by Ranger Kidwell-Ross
Up until 1990, Bruce and Susan Rice owned and operated a western wear and horse equipment store in the North Denver, Colorado, area. However, in 1990 the western industry fell into a depression, which left them without a viable operation.
Needing something to take them off the rolls of the unemployed, Bruce Rice says, they put an ad in the paper offering to do residential cleaning. The next day, they got calls on the ad and found themselves in business once more. Over time, the couple moved their business model from residential cleaning to a commercial-only model, building the company to handling as many as 1200 apartment complexes. In addition to cleaning and window cleaning, they also did painting.
In 1994 the pair branched out into doing snow removal for the same clients. However, in 2004 Bruce was hired to manage a power sweeping company in the area, which he did for a little over five years. In 2009, though, the couple decided to go back into business for themselves. When it came time to name the company, it seemed natural enough to modify their previous glass cleaning moniker, Pane-less Efforts, by changing the spelling to indicate how easy it would be for clients to work with their firm.
The new company, Painless Efforts, LLC, revolved around snow removal, which is a significant need in their Colorado location. At the same time, they also purchased a low profile Schwarze 343 in order to continue utilizing the five years of knowledge Bruce had gained from working with the sweeping company.
Starting with a small initial base of customers, the company has grown from there in the intervening six years. “Until recently,” said Rice, “we’ve grown at the rate we wanted without spending any money on advertising. It’s all been from word-of-mouth from our existing clients referring others to us. We haven’t even needed to put in place any sort of dedicated referral program. However, in recent times we’ve added a company website as well as have started a Facebook business page and set up a Google+ account.”
Early on, the Rices learned that working with HOAs and apartment complexes meant having to deal with a number of ‘owners,’ and so they went strictly to commercial, industrial and retail customers only.
In addition to power sweeping, the Painless Efforts team is equipped and has the experience to handle most any type of exterior maintenance project for clients. This includes all types of pavement repair, large item removal, lawn and landscaping services, striping, power washing, patching and more.
“When a customer calls us they want to have one vendor do everything for them,” said Rice. “They don’t want to have to get approval for using another vendor for performing a maintenance project on their property. We will sometimes subcontract out an item if the customer needs something we can’t handle in-house if they prefer not to have to get a vendor approval for it.”
In the podcast portion of the interview, Rice discusses the company’s use of a particular brand of power washer called the AaLadin. The discussion centers around their loyalty to a particular provider of a trailer/power washer combination because the provider, Superior Trailers, has continually provided Painless Efforts with excellent service and support, as well as equipment that works well. It’s a good reminder that if strong follow-up and ongoing support are provided to customers then they will have a natural loyalty to continue working with a current vendor.
Painless Efforts’ sweeper fleet is composed of Schwarze 343 units. Rice says they prefer that model because it is so versatile and the 343 sweepers can handle the type of debris they encounter. In addition, the 343s are low-profile, which allows them to take on the relatively low clearance parking garages owned by a number of their customers. Although available only on a conventional chassis, which has a longer turning radius, he feels that isn’t a problem. The fact the machine can be used on parking lots as well as inside parking garages allows the company to handle any type of sweeping needed.
“We’ve found we can do pretty much any job that doesn’t require a broom sweeper with the 343s,” said Rice. “We want to be able to get into parking garages without having to get out multiple pieces of equipment.”
When it comes to having one-person vs. two-person crews on his night sweeping routes, Rice says he tried multiple configurations in that regard when he managed the previous sweeping company.
“We tried having a dedicated backpack blower operator ride along in the passenger seat to do the blowing of the curblines and also had the sweeper operator doing both tasks,” said Rice. “What we’ve settled on is having both a blower operator and a driver on each route. The blower operator blows everything from the landscaping to the curbline into the path of the sweeper. And, I’m not talking about just the corners of the curbs.
“We’ve actually removed gutter brooms from our sweepers because what I found is the broom promotes the operators not getting the curbs all clean. Instead, our blower operator does all of that cleaning, sometimes with a shovel to get every bit of debris out of the curbline. They also make sure every piece of debris is gone from the sidewalks and other areas. When our crew gets done, there won’t be a cigarette butt stuck in a sidewalk crease, for example.
“We’re probably on the parking lot for longer than most companies would be, but when we finish the properties are clean. We get the job done right the first time and we don’t get [complaint] calls from customers.”
Another interesting ‘value-added’ that Painless Efforts provides its customers is that, on their invoices, they give the customers the completion time for work done. This is due to their recognition that, with so many properties having security cameras, the customers can check up on what the Painless Efforts employees were doing while on the property, should they wish to do so.
