His first job was cleaning the parking lot of a small office building twice a month, for which he received $60 a month. “Gradually I built up accounts, and when I had enough to afford a sweeper payment on a truck – it took about six months – I bought my first sweeper, an Econo Sweeper from Masco.”
Armstrong says he bought only the sweeping unit from Masco because, with his mechanic’s skills he was capable of installing the unit on his 1985 Chevy half-ton truck by himself.” I bought the truck separate and the sweeper separate, and I mounted it myself,” he says.
And sweeping with a truck made all the difference in the world.
“Sweeping was much easier, and that gave me more time to go out and make sales calls,” he says. “I made a lot of cold calls, did a lot of knocking on doors, and I think I was able to break through because I guaranteed them a clean parking lot because I was going to be the one doing the sweeping – nobody else,” he says.
“That approach worked very well because people realized that if they asked me to do something it got taken care of and they didn’t have to worry about it,” he says. “If they had something extra to be done we’d do it and then we’d make a follow-up phone call to let them know that it had been taken care of. That’s something they really appreciated, and that approach got us a lot of work.”
Around that time Diane was raising the couple’s children and pitching in at the company when she could. Around the holidays she dressed up her two young sons and visited customers’ offices bringing small gifts. “People loved that,” she says. “We brought small gifts to the customers at random times of the year, spread it around a little so it was unexpected, to show our appreciation for the work they gave us. And they loved seeing the boys.”
The business was growing slowly, and by the fall of 1989 Stripe-N-Sweep could afford another Masco sweeper. “That’s when I started hiring people,” Les says. And that started a regular pattern that continues to today: good work led to more customers and growth, which led to the purchase of another sweeper, which led to more customers and growth etc.
“Because we did quality work and were reliable our name got around and we grew enough that we were able to add one or in some cases two sweepers a year,” he says. The company added sweepers in 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994 until they reached the current total of nine.
“Then we started rotating old trucks for new trucks, replacing them to help maintain productivity and job quality as the units wore down,” he says.
Armstrong says he had used Masco sweepers with his first sweeping company he had worked at, and given his mechanic’s background, the equipment was a good fit for Stripe-N-Sweep. “With my mechanics background they are a good fit for our company because I can do the maintenance,” he says. “Plus many of the parts are available locally. I don’t have to send out to get something I need.”
GPS for Accountabilityand Marketing
Partly to help encourage operator accountability but also to help with marketing, Stripe-N-Sweep invested 10 years ago in a Global Positioning System (GPS), which it installed on all sweepers. Les says that while the company does use it to make sure operators don’t go off route, it’s most important use is to give the customer more confidence that the work is done as promised.
The Telogis GPS Stripe-N-Sweep uses not only shows the time a sweeper truck pulled onto and off of a parking lot, it will place a dot on a satellite map of the property every minute indicating where the sweeper is and it will track the operator’s speed.
“Because we’re working at night and customers don’t see us, they’re never really sure if we’re there,” Les says. “So if we get any questions we can show them a printout of what time we were there and show them a satellite photo of proof that we were where we were supposed to be.”
Diane says the contractor has some customers who want that GPS report attached to their invoices every month. “And we gladly provide that for them. It’s a big selling point,” she says.