Mister Sweeper is one of the oldest and largest power sweeping companies in the United States. The company was founded in 1965 by David Franklin, prior to when most property managers had even heard of the concept of sweeping commercial properties. At that time there weren’t even a class of chassis-mounted sweepers being built for handling parking areas.
Franklin actually formed the original company with a partner, Clyde Jackson. Both of them were students at Southern Methodist University and formed the firm together as ‘Mister Services, Inc.’ Initially, the two provided a number of different property management services. After college, Jackson went to work in the real estate field and Franklin took over the business, changing the name along the way as sweeping came more to the fore.
About 10 years later, Franklin became a quadriplegic when he hit a rock while diving into a lake in an attempt to save a drowning child. So, for the last 30 years of his life, he managed his company with that handicap. However, Franklin’s company flourished because of his nucleus of competent employees who were fervent in their support of both Franklin and the company. Many of those individuals continue to work for Mister Sweeper today.
“We have an amazingly tenured employee base,” said Jodie Thompson, who purchased the company in January of 2006. “Our 87 employees represent about 650 years of combined experience running a sweeping operation. In implementing and following through with the many innovations that David Franklin developed, they have positioned Mister Sweeper at the forefront of our industry where we are today.”
Mister Sweeper has its home office in the Dallas/Ft. Worth market area, with a satellite office in Houston, as well. These are the largest two markets in Texas. Although the company only performs sweeping in Houston, the Dallas/Ft. Worth location also does several other services, including power washing, large item removal, day portering and sub-contracting striping to assist clients. In Houston only parking area and street sweeping is provided.
The vast majority of the company’s sweepers are TYMCO model 210 and 600 air sweepers, although in order to cover the entire needs of its clientele, Mister Sweeper also employs Elgin Eagles and Superior Roads Solutions (was Sweeprite) broom sweepers. The firm’s motto is “We sweep while you sleep.”
And sweep they do: The Mister Sweeper Team handles sweeping for about 1100 properties each month in Dallas/Ft. Worth alone. These include retail centers, but also many industrial sites, warehouses, hospitals and wherever else needs sweeping services.
Thompson says it’s “somewhat of a mixed bag” when asked what percentage of the company’s clients hire them for just sweeping, vs. wanting them to perform the other services like power washing. He added that, because there’s never a way to know for certain that any sweeping-only customer fully realizes the non-sweeping services Mister Sweeper handles, he said his sales personnel do the best job they can to emphasize to their renewal customers, especially, that Mister Sweeper is more than just a power sweeping company.
In terms of requirements for sweepers at Texas construction sites, Thompson says that smaller project managers typically call them in just in order to pass inspections, since Texas law does not require sweepers to be onsite at all construction projects. However, many of its clients are Fortune 500 companies, and their building projects usually are larger and they often know the value in having a sweeper on the site along with all the other equipment.
“It all depends upon the inspector that’s been assigned to the job,” said Thompson. “Obviously the larger the project and the more dirt that’s being tracked out the more likelihood they’ll want us there on a regular, scheduled, basis. However, on the other hand, new subdivisions may get built and not have a sweeper on them until they need an inspector to check off on a final. That’s when they call on us to clean up the site and make it shine.”
The company’s website, MisterSweeper.com, offers a wide range of information on all of the services provided by the firm. Included are also links to brochures about their various services. The site also offers a great ‘call to action,’ which is “Contact us for a rapid response.”, not just “contact us.” In addition, links are provided to the company’s various social media platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube, where a number of videos have been done about them.
Although the EPA is getting more involved with sweeping, Thompson says currently there aren’t a ton of regulations in the state of Texas. There are, however, public awareness programs that are becoming increasingly prolific. These are designed to educate the public that what goes down storm drains ends up in rivers and lakes. This is spurring more organizations to sweep with an eye toward pollutant removal, rather than just cosmetics, and this ultimately results in a win/win for the environment.
“Today, anyway, there’s much more regulation in the power washing field than there is in sweeping,” said Thompson. “We try to do everything by the book, putting berms down to block the waste water from going into any sanitary sewers and so forth. We typically pick all the water up and treat it before putting it into a sanitary sewer. We do that voluntarily because we know its the BMP for power washing with hot water, like we do. The closer you get to the Gulf of Mexico, though, the more practices are mandate. For that reason, regulations are more stringent in Houston than they are in Dallas/Ft. Worth.”
Before he passed away, David Franklin developed two patented products, both of which are in use by the Mister Sweeper organization. Franklin would have ideas for, and then design, products in his head, says Thompson. He would then hire other people build them or implement them for him. One, the Sidekick blower, is like a small jet engine that is mounted onto a sweeper. It is used to blow debris into the path of the sweeper. All of the company’s parking lot sweepers have a Sidekick mounted right onto the sweeper. Each Sidekick develops the velocity of a combined 16 backpack blowers and are in widespread use for a number of the company’s clients. In parking garages, where a sweeper can’t get next to the walls, the Sidekick units have proven to be especially beneficial.
“David Franklin designed the Sidekick through a company called Buffalo Turbine,” said Thompson, “and that’s also the company that continues to manufacture them on our behalf today. The units look like a jet engine and they move a very high volume of air. The sweeper drives along with it operating and the Sidekick blows the debris off the sidewalk and onto the paved area in front of the sweeper where it may be picked up. In parking garages, especially, the machine is critical because otherwise you have to get debris out from behind all the curb stops so it may be picked up with the sweeper. The Sidekick eliminates a lot of the need for an operator to get out of the cab and operate a backpack blower.
