Brent stresses the importance of watching your cash flow and knowing your overhead. “You can’t properly bid a job if you don’t know what your cost is,” he says. “How do you know if you’re bidding enough to cover your costs?” To figure out this information, Brent created a matrix to show the impact to his bottom line of 10%, 15% and 20% profit margins. He calculated this by evaluating how long it took to sweep a job, travel time, fuel and employee costs with benefits. By looking at those calculations for a specific time period it gave Brent a guideline to bidding jobs.
Cultivating seasoned employees
In an industry where contractors can experience a high turnover rate in employees, Brent has been fortunate to retain his employees. CPM’s day foreman has been with the company for nearly 22 years, and he is followed by other employees who have been with the company from 8 to 18 years.
Brent credits specific CPM efforts with developing seasoned employees. “We are fortunate to be able to offer employees vacation, personal time and health insurance,” Brent says. “We pay for 100% of the cost for each full time employee and they are responsible for family coverage. We also have a retirement plan with a matching contribution. To afford them we must be profitable. To be profitable, employees recognize they must do their part.”
Employees must provide quality work, work quickly, safely and thoroughly giving customers what they pay for in the most efficient manner possible. “Drivers must also take care of their equipment and sweepers to minimize damages and expensive repairs,” Brent says. “Therefore, if we are able to train and keep experienced drivers our repair bills will decrease.”
Another important dynamic of the employees at CPM involves Brent’s succession plan. Although he is unsure when he will retire, he is already working on his succession plan. By giving his higher level employees more responsibility, he is able to travel for a few weeks at a time working strictly via e-mail and phone. To ensure the employees skill-sets are up to par for the added responsibilities, Brent completes one-on-one training with the higher-level employees.
Adjusting to the economy
Similar to most sweepers in the industry, CPM has also experienced several cutbacks from its clients due to the current economy. “It’s hard to totally cut out a service, but they will cut it back,” Brent says. “We are seeing people who used to sweep seven nights cut back to five or three nights. They are doing everything to cut their overhead because they have vacancies or tenants are paying less.”
Brent has also witnessed clients cancel their services with CPM for a competitor with a cheaper bid. Despite losing some clients to a low bidder, Brent emphasizes the importance of maintaining professionalism. “Anytime we’ve lost a customer it’s been on good terms,” he says. “I’ve found that it is important to not burn bridges and hope they come back.”
Brent notes that leaving a business relationship on good terms allows him to possibly obtain the work in the future should the low-bidder not meet the client’s standards. His view on parting ways has allowed CPM to win back some clients that left for the low bidder.
Efficiency is critical for CPM when adjusting to the cutbacks by clients, and Brent has been able to ensure his crews efficiency without using GPS or other programs. “We’ve been proactive with monitoring the routes and providing quality control,” he says. “If they’re doing their job properly, minimizing customer complaints, and minimizing damage to the trucks we don’t feel the need to spend the extra money on monitoring equipment.”
While cutbacks occur with his clients, Brent looks to make the difference in revenue by recruiting new business and offering additional services. “We are always on the lookout for new niches we can add without spending a lot of money up front,” he says. “I bought a power washing business 10-15 years ago. That part of the business has grown for us, and it’s been profitable. I look for things we can do and do efficiently.”
Along with power washing, Brent tried his hand at striping. “We striped parking lots at first,” he says. “I couldn’t do it as well as other people, so we stopped striping. What we did was refer to certain stripers we respected, and in turn they started referring sweeping business to us. We each work on our own expertise and refer to help each other out.”