CAM Services is a California-based company that was started in 1987 by Jim Swindle, now the company’s CEO. He began with six employees, two trucks and a vision of providing honest, professional property maintenance services to Southern California’s commercial real estate market. Swindle, who was a writer, was approached by a property manager looking for a ‘one call does it all’ solution. Part of what he offered Swindle was an in-house office he could also use for his writing.
Armed with degrees are in English literature from UCLA and San Francisco State University, under Swindle’s leadership the company has grown exponentially in size and services to a five office firm servicing more than 1,300 properties across 14 California counties.
Our accompanying podcast interview was primarily with CAM president, David A. Herrera, although with some comments being made by the company’s marketing director, Heather Borges. Herrera started with CAM Services in 1991, working his way up to company president in 2003. Herrera, who says he has direct experience in every aspect of CAM’s operations, sales and management, holds a bachelor’s degree from UCLA and an MBA from Pepperdine.
We strongly recommend that any contractor wanting to expand their market share, especially in regard to building a full-service sweeping and exterior maintenance company, invest the time to listen to the 45-minute audio podcast linked at the bottom of this article.
In terms of size and scope, CAM Services has 550 sweeping clients and about 1900 unique service contracts that service over 1300 properties in their 14-county region.These are served from a total of five offices, each of which is staffed by people local to each of the office’s locations. Although the firm started out as a local operation, over the last 27 years it has been morphed into a property maintenance firm with literally billions of dollars of assets under its care.
As might be expected, CAM Services has a varied client list studded with household names, from Amtrak and Public Storage to the City of Malibu and UCLA. “We’re very proud of the many fine organizations on our client list,” said Herrera. “The second thing we take pride in is our top quality customer service, which we make a top priority. We pride ourselves on making our clients ‘raving fans,’ which we modeled after a book by the same name.”
In the accompanying 45-minute podcast, Herrera relates out-of-the-box examples of the length his team has gone to in helping customers. These include going to the rescue of a customer stranded on the freeway in need of gasoline as well as mobilizing many employees in CAM – and not just their service personnel but management, as well, stressed Herrera – to fill sandbags when a client property was in danger of flooding. When asked why a customer might come to feel they can call CAM personnel for something like running out of gas, Herrera was quick to respond. “I’d like to think that’s the foundation of our company’s success. We talk with our people who are working with our clients every day about building personal relationships and what those lead to. Potential customers need to understand what you’re trying to do and, in the meantime, you don’t forget about that person.
“Coming back to the raving fan concept that we do our best to propagate here: We actually reward anyone in our organization that does something that we call a ‘plus one’ event. People who do something that is a plus one are nominated by their peers and every month we have a Raving Fan Champion. That’s something we do to try to create that right kind of proactive nature in our people. That’s just one of the reasons why, when we hire new employees, we look for personality fit, cultural fit and professional fit. That, too, is one of the keys to our success.”
In addition to the sweeping, CAM Services also does high pressure steam cleaning, landscaping, day porter and inside janitorial. In the last few years, in response to the changing legal landscape in California, the firm has also expanded to encompass ADA compliance and combating storm water runoff, both of which have come to the fore tremendously in the state. “Properties have to meet certain codes and guidelines,” said Herrera, “and our team has gained the knowledge needed to professionally assist our customers in those areas, as well.
“Our third point of emphasis throughout our company is to increase the curb appeal of the properties we service as well as increase the peace of mind of those who entrust those properties to our care. All this is done in an environmentally-sensitive manner. On behalf of our clients, we’re on the lookout for anything that might be going on at the property, from irrigation breaks to graffiti to illegal dumping – anything that might detract from a property’s condition.”
To underscore CAM’s environmental commitment, over the last four years the firm’s management and sales vehicles have been moved to a fleet of 25 hybrid vehicles. Because of the drought situation in California, they have also become experts in smart irrigation and in teaching other environmentally-sensible techniques.
Herrera detailed how the company has chosen to expand its geographic footprint through the years. Primarily, this has been the result of clients wanting to have the service excellence they saw from CAM Services expanded to their more distant locations. Expansion to central California took place because one of their long-time customers, Smart and Final, offered them a portfolio with many locations in their Los Angeles ‘wheelhouse,’ but the offer also came with a catch: To take those, CAM needed to also accept another 10 properties that were located from two-to-four hours north.
“When an offer for these types of expansions occurs you have to evaluate your appetite for risk,” said Herrera. “You have to accept that you need to take it on if you want to grow into a major player and to do that you need some of those major brands in your portfolio. That’s what ultimately drove us to open our fifth office in the Fresno area.”
Marketing manager, Heather Borges, when asked if it’s a plus or a negative that CAM Services is such a large organization when it comes to convincing a prospect that they should do business with the firm, had a ready answer. “Although we have a large company, our local offices are all staffed by quality people from that particular locale, people who have long lived there and who know the area and are a part of the community.
