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by Ranger Kidwell-Ross
“I remembered an article I’d read in Entrepreneur Magazine about someone in Louisiana who’d become successful in the sweeping industry,” recalls Terronez, “and I liked what I’d read. I’d never worked nights before and thought it was worth looking into.” Five years later, Terronez is at the helm of a growing sweeping and maintenance company that has found success in his Tulsa, Oklahoma, marketplace.
Before deciding to start Sooner Sweeping, Terronez conducted a survey of the sweeping contractors currently in the Tulsa metro area, as well as analyzed the apparent demand for services and other demographics. “Tulsa was in a growth phase,” said Terronez. “There were a lot of new construction, with many new parking lots being built. Since I was a salesman by trade, I was confident that if I did things the right way I could grow the company from just one person to as big as I could handle.”
His first sweeper purchase was a used Schwarze 348-I that he bought from California and had shipped to Oklahoma on a flatbed truck. The machine required some extensive repairs, so that was Terronez’ first order of business. By the time he got the sweeper reconditioned, he had learned a lot about the way sweepers operate and how to repair them. The job he did was good enough to make the 348 last another three years, at which point he traded it in on a new Schwarze machine.
For the first year-and-a-half, Terronez recalls, his life was consumed by sweeping at night, then getting a few hours of sleep before getting dressed in professional clothes and making sales calls to get enough clients to fill up his route. “I definitely felt like I was running at a hundred miles an hour, seven-days-a-week for the first months in order to try and make it work,” said Terronez.
Although the initial intent was to focus on sweeping, at the request of some early customers the services offered by Sooner Sweeping branched out to include other maintenance services, as well. Today, the company does a large volume of striping and pressure washing, as well as a number of other general maintenance services.
“When one of our box store customers asked me if I knew anyone who did powerwashing, I got from them the scope of work and what they were used to paying. When I ran the numbers, I realized it was something we could do since it’s a natural addition to sweeping. We have found when contacting prospects that offering powerwashing provides us with a two-pronged ability to gain a new client.
“The same can be said for our snow plowing services. If we can’t gain someone as a new client in one area, then we may well be able to get hired to do another. Whenever we provide services to a new customer it gives us an opportunity to show what we can do as a company. We can start building a relationship and rapport with the manager and the client and, somewhere down the line, perhaps end up with more of their business.”
To begin with, Terronez drove around looking for dirty parking areas. Then, to find out who to talk to he looked for any for-lease signs and called the number shown. He found that if this didn’t connect him with the manager, many times the peerson knew the phone number of the manager, which got him to the right person. He found the straightforward approach of telling them that he’d seen their lot and that it appeared they might not have a power sweeping company under contract to work well. Most of the time, says Terronez, they would at least look at his numbers and consider what Sooner Sweeping had to offer.
“However,” said Terronez, “I have never wanted to be or tried to be the cheapest service company in town; that’s not us and it’s not how we sell ourselves. Sweeping is very competitive, but the fact is you get what you pay for when it comes down to choosing a provider just on price alone. I always talk about the value we provide from the customer service perspective. For example, we answer our phone 24 hours a day. There aren’t a lot of businesses where the client can get hold of the owner of his sweeping service company at any time.
“I can be at the doorstep of any of our customers within 20 minutes, and am always available to discuss any issues they may be having. I also do my best to personally visit each of our customers once-a-month. Though it might be only for five minutes, I’ve found the best way to uncover any potential issues early on is with a brief face-to-face visit.
“I ask them point blank what we’re doing right, or doing wrong, or that we might change to make them even happier. It gives them an opportunity to bring up any smaller issues that they might be having. By addressing any issues raised in a timely manner they can’t grow into anything major. In my previous business experience, if minor issues are left undiscussed there’s a much higher likelihood of learning out of the blue that you’ve been replaced with another supplier.”
Terronez has found that he can typically provide a relatively simple solution to virtually any small problem brought up by a client. Often, it’s just a matter of communication and learning that a problem exists. Usually all that’s needed is to re-schedule which days that sweeps are occurring or to adjust the time of day they need to occur.
