There aren’t many sweeping companies that can say they’ve grown over the last three years – but Stripe-N-Sweep of Houston can say it.
Currently in the midst of their 25th year in business, Les Armstrong, president, and wife Diane Armstrong, secretary/treasurer, say the recent growth – not common in these tough economic times – is the result of years of hard work, promises kept, and smart management.
“You have to work hard and keep plugging day in and day out, and that’s what we do. You have to keep working,” Diane says. “We believe in growing slowly, keeping everything simple, doing things that we understand, and not getting in over our own heads. And we don’t carry a lot of debt. We’ve always thought, just watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.”
Les and Diane say Stripe-N-Sweep’s approach to business over the last quarter century is what’s enabled them to grow in an economic climate where other contractors are stagnant – or worse, out of business.
“Marketing is the hardest thing, finding new customers and getting our foot in the door,” Diane says. “We rely a lot on word of mouth, so you have to make sure you have a good reputation and have good relationships with the people you’re doing business with because they do change jobs. Word of mouth does work and it’s probably the best way – but it’s not fast. But we decided we wanted to grow our business slowly, not like some companies that get really big and then soon they aren’t in business anymore.”
“When times are hard the weaker companies go under and that opens up work,” Les says. “We also found that some customers who we didn’t sweep all their properties wanted to consolidate, get one vendor and better pricing so we’ve really had growth for three years.”
But those property managers wouldn’t have considered turning to Stripe-N-Sweep as their sole sweeper if the work and the relationship with the contractor hadn’t been good.
“The personal contact we have with our customers and quality of work we do absolutely played a part in our growth,” Les says. “Word-of-mouth referrals are a big part of our success and growth, especially among property management companies. Because they know we do good work they often give our name out to other property managers, and over time it just mushroomed.”
It mushroomed to the point where the 17-person company today runs nine Masco sweepers (one Tennant sweeper for garage sweeping) and sweeps roughly 700 parking lots a week. Les says 95% of the work the company does is sweeping with the remaining 5% subcontracted out for striping, asphalt or concrete repair, and power washing. Many of Stripe-N-Sweep’s customers are property management firms that represent more than 20 properties, with the focus being retail and office building parking lots.
“We don’t target a certain type of customer. Anybody that will pay us to sweep, we’ll sweep,” Diane says.
Easier with a Truck
The company started in 1985 when Les, who had done some work for another sweeping contractor, left to start his own company. An aircraft mechanic by trade, he had shifted to auto mechanics when Eastern and Braniff airlines went bankrupt.
At the previous sweeping company he worked as a sweeper operator for two weeks before he was promoted to supervisor, and soon after he was promoted to sweeper sales. “It was his past experience as a restaurant manager that helped him know how to manage people, and that company recognized that right away,” Diane says.
But after about a year Les decided to run his own sweeping business. “I decided I can do this myself, so I went and borrowed $1,000 and bought a Billy Goat blower and a backpack blower to clean with.” At the time he was also working part-time at a local grocery store “which helped pay for gas for sales calls.”