“One of the hard things for us is that we do service so many types of organizations, from HOAs to communities, to business improvement districts to shopping centers large and small. We try to be educational in our marketing: It’s not just about ‘look at this promotion.’ We have a newsletter and include photos of our employees and tell their stories. We also [use social media] to share the stories about our companies. We do many events and take many steps to show our customers that we’re not just their vendor but, rather, their partner.
“That we have so many different types of clients and provide so many services is really a plus for us, because [our employees] get onto a property and something will catch their eye. For example, recently ADA compliance has become increasingly important. Although California only has 12% of the disabled population of the U.S., 40% of the accessibility lawsuits are filed here. So, we try to be really knowledgeable and get that information out in our marketing, so our customers know we can handle virtually anything that comes up at their property. We also have many layers of management and emphasize getting any problems out right away to the benefit of our clients. Part of that is having your clients feel comfortable enough to share their issues with you, as well as having them know you’ll notify them of anything on the property that they should know.”
By having distinctive logos on its fleet, CAM Services is a highly visible organization throughout its market area. Borges emphasized that this distinguishes the organization as a top-notch firm at the head of its field. She also remarked that significant inquiries, and subsequent business, are produced from the fact that CAM Services’ fleet is so visible on the roadways.
In the accompanying podcast, Herrera provides an extensive overview of the many ways the company ties in the current green movement with its services. These range from use of the alternative vehicle fleet to employee training on green methods and advantages; to recognition that clients want environmentally-friendly cleaners and other products; to alerting customers to how they can improve their businesses by implementing green changes in how they operate. All comprise the complete professional package that CAM Services offers to its extensive customer base.
“We keep abreast of any sustainability initiatives that might help our customers,” said Herrera. “These include things like looking for rebates our customers might be able to receive from cities, counties or states for putting in low flush toilets, or smart irrigation or even by changing out their lighting. These are things that often require an initial investment but have an ROI that usually breaks even within 18 months and then saves them money after that. We don’t just think of the basic maintenance we can do, but also include all the other value we can bring to the table. Then, we bring this to our client base through our newsletters, social media and our marketing.”
To track all the suggestions they have for clients, CAM has developed an app for that task through Field One, the system that provides the backbone of the service. It’s a custom app that is on the smartphone or tablet of the company’s management team. Whatever they find, even if they are items that are liabilities but not handled by the CAM organization, photos are taken and uploaded to the Cloud and, ultimately, to the client and to internal CAM management. It’s then left to the client as to what the next step should be. Increased compensation is made available to employees who spot these items in order to provide them with added incentive to do a great job.
To date, Herrera indicated that the company has chosen not to work with third party vendors. He does, however, aver that because of CAM’s size they are able to compete in some instances by having a similar role as that normally taken by these national service providers. Interestingly, the low pricing models that third party vendors typically offer was not cited as the principal reason CAM doesn’t do work for them. Rather, Herrera said their company philosophy contradicts any business model where they are removed from the role of primary provider to that of a sub-contractor. This goes back to CAM’s ‘raving fan’ commitment to direct customer service excellence, something an intermediary would disrupt.
“We’re almost at a level of being able to compete [with third party vendors],” said Herrera. “What we’re trying to work out for the future is what model can work out for both CAM Services and that third party vendor. I think probably the biggest factor in the way is control, us being the sub versus the prime. There may be an opportunity on a regional basis but it hasn’t worked out yet. Third party vendors may be a way for a smaller company to get its start, but for many reasons it’s not right for us.”
CAM Services utilizes GPS on its sweeper fleet, which is comprised of TYMCO 210 and Skavin’ger sweepers. The tracking system is primarily used for substantiating when service was performed on a property. There are many, varied, noise ordinances in the myriad cities in which CAM operates, including places like Santa Monica where backpack blowers are banned. More often, a GPS report can be provided to a customer who has received a complaint about noise before a certain time when heavy equipment is not supposed to be in operation. With the GPS system, Herrera said, they can back up their service times to the benefit of their clientele.
Because of the many noise restrictions, Herrera says they have learned that having crews with brooms and dustpans are the best solution for some of the smaller strip malls and related types of clients. “There’s no way we can start at 7am for a wide range of clients who need that time frame, and if you wait much longer to get to them the properties just are not accessible for thorough cleaning,” Herrera said. “In some areas that allow it, we have backpack blower teams that do the cleanup without a sweeper, also. We’ve just seen that this is the best way to serve the pavement cleaning needs of our customers.”
CAM Services comes across as a well-honed, competent organization across all aspects of its operation. Word of mouth is relied on as a primary driver for both new business and for new employees. Customer service is encouraged to be over the top and promptly rewarded when that occurs. And, if Herrera and Borges set the tone, the management team is professional and well organized. No wonder the company is entrusted with being the lead agency when it comes for caring for billions of dollars worth of client properties.
CAM Services’ Heather Borges and/or David Herrera may be contacted through the company’s website, located at www.CAMServices.com.