Property managers, though experts on their own side of the business, often have no idea, for example, how to solve a perceived litter concern. However, when they are given an opportunity to voice their concern early on with their sweeping contractor – an expert on his or her business – the contractor has a readily available solution based on their knowledge of the sweeping business and what adjustments can be made.
One interesting area Terronez has investigated over the past year is transitioning to alternative fuels to power his sweepers. In Oklahoma, compressed natural gas, or propane, appears to be a natural fuel source to move toward. Terronez says he has investigated the data provided by some of the many gas card companies available in the Tulsa area. Using a gas card has allowed him to collect solid data on Sooner Sweeping’s current gas and diesel costs. This, in turn, allows analysis to be done on what the costs would be if a switch was made to CNG or another alternative fuel source.
“In addition to learning about a number of ‘clean burn’ benefits of CNG,” said Terronez, “we’ve also learned that kits are available where you can burn part CNG and the rest diesel. These involve inputting a ‘fog’ of a variable percentage of CNG, along with the diesel. You can then adjust the mix to find the best mixture for your vehicle and activity. It appears at the moment that our least expensive operational solution would be to use one of the fogger kits available in the after-market. Although you’re still not weaned completely off fossil fuels, it’s definitely a move in the right direction, one I know our customers will also appreciate.”
The kits are about $1,000, although that price doesn’t include the necessary CNG fuel tank(s). These are available in multiple sizes to fit whatever mounting location you have available. Smaller tanks may also be installed in series. Terronez has, at this point, purchased two 10-gallon tanks for about $1,000 each, but hadn’t yet installed the CNG system at the time of this interview. However, his analysis shows that the comparative per gallon cost of CNG, when compared ‘apples to apples’ to that of diesel or gasoline, is 90-cents. That’s a significant savings over time just by itself.
In addition, CNG-burning engines provide lower emissions, last longer on average, and the time interval between oil changes may be increased by as much as 50%, which also saves some money. Sooner Sweeping’s location is a big help in this regard since Oklahoma is a large producer of natural gas. Terronez says his company has 9 CNG filling stations within 15 miles of his shop; six are open 24-hours-a-day.
In the accompanying audio podcast interview, Terronez also discusses the other service areas his company has entered into. These include pole installations, wheel stop installation and repair, snow removal, media blasting for paint removal and more. The latter he has found to be something that dovetails nicely with pavement striping, which has developed into a major service area for Sooner Sweeping.
“Our media blasting equipment allows us to more easily and professionally change striping layouts for customers,” said Terronez, “as well as to provide more longevity for re-striping since we aren’t applying paint over the top of previous layers. It makes it much easier for us to move ADA parking spots or consolidate parking spaces for our striping clients.”
In the podcast Terronez also discusses his analysis for why he puts night-reflective, good-looking uniforms on his employees and prominently displays his logo and other identifying information on his sweeper fleet. If you have any doubt about whether you should do the same, you’ll benefit from his words of wisdom on the topic.
In short, Terronez is proud of his company and the performance of his team, and wants everyone to know that when his firm is on the job the outcome will be professional in all regards. “I want everyone to know it when Sooner Sweeping swept a lot and recognize that is the reason why it looks so good,” said Terronez.
That, it might be said, is a summation of the Sooner Sweeping business model: to be the best, the most professional, and the most forward-thinking and environmentally-oriented sweeping company in the Greater Tulsa marketplace.
The approximately 40-minute audio podcast with Gene Terronez may be accessed via the podcast link shown below.
You may reach WSA member, Gene Terronez, via the company’s website, www.soonersweeping.com. If you have questions or comments you’d like to provide to the WSA Team, send them to us using the Contact Form shown below. Also use that form if you’d like to us to consider your company as one of our Featured Contractors. Otherwise, comment using the typical comments’ section at the bottom.
Gene Terronez may be reached via the company’s website, which is located at www.soonersweeping.com.