“With so many web cameras now deployed,” said Rice, “when the customer has our completion time in some instances they can look back and actually watch our workers on their property. In any event, by including that information they can see that we were on the job and when.”
Rice feels it’s of paramount importance to continually build the value in what the company offers. This includes during the contract and procurement phase, as well as in the invoicing and anywhere else a way might be found to do so.
“When I put out a contract I include that we’ll be blowing all adjacent curbs and sidewalks,” said Rice. “If you put that information right in your contract the customer will better understand that you’re not just out sweeping the parking lot, that there’s a lot more involved in doing the job right. I want them to know without the shadow of a doubt that we’ll be cleaning all the way from where their storefront begins to the entire parking lot.
“It’s the same when we bid snow removal. We make sure our clients know we’ll be shoveling sidewalks from curb-to-curb, not just shoveling a path through the snow.”
With the weather in the Denver area, where snowfalls are followed by sunny days that quickly warm and melt the snow, Rice says they can deploy their sweepers during most anytime of the year. However, because there are significant snowfall events, as well, they have a fleet of 16 snowplow trucks that provide the majority of the company’s revenue. They also have multiple other vehicles, including sanding trucks, that support the company’s snow removal efforts.
In order to employ the same snowplow operators every winter, the company has found it’s best to employ capable individuals from summer-oriented industries. “We have a number of our snowplow operators who are concrete employees,” said Rice, “or who do asphalt repair or construction when the weather allows. These are industries that can’t operate if it’s wet or cold outside. They come in and drive plows for us and then, once the snow melts, go back to doing their regular jobs.”
When not running Painless Efforts, Bruce and Susan Rice are involved in their passion for raising quarter horses and competing with them in a variety of events. One of these, ‘reining,’ looks like it will become the newests Olympic event. “Competing with our quarter horses is an addictive sport,” said Rice, “and if reining does become an Olympic sport we’re hoping to compete in it. Working with our horses also provides us with a great stress relief from running the business.”
When asked about the challenge of keeping good employees, Rice admits there’s a lot of controversy in the industry surrounding the best way to obtain and then keep a strong employee group. “I believe if you compensate someone correctly,” said Rice, “that will allow you to keep some, but not all, of your best people. That’s because some people won’t be happy at any wage if you don’t care about them. This means relating to them as individuals and caring how their life is going at the moment; and, I don’t mean just acting like you care.
“You need to be truly interested in how your employees are doing and if they’re able to enjoy some of the extracurricular things we’re able to enjoy. This kind of attitude on our part definitely provides our company with more of a team and a family atmosphere.”
Both Susan and Bruce Rice are hands-on in operating the company. Susan does much of the inspection work, as well as handles the bookkeeping and other office work. On occasion, they both also go on sweeping routes together, with Susan operating the sweeper and Bruce doing the backpack work.
When it comes to working for third party vendors (aka national service providers), Rice says they have done work for several in the past and, based upon their experiences, largely have discontinued doing further work for them.
“I have worked with several third party organizations, both with the previous sweeping company I worked for as well as with Painless Efforts,” said Rice. “I have dropped all of those contracts. With the third party operations I don’t believe the property owners are getting what they’re paying for and also don’t think contractors are getting the money and support they need to do a good job.
“Primarily this is a matter of the money the third party organizations are willing to pay, followed close behind by the contracts they want a contractor to sign. This all combines to make it very difficult for a contractor to do the job in an easy manner. Then there’s the matter of billing: If you don’t cross every ‘t’ and dot ever ‘i,’ you might well not get paid for the work that you do.”
As for changes Rice sees they might need to prepare for the future? “I think every company needs to continually grow,” said Rice, “and by that I don’t necessarily mean in terms of growing net sales or revenue. Rather, I believe it’s important to grow in terms of keeping current with the latest in with whatever industries you’re involved in. That knowledge teaches you what you’ll need to do in order to keep alive as things change.
“For example, I’m working right now to develop a way that all the snow removal contractors in the Denver area can make one call and find out a detailed prediction of upcoming snowfall. It would be great to know when 1/2″ accumulates on such-and-such street so I know when to send my crew out. We’re actually working on a program and a series of webcams so everyone can do a better job than they are presently able to do in the area of snow removal.”
We congratulate the Rices for their current success as well as their commitment to continual education and positive growth aimed at keeping their company in the forefront of the industries they serve. To listen to the companion 22-minute podcast of this article, which was held with Bruce Rice, use the link shown below.
You may reach Bruce and Susan Rice via their website, which is www.PainlessEfforts.com.