Organizing sweeping routes is a constant challenge, a challenge made more difficult by changing tenants on properties and local noise ordinances (Katsam sweeps in 114 municipalities “and all of them have different noise ordinances”).
One hypothetical example: Assume a contractor sweeps a strip mall property with tenants that close by 9:00 p.m.; there’s no bar on the property so Katsam can sweep it at 11:00 p.m. “Then a bar opens on the property and suddenly you can’t sweep it until two or three in the morning because the parking lot is busy. Now you have to decide where to move that property on your routes to get it done, and you have to figure out not only which route to move it to but does it replace a property on the other route or are you adding a sweep to that route? What does that do to the other operator’s time? And where does that other driver have to come from to sweep that property at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning? How does it affect the rest of the route? And how is the route the bar property is taken from affected with one less sweep?”
Among the greatest savings Katsam has found have come through improving route density. “We try to group more properties closer together,” Nicholas says. “Less travel time means more time on the property.” Larko says improving route density can be tricky to manage and can encourage some sweeping contractors to bid a property for less than their “normal fee” if the property is within a route’s geographic area.
“But we don’t really cut prices bidding a job even if that job fills a gap in our route or even if it’s near by a route,” Larko says. “Say you bid that job at a lower rate to make sure you get it and because it fits well in that route. But what happens if you lose one of the anchor accounts on that route, say a big shopping center? Then you have a contract to sweep a property at a lower rate and smaller profit margin than you would typically do -- and maybe you are sweeping that property for less than you need and want. So all of a sudden you’ve got an unprofitable contract to sweep a job.
“So we try to keep bid work consistent,” he says. “We’ll go a little out of our way for some of our bigger customers, maybe to do a new property because they need it. But we try to maintain route density and if we add something out of our way that’s just something we do to help our customers.”
The Value of Training
Katsam discovered another area of cost savings when it looked into its hiring and training processes. A study the company had done estimated it cost $8000 to train an employee to get to a minimum level of proficiency. Results assumed a driver isn’t fully productive until at least 30 working days on the job: he’s slower to each parking lot as he learns the routes, he’s slower sweeping each lot as he learns what’s involved, he wears out tires more quickly (increasing tire costs), and there’s additional wear and tear on equipment until he learns to handle it better.
Once Katsam came to that realization they established a formal training program that requires a new operator to work a minimum of 40 hours of training before he’s cut loose on his own. “It’s a documented training program where they work through specific items each night, some of which are repeated from night to night. It’s not just one time,” Nicholas says. “It’s repetitive.”
He says the new driver spends at least his first night working outside the sweeper, not behind the wheel. “The new hire doesn’t know his way around and he doesn’t know the properties, so it makes sense to have someone else do the driving.” The experienced driver follows a checklist of what a driver needs to do on each lot and the hire learns from that.
Once a new driver is on his own, Katsam’s night supervisor checks on drivers and checks the parking lots they’ve swept. “You check on them while they’re learning and new to the job otherwise they develop bad habits,” Nicholas says.
Katsam’s turnover rate has plummeted since the training program was implemented. “We’re more selective to get the right candidate, and we either train them or make the decision early that they are not going to work out,” he says. “It does cost us a little more up front in overtime while we’re trying to find the right person, but once we find the right person it’s a longer-term cost savings.”