I speak with sweeping contractors daily and am amazed at one common thread among the most successful operators. There are several, but for the purpose of this writing, we’ll focus on one. Image. The most successful sweeping contractors that I encounter present a polished and professional image. They run an organized, structured program for their clients and their employees. The ones that think it doesn’t matter or they can’t afford it will continue to flounder in a business that’s been known to chew you up and spit you out over a few dollars. They will never achieve that level of success they had hoped for and blame it on economic conditions or just ‘bad luck.’ While economic conditions and luck do play a part, there’s a saying that I’ve come to appreciate in recent years. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.
I don’t think there’s any argument that the sweeping industry is a highly competitive one. It also has developed tremendous challenges that have made it more and more difficult to be successful financially when sweeping is your primary business. Increased fuel costs, equipment costs, insurance costs, competition and more. A lot fewer quality applicants are available in the job market at this price point as well. It’s difficult to find an individual willing to work for comparatively low wages, few if any benefits, odd, late hours, and be dependable and responsible enough to trust with a very expensive piece of equipment and a business that is your bread and butter.
If you could obtain an edge or advantage for relatively low cost, wouldn’t it make sense to do it? Or let’s put it this way. If you had to spend $10 more per day to make $100 more per day, wouldn’t it make sense to do it? If you’re not already presenting a polished image, maybe it’s time to start.
Let’s start with you. Yes, you. Are you the one that represents your business? How do you dress when you’re presenting yourself to a potential client? If you have a team of operators, how do they represent? Are they wearing a t-shirt with an offensive graphic on it? Dirty ripped jeans or cut-offs? Are they clean? Shirts tucked in or hanging out? It costs very little to be clean and neat in appearance. A collared shirt that’s tucked in (both guys and gals) sends a positive message. A uniform shirt is ideal. The choices are endless, and the price ranges are broad. If possible make sure it has the employee’s name on it. Cheryl Monroe of Sweep Masters, servicing the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Mobile, Alabama states that this not only reflects that you’re running a professional business with professional personnel, but it identifies your personnel, who are usually working alone at obscene hours in often dark or poorly lit areas. Ms. Monroe goes on to state that she believes the professional appearance of their staff has helped to secure contracts that otherwise would have passed them over. Believe it or not, a sharp uniform can even improve employee performance! Feeling good about how you look has a positive effect on performance, attitude, posture and pride. Don’t you walk a little taller and sit up a bit straighter when you feel good about how you look? Establish a dress code for your employees and if you’re able to do uniforms (highly recommended,) do it!!!
Do you smoke? Do your employees smoke? If so, establish some ground rules. No smoking in the sweeper or any marked company vehicle. Period! Allow employees to smoke on scheduled breaks and preferably in a discrete location. If smoking is not permitted on customer’s properties or if smoking is prohibited in certain areas, make sure your employees know and adhere to these policies.
And how about your equipment? Does it look like the creature shown here? “It’s a sweeping beast!” you may argue. What does it matter if it looks like a candidate for the can crusher? The higher paying, higher profile job sites/accounts require an image that conveys quality and professionalism. A sweeper covered in rust, dents and duct tape implies poor quality, poor performance, poor maintenance, a lack of concern and lack of organization. It’s a direct reflection of your business overall.
So you can’t afford a new sweeper. That’s ok for now. Let’s look at what you can do with what you have. Lauren McCaskill of Southco, located in Darlington, South Carolina says that “As a business who’s primary function is to clean for other businesses, we have to present an image of cleanliness. Their slogan even states they have been ‘Maintaining First Impressions for Over 25 Years”.
• Keep it clean! Not only will this improve the appearance, but it also adds years to its life. Make this a habit, a requirement, and a routine. John Zucal of Sky Sweeping in Ohio tells us that a complete cleaning of the sweeper after every shift is a basic requirement. Inside and out! Sweeping is dirty by nature. Wash your equipment at the end of every shift to add years to its life! Sky Sweeping places their logo and contact information on their equipment in a prominent location for advertising as well as easy identification.
• Clean the cab too! Does that cab of your sweeper look like a homeless camp? Keep the dash clear of papers, empty cans, cups, fast food bags and tools. Wipe dash, doors and steering wheel after each shift. Go crazy once or twice each week and use soap. Don’t forget the windows and mirrors. Make this a basic requirement for your operators. Inspect what you expect!
• Cover the seats with a durable seat cover to protect the original upholstery. Sliding in and out of the driver’s seat over time, not only wears the fabric but causes a breakdown of the foam cushion. This becomes uncomfortable for the operator, and it looks trashy. A seat cover is cheap compared to the price of having one rebuilt or replaced.
• Tire treatment. A whole lot of shine for just a few bucks. Nuff said.
• Paint! If you can’t afford a professional paint job, work with what you can afford. It’s amazing what some elbow grease and a can of spray paint can do. No, it’s not the preferred solution, but on certain parts of the sweeper, it can improve the overall appearance considerably.
o If you have duct tape on your intake and exhaust hoses, paint these black as well. Don’t advertise your patch job!
o Sand any rusty areas of your rear bumper and other black metal parts including skid runners, the actual sweeper frame, chassis frame and sweeping deck. Tape off any lights, reflectors, latches, and hardware. Again, spray using a black enamel with a rust inhibitor.
o If you have large areas the hopper that requires touch up, it needs to be done by a professional. The hopper is typically painted with a processed automotive paint and anything more than very small touch – ups will make it look worse. Shop around and ask around. You can usually find some great small paint shops that do good work for a lot less. If this just isn’t in the budget, try the spray can. Site prep will make a big difference in the outcome.
We’ve only scratched the surface with things that relate to your image and how it might affect your success. The others will have to have to wait for another day. Please walk away with this. Image matters.
By Brenda Bell, Customer Service Manager at Schwarze Industries
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