Unlike other pavement maintenance businesses which involve putting something down on a pavement, the sweeping business involves removing something from a pavement. So where other businesses can factor the amount and cost of materials in their bids and budgets, contract sweepers can't do that.
Carl Barton understands that, which is why the current North American Power Sweeping Association president guides, tracks, and drives his Memphis, TN, sweeping business on a minute-by-minute basis. And while virtually all sweeping companies track their time in some way or another - even broadly determining how many accounts a truck can handle on a route is managing the minutes - Barton's Aardvark Sweeping Service pays close attention to the time, knowing that effective use of driver minutes leads to profitability and growth.
"When I bought my first truck I read the literature and it said that to be successful you need to spend 75% of the time behind the wheel," Barton says. "That's 45 minutes of billable time every hour so that was my initial target."
As he got more involved with the business he started paying very close attention to the numbers - all the numbers. He tracked truck by truck, driver by driver, property by property, eventually coming up with both a cost per truck and a cost per driver. Eventually Barton figured out how much it was costing Aardvark to sweep each parking lot, and he learned something.
"We discovered that the trucks and men bringing in a decent profit were the drivers who were doing at least 420 minutes of sweeping per night. So we tried to replicate that throughout the company."
And it's worked. Though business is down a little this year as a result of reduced sweep frequency (as opposed to lost clients or price cuts) Barton says Aardvark Sweeping Service has remained "true to ourselves."
"We're a quality and service-oriented company, and when all is said and done I'd rather be a small quality and service-oriented company than a business that sells only price and doesn't provide a quality job or service the customer," Barton says. "We go way out of our way to make sure the customer gets what he pays for."
Retail & industrial sweeping
Barton started Aardvark Sweeping Service in 1996 following a career in the cola business. It's a story he's told often and it never fails to elicit a smile. "A guy I worked with at Pepsi was having a bad day and we were sitting around after work and he said 'If I am going to work at Pepsi all my life I'd rather grab a broom and sweep the parking lot.' It got me thinking," Barton says. After two months of what he says was "doing his due diligence" including talking with potential customers and watching other sweepers, he was ready to start his own sweeping company.
"I went out at night and watched some lots being swept, and I got to this one parking lot where a young guy pulled in with his sweeper and pulled over to the side, jumped out of the truck with his skateboard, skated around the lot for about 10 minutes, then got in the truck and drove away," Barton says. "I knew I didn't know much about sweeping but I knew I could do better than that."
He started Aardvark with the Schwarze 343 that he still uses (though only supervisors or managers are allowed to drive it) and now runs 18 sweeper trucks, employing between 30 and 40 people depending on the time of year. Most of the sweepers are Schwarze units, the bread-and-butter sweepers being the Schwarze 347 machines, but Aardvark also runs two Tymco 435s for the construction sweeping side of the business, as well as a Nite-Hawk and a Silent Knight.
Virtually all of Aardvark's work is on parking lots of one kind or another, but where some contract sweepers track their business by specific customer type, Aardvark divides its business into two groups: Retail (64%) and industrial (or nonretail, 34%) which includes warehouses, office complexes, industrial parks and construction site cleanup. Aardvark Sweeping used to sweep within a 50-mile radius of Memphis but has recently cut back to 30 miles as a result of low density, fuel costs, and costly and unproductive time on the road.