The story of Capitol Sweeping Services is one of transformation and adaptation. It's a story of what happens when a mom-and-pop contractor pays close attention to its market, and what happens when the couple has the foresight to plan and the guts to make changes on the move. It's the story of a successful contract sweeper who works to command market share, which enables it to dominate within regions and pick up even more accounts.
"We keep our eye on the ball and are able to make changes immediately within our market and within our company," says Tom Kuhns. "That's really what has kept us moving ahead and helped us gain market share."
Celebrating its 22nd anniversary this year, Capitol Sweeping Services is a minority-owned business, with Lesa Kuhns, president, running the day-to-day operations; husband Tom is vice president; and Dave Fisher is operations manager and the company's first full-time salesperson.
A member of the North American Power Sweeping Association, Capitol Sweeping Services runs a Shopping Center Maintenance Division, a Road Maintenance Division, and employs 22 employees full time, year round (employment can double during peak season).
Headquartered in South Windsor, CT, Capitol Sweeping covers the entire state, plus Rhode Island and western Massachusetts. Capitol Sweeping generates 65% of its revenue from litter sweeping, 20% from road sweeping (including catch basin cleaning), and the balance from line striping, pavement repair, snowplowing, and power washing.
The first adjustment
And while sweeping is now the company's focus, Capitol Sweeping Service was actually started as a part-time striping company. Tom worked full-time as a mechanic, doing layout and striping for new construction on weekends and off hours, and Lesa stayed at home with three children and handled the books. But as construction boomed, Tom quit his job to handle all his striping customers.
To prepare the pavement prior to striping the Kuhns always brought in a sweeping contractor. "But it got to the point where we were waiting too long for sweeping companies to come and sweep, so we bought a sweeper so we wouldn't be waiting anymore."
Initially the sweeper was used just to clean parking lots before striping, but the Kuhns quickly added a few small litter sweeping accounts, and sweeping quickly outpaced the striping. By their fifth year in business they had six employees and had become a full-fledged contract sweeper with 15 accounts. For the first five years Capitol Sweeping focused on parking lots, added municipal work in years five to 10, added highway sweeping after year 10, and got out of highway sweeping around year 15.
Pursuing market share
As Kuhns says, the sweeping business is the driving force behind the company's success. Sweeping provides steady cash flow, keeps the contractor's name in front of its customers and prospects, and strengthens financials so that if they go to the bank looking for support, their sweeping numbers show they deserve it.
And the constant throughout all this growth and diversification has been litter sweeping for shopping centers. "That end of the business is just growing and growing," Kuhns says. "It's very profitable for us. We do high volume and make a little bit on everything."
Kuhns says they are not a low-bid contractor - they don't want that kind of work - but they aren't the highest bid contractor in their markets either. Their approach is to pursue contracts on anchor accounts in a region, then fill in around those accounts, developing market share and increasing profits of a particular route in the process.
"We do own market share in a number of different areas, and that really helps us when we are pursuing new accounts nearby," Kuhns says. "We're not the lowest price but because of the market share we have in certain areas we don't have to do a lot of driving to get to single accounts. If I'm right next door to an account I can do it cheaper than a guy who has to drive there to do that one account."