What happens when partners with two competing management styles bump heads? What happens when one is a blue sky visionary intent on profit and growth and the other is a micro manager intent on day-to-day details and protecting employees? What if one is the son and the other is the father? What if the son has been running the operation successfully for years and the father steps in, takes control, and redirects the company's efforts?
These were all questions Michael Nawa, owner and president of Custom Maintenance Services, Shippensburg, PA, never asked himself, yet they are all questions he came to learn the answers to over the years. And perhaps not surprisingly, Nawa learned that both approaches to running a business can work, but the businesses they result in are completely different from one another.
The story of Custom Maintenance Services is actually the story of two sweeping companies: Industrial Grounds Maintenance (IGM), which Nawa started and which his father, Andrew, assumed control of, and Custom Maintenance Services (CMS), which Michael Nawa started in 2000 after leaving Industrial Grounds Maintenance. It is the story of conflicting management styles and conflicting goals — both of which resulted in successful sweeping companies. But it becomes a question, Nawa says, of not only where you want to go, but how you want to get there.
Where he wants to be
Today Nawa is where he wants to be. His Custom Maintenance Services has grown from a contract sweeping-focused business that billed less than $500,000 in sales in 2000 to a broader pavement maintenance company that he expects will bill almost $1.5 million this year.
Today CMS operates nine Schwarze Supervac sweepers and maintains parking lots in 85 shopping centers, all of which are strip malls. Nawa says 10% of CMS's contracts are to provide broader maintenance services, including sweeping, snow removal, and pavement repair — the vision Nawa has had for years. Only 10 of the properties are sweeping-only clients. Nawa says 70% of sales are sweeping and 30% are all other pavement maintenance services combined.
CMS employs 25 people, all cross-trained to perform a variety of work from sweeping to line striping. CMS has 10 sweeper drivers, a four-person crew that fills cracks and repairs pavement, a two-person line striping crew, two landscaping crews, a night supervisor, two office workers, two estimators, and one sales person. CMS relies on screened subcontractors for sealcoating and large-scale paving work.
"All employees are trained on sweeping first. Even if you're coming in as a striper we train you as a sweeper driver first," he says.
Nawa says that first and foremost Custom Maintenance Services is a sweeping contractor — and all work flows from that.
"If you're not a sweeping customer, you're not a customer at all," he says. "We don't market our pavement maintenance services to customers who aren't our sweeping customers."
Nawa says CMS has turned down pavement maintenance jobs from companies that are not its sweeping customers because those companies are more interested in cherry-picking lowest-priced service and not in developing a working relationship.
"They want us to come in and repair their pavement or restripe their parking lot but then they'll give their sweeping work to someone else who is cheaper," Nawa says. "We just don't do business that way. If you want our service, if you want our help on all your property, then you have to hire us to sweep."
He is pursuing growth by mining a niche of small markets, and he's using small branch offices to do it. In addition to the Shippensburg headquarters and warehouse, the company has five branches: DuBoise, State College, Williamsport, Bloomsburg, and Carlisle. Each branch operates as an independent profit center and has one truck and two employees (except Carlisle, which has five sweepers, seven people, and houses much of the company's non-sweeping equipment).