“The handwork just takes so much less time when we use the Sidekick. It keeps the driver behind the wheel and not out of the truck working a blower. It clearly enables us to sweep more quickly for our customers. Since we do work by the hour, the faster you can do a job then the more jobs you can do on a shift and the less expensive it is for the customer. We have a Sidekick mounted onto every one of our 24 TYMCO 210 parking lot sweepers and, to us, they’re indispensable.”
The other patented innovation pioneered by David Franklin is called a ‘Grime Grinder.’ “The Grime Grinder is a power washing truck that heats water to 200-degrees and then sprays it at 3,000 psi,” Thompson said. “This is used for ‘super cleaning’ concrete surfaces like parking garages. The apparatus is chassis-mounted and consists of multiple spray heads under the vehicle’s cleaning apparatus.
“This machine does a tremendous job: You can’t get all the stains off concrete, but with this machine you can sure get rid of many of them and all of the daily grime. Due to the heat and the power of the unit, the Grime Grinder is used for concrete only, not asphalt. The primary use is in parking garages although if you can get the machine onto any other type of concrete surface, including sidewalks, it does a great job. It makes the pavement shine and you can absolutely see a definitive line where it’s been used.”
Mister Sweeper’s Grime Grinder is typically mounted onto a Ford F-350 or F-450 flatbed chassis. It employs a head that drops down hydraulically, much like a sweeper, and under the head are the spray nozzles that are the heart of the system. The real advantage of the machine, in addition to thoroughness of cleaning, is speed. Unlike a standard power washing system employed by an individual who’s walking, the Grime Grinder offers a wider cleaning path and accomplishes the job much quicker.
“We don’t drive super fast,” said Thompson, “but it’s a lot faster than someone with a wand or a flat spinner apparatus can accomplish. We get the job done two-to-three times faster. That saves time and money and, in the case of a parking garage or other facility that has to be closed during cleaning, taking less time is a tremendous advantage for the customer.”
Mister Sweeper’s operation employs a proprietary GPS tracking system that’s deployed throughout its vehicle fleet. This is done via a companion company called Summary Systems.
“We have real-time GPS on all of our sweepers,” said Thompson. “David Franklin hired a ‘green’ computer science graduate to design his system at the time. Then, it has been continuously upgraded over time. We can put onto a vehicle whatever inputs we want, such as is the sweeper being operated, is anyone sitting in the seat and whatever else we want.
“However, what we’ve found is that someone has to keep track of all that, whatever the inputs are they have to be tracked and maintained. Over time we’ve learned that many of these don’t really matter and that all that data were difficult to maintain. Now we just keep track of where the sweeper is; i.e., is it on a client property or not and how long was it there? Initially, the system pinged every second. That turned out to be a lot of information so now we’ve moved to tracking where the sweeper is at every 20 second interval.
“We build a geo-fence around all the properties electronically and then we track when that field is broken. That is enough frequency to allow management and the customer, if they request the data, to see if the driver went to clean all the places he was supposed to and so forth.
“We can put projected information into the system and it spits out a price for what we should charge. For clients, I typically track a leading 10-month history, which tells me the average number of minutes the cleaning job takes for a given client. Once we have a sweeping history for a property, we can bid on rock solid information and know exactly what we should be charging. Sometimes that means a price reduction for our customer and I’ve never met a client who didn’t like getting the news they were receiving a lower price for future services.”
Thompson offered several tips to other parking lot sweeping contractors: “Each evening before our sweepers go out, we add five-to-10 gallons of water to the hopper of our sweeper,” he said. “Just adding that little amount of water will really help keep the dust down, as well as keep material from clinging to, and eventually clogging, the sweeper’s screen. Doing this also allows our sweeper to pick up better.”
He also provided another tip for those looking for good employees in this time of an economy that’s heating up. “Most people advertise on Craigslist, and we have, as well. However, we recently tried a service called Indeed.com. It works on the model where you pay for the click-throughs and we’ve gotten so much response that we’ve had to stop the ads. We’ll definitely go back to Indeed.com again. We got somewhere over 50 applications and it was quite cost-effective.
“We’re in a big market and for us to run a decent-sized ad in the Dallas Morning News is going to cost in the thousands of dollars. What I like about Indeed is they say, ‘What is your budget?’ and that’s what you spend. I can decide that I want to spend $100 today and then the results are what they are. I believe we paid $1.25 per applicant and that’s good [to get a number of good employee leads]. I was surprised about the quantity of good applicants but that, to me, confirms that print is dying and online access is increasing for those we want to work for us.”
In wrapping up our interview, Jodie Thompson made a comment that is clearly being applied to his own organization and, at the same time, is also a good reminder for others: “The most important thing, I think, is to keep a great attitude,” he reminded. “I heard a motivational speaker a few years ago who said when someone asks you how you’re doing, your response should be ‘Unbelievable!’ When times are good that works well and, if you think about it, when they’re not so good that response works, as well. However, there’s no question that having a positive attitude helps in all aspects of life, both business and personal.”
Jodie Thompson may be reached via the Mister Sweeper website.