No matter where you live in the world, commercial sweeping is pretty much the same job. The way in which each business operates is what makes each company different, and depending on their practices, successful.
Commercial Power Sweep Inc. (CPSI), located in Napa, CA, has been operating in the competitive and increasingly regulation heavy California market since 1965 and continues to grow. CPSI owner Ken Lindsey has seen many changes in the sweeping industry and knows that adapting his business around those changes is key to the success of the company.
“As with any business, and especially in today's competing market, I feel it is very important to be able to adapt to other business opportunities within this expanding and dynamic market,” he says. “If you can't or don't, you will get swallowed up by the companies that are doing so.”
CPSI started off as a parking lot sweeping company back in the mid-60s. As the company grew and the housing industry and road construction started to boom within the greater Bay Area, Lindsey’s father saw an opportunity in the mid-1970s to go into the construction sweeping arena. To date, this is the largest portion of revenue for their business. The company then diversified into Municipal street sweeping in the early 1980s.
When Lindsey joined the business in the late 1990s, he transitioned the business from the mom and pop shop his parents operated, rented an office downtown, hired a payroll company and a bookkeeper, and diligently worked on growing his business.
“When I first started with CPSI, I made sure the company was certified right away with the State of California as a small business vendor,” Lindsey said. “That gave us an advantage and the opportunity to bid on city and state projects where sweeping was in need. Suddenly we got a call from the Federal government asking if we leased sweepers. At the time we didn’t but after that phone call we sure wanted to give it a shot.”
This initial lease with the government was only to last a month or two, however the lease was extended to 13 months. After the lease was up and the sweeper was returned, Lindsey had the opportunity to sell the sweeper to another sweeping company out of state and did so.
Lindsey and his team now buy and refurbish sweepers from all over the country to lease and rent to businesses that may not need a sweeper in their fleet full time. The company also sells those sweepers if the interest is there. Today, CPSI will sometimes operate 20 plus sweepers on a daily basis within their regular sweeping operation. They operate three main “brands” of sweepers in their active fleet, but have a variety of sweepers in their overall fleet including Athey, Mobil, Alliance, Elgin, Husky, Masco, Tennant, Nitehawk, Stewart-Amos, Johnston, MadVac, Green Machine, Tymco and Schwarze.
“I’ve bought them from all over the U.S.,” Lindsey says. “Sweeper leasing and sales offset the slow months. We may perform the bulk of our construction sweeping May through December, then slow down for the next five months. Parking lot sweeping typically carries us through winter.
“Some customers have had to cut back, but rather than losing a customer, we’ve been able to lease or sell them an unmanned sweeper.”
While they do offer “manned” sweeping services where they send an operator to do the work, CPSI finds it’s sometimes more appropriate or economical to let other businesses rent the unit (if the opportunity is there) and they then worry with about the personnel for the sweeper.
Being based in California offers many challenges that other businesses just don’t have. Being required to comply with yearly smoke opacity testing for each vehicle in their fleet at a cost of $75-$100 per test is one of those challenges. Lindsey realized those costs were going to get out of control fast for his company with so many sweeping units.
“This test was so expensive that I bought my own machine and decided to get certified to complete the testing,” Lindsey says. “The machine paid for itself within two years and now we’re able to make money from the device, offering the testing service to the general public.”
CPSI is also positioning themselves in preparation for increasingly stringent storm water runoff regulations.
“As these regulations increase, I see us expanding our catch basin cleaning services,” Lindsey says. “We aren’t providing much right now, but we’re ready to expand in to that more aggressively as the need arises.”
Feeling of Family
Lindsey currently has about 22 employees on his staff who complete sweeping jobs and maintenance for their fleet.
“Operating so many sweepers a day can be very challenging,” Lindsey says. And luckily he hasn’t had to worry too much about turnover and training.
“CPSI has always treated it's employees like family,” he says. “We have great longevity with our employees with some of them being with the company for over 25 years. Honestly, we have not had a high rate of turnover. It is important for the employees to know their worth within the company...listening to their needs and recognizing them as a valuable part of the business."
Lindsey has taken employee retention advice from Vistage member Craig Kramers who was a keynote speaker at NPE.
"“Touching the four corners" Is something that is so important to me,” Lindsey says. “Talk to your employees, value them, make them feel like they have worth and that you are not above them...appreciate them! Every day I say hello to all of my employees and personally shake each one of their hands when I come to work and when I leave. I tell them thank you and have a genuine interest in how they are doing in their personal lives as well as their work life.”
As the 2013 president of the North American Power Sweeping Association (NAPSA), Lindsey also knows the importance industry involvement has on the success of a business.
“I never thought I would be so involved in the industry, but I am so lucky that I am,” Lindsey says. “The connections I have made through the associations have not only helped me to grow my business, but to better it. Our business wouldn’t be where it is today if I hadn’t been involved in the associations and applied the things that I have learned to our operations. You can’t find those things out without being involved.”
Lindsey encourages everyone to become involved in the industries they do business in as a means to grow and become part of something bigger than just one company.
“I am very blessed and honored to know so many great people within the industry,” Lindsey says. “I have so many great friendships through the network of people I have met through associations such as NAPSA and 1800SWEEPER as well as venues such as venues such as NPE.
“I am truly honored and grateful CPSI has received this award. It is only through my great employees, and the great values, morals and integrity that have been instilled in me that has helped build the foundation of a successful business.”