Depending on how you look at them, national service providers can be either a tack in the tire of your sweeping company, a constant threat that can undermine your position in the market and your profit margin, or they can be an avenue of growth and an opportunity to generate more business with little up-front costs.
But no matter how you view them, national service providers aren't going away. They offer their clients — the same clients sweeping contractors (and other independent contractors) rely on — one-stop shopping for a variety of property management services.
But in recent years, driven by property managers swamped with multiple locations throughout the country, the pressure to streamline internal operations, and the need to reduce management (and maintenance) costs, national service providers (NSPs) have become more of a factor in the contract sweeping market. As NSPs see it, they can be a competitor to independent contract sweepers — or they can be an ally. NSP spokespersons say independent sweeping contractors are essential to the success of their business, so valued that several NSPs refer to their independent contractors as "partners."
"If the contractor's got the right attitude and views us as a partner and as one of his customers, then there are generally no issues," says Bob Steinhagen, vice president of national accounts for U.S. Maintenance, an NSP based in Norristown, PA. "Our primary focus is in making the client happy and making money. We price our service so we can make money and the contractor can make money. No one is going to make an obscene amount of money from one client, but if you work hard and do a good job you can make a reasonable amount of money and, through the relationship with us, you can grow your business."
Kevin Dent, CEO of Dentco, DeWitt, MI, says many of the contractors associated with his NSP "wouldn't be where they are today if it wasn't for the work they do for us. They are contractors who grew their business and benefited tremendously by working with us," Dent says. "On the flip side are contractors who are working directly for the customer and they don't like involvement from companies like ours because if the customer ends up hiring us, the contractor may get paid less. We do not know this until we talk with the contractor. The customer's objective is often to save money."
What is a national service provider?
Essentially a national service provider is a single-source provider of a specified range of services to national clients that have multiple locations. NSPs rely on local sweeping contractors to get the work done. In some cases contract sweepers pay a fee to become part of the NSP's network of contractors. In other cases no fee is required. The NSP makes its money on the savings to the customer and on the difference between what it pays the contractor and what it charges the customer.
Here's a sampling of NSPs that offer sweeping services:
- Dentco — Performing as an independent contractor since 1977; doing business as Dentco since 1996, starting with 400 SBC Ameritech properties in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. "Getting that work done for SBC was the basis for building the infrastructure for Dentco," Dent says. Dentco started as an NSP in 1997, self-performing all its jobs until last year. Today, with 22 clients and 500 contractors working with the company nationwide, Dentco provides exterior service management, including core services of parking lot maintenance, snow and ice control, and landscape maintenance.
- Genesis Facility Management — Based in South Bend, IN, Genesis handles four national accounts with more than 300 sweeping contracts. Genesis offers "any service a facility might require."
- Symbiot — Started in 1999 and based in Utah, Symbiot offers services nationwide in five "networks": Sweeping, snow removal, landscaping, pest management, and interior work. It relies on more than 600 contractors, who pay a fee to become business partners, to get the work done.
- U.S. Maintenance — Started in 1990, U.S. Maintenance provides services including sweeping, parking lot maintenance, and snow removal to more than 20,500 retail locations using more than 3,500 contractors. The NSP handles a half dozen sweeping accounts nationwide.