"People think that construction sweeping provides steady, regular dollars — and it does. But what people often don't realize is the big costs of staying in that business while still doing good work," Sanborn says. "That's where sweepers and, frankly, paving contractors, fall down."
He estimates that 80% of milling or paving contractors have, at some point in their lives, owned and operated a broom to clean the pavement before paving. He says it's not cost-effective for pavers to have a sweeper because they use it for only two hours on a job and then it sits there for six hours while the crew is paving.
"There are a lot of contractors out there who like to horde equipment because they like to own it, they like to have big fleets, and they like to have complete control over everything. They don't want to have to depend on anyone else — but they still only use it for two hours. Plus, they can't take the time to maintain the sweepers like they should be maintained so they break down more often."
Great American Sweeping maintains its construction sweeping machines every eight hours, pulling them out of service. "It's just like a pit crew at a race," he says. "Then we put them back out in the ready lines. Paving and milling crews can't do that."
Planning drives expansion
Started in October 1998, Great American Sweeping now bids work from five locations. "In most of the areas in which we bid work we are the largest sweeping contractor in that area," he says.
Sanborn says Great American Sweeping believes strongly in long-term planning and has followed its plan since opening its doors. He says long-term planning has enabled the company to continually buy new equipment, upgrading its fleet.
"We believe in planning our growth and not growing by the seat of our pants," he says. "Since 2000 we've averaged buying two or three sweepers a month, and by end of May this year we already will have purchased 11 units."
Including truck-mounted attenuators and pickup trucks, Great American Sweeping currently has more than 75 pieces of rolling stock. The company started numbering and tracking its equipment in 1998 and is now in the high 110s.
"All equipment numbered 30 or lower has been rotated out of use and only a few in the 30s are still active," Sanborn says. "So in five years we've turned over at least 35 pieces of equipment."
He says that while such quick growth and fast-paced equipment purchasing is out of the reach of many contract sweepers, Great American Sweeping has developed a variety of capital resources including institutional financial partners.
But Sanborn acknowledges that growth takes more than planning and money, and he spent a good deal of time determining what those other factors might be.
"I stepped back and decided that if we were going to grow and be successful we were going to have to hire specialists in every major area," he says. "I realized we needed a financial side, a sales side, a corporate development side. When we partnered with venture capitalists we had the financial side, and I had the operations side covered."
So the company hired Jeff Lovill as corporate development director, and "he is becoming a partner through sweat equity."
Training, higher pay for employees
Great American Sweeping gets all its work done by its employees — no subcontractors are used.
"We try to pay them the best we can, which is substantially above the going rate in the market," he says. "We want quality employees, dependable employees that we can count on to provide the level of quality and service we expect — and charge for. So if the market is paying $10 and hour, we're at $12.
"That's the only way to have dependable growth. If you retain your employees you can get them to buy into the concept that you're marketing. If you believe in a revolving door employment policy you simply can't expect employees to develop and provide the level of service you want them to."
Great American Sweeping has an extensive and long-term training program to keep its drivers up to date on the latest technology and techniques. New employees receive two weeks of training, which is followed by a battery of tests. Another test is administered at 30 days, and another test is administered each quarter.