk. "I was blessed," Jones feels, "to have that first sweeper deal work out for me. I ran that truck for almost four years before I purchased another one, and now I've got 8 sweepers in all."

He attributes his success to putting quality first, working hard to train employees and communicate with his clients, as well as having a good system for his equipment upkeep. "Most of my work comes from referrals," Jones explained, "because I take pride in the job that I do, so when I drive away I can look back and know that I've left a clean lot."

Getting his employees to take the same kind of care is a challenge Jones works to achieve. "I train them myself most of the time, showing them exactly what I want." He switches around so that he does all the routes himself, too, so he knows how long each one should take to service. He also takes the time to do follow-up checks, and work with employees on how to improve. He 'writes up' employees who do below par work and knows that not all will do the caliber job he requires. "I found out that regardless of what you do, sometimes an employee has got to go."

His customers get personal attention as well. "Every month or two I call them up to see how things are going; try to arrange a meeting with them and go over the property to see if they have any kinds of questions. I point out certain spots that are problems. Property managers appreciate those kinds of updates."

He's also found it is best to be honest and upfront about any service difficulties. If some mechanical problem causes an account to be skipped or left incomplete, Jones contacts the manager as soon as possible. "If it's not a seven-day-a-week lot, I'll confirm with them that it will be swept the next night, or I'll give them an extra sweep for free."

Jones minimizes breakdown problems by having a specific system for keeping his equipment in good working order. He stays on top of preventive maintenance such as oil changes, but more importantly he keeps each truck stocked with essentials like a spare air and fuel filter. If a spare part gets used one night, he makes sure he goes to the parts store the next day and puts one back in that truck.

"I also try to have the same operators run the same sweepers, so they become familiar with that exact unit. And I let them know what they can expect from certain engines, what to be careful about." He gives his drivers some maintenance training so they can explain to him over the phone what the problems are. "By doing that, I can tell them how to fix most breakdowns so they can at least get through the night."

Jones makes it a point to become familiar with each new sweeper he purchases by running it himself first. Then he often uses the newer truck for his back up. "When I pay a sweeper off, I don't trade it in. A lot of people do trade in their machines, but I've found that if you take care of your equipment, you can keep it a long time."

Jones also advocates keeping extra parts - even engines - for emergencies. "If I have even a complete engine go out, I can have it repaired in a couple of days. Good preventive maintenance, and stocking standard wear and critical parts, is a key to staying afloat."

His advice for new sweeper businesses? "Build a reputation on giving good service for a reasonable price. Learning to bid is the toughest part when you're just starting out. There were a few accounts that I bid too low, but I still gave them the same quality. After awhile, I talked to the property managers and told them I needed to raise prices. Because I had done a good job, they were always happy to keep me at the higher price."

Providing top service, training employees, and knowing his equipment - BJ Sweeping Service is an industry success because Bobby Jones does business the old-fashioned way.

This article is reprinted from American Sweeper magazine, Volume 6 Number 2.

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