Pro Sweep Goes the Distance to Please its Customers

ProSweep Logo by Ranger Kidwell-Ross Bruce Christianson founded North Dakota-based, Pro Sweep, Inc., in 2000. Then, in 2010 he sold the company but stayed on as manager of the operation. When we conducted the interview in mid-January it was a balmy 25-degrees by day and minus 8-degrees at night, though the a few days previously, Bruce said, the daytime temperature had been -20-degrees below zero. “I got started in the business due to being parked in a parking lot in January of 2000 when the lot was hit by a big gust of wind,” said Christianson. “When I saw all the trash blowing I wondered if anybody swept it. The next day I went to my local grocery store and asked if anybody swept. The next day I did some research, probably through WorldSweeper, found out some pricing info to go back and tell him and since then we’ve been growing and expanding.” Christianson started with a used Tennant and a small dump truck and started with one parking lot. Other people saw the truck at work and asked if they could sweep their lot, too. Then they got an account that was 25-miles away and before they knew it had another that was 50-miles away. That information, in itself, shows how sparsely populated the surrounding area is in their locale. After the second year they grew further, with the purchase of a TYMCO 435, which they’ve been using since. Although there can be considerable snowfall in their North Dakota landscape, Christianson says property managers now use a brine to melt ice, rather than the sand/cinders/salt mixes they used in former years. So, snow event cleanups aren’t as bad as they used to be and, typically, their 435s can handle it. There are boxes that get pushed up through the snow, however, which have to be handled separately if they’re too large for the intake tube. 3TrucksRowIn the winter, employees are used in other capacities but go out and sweep whenever the temperature exceeds zero. With the overcoat of brine, dust suppression isn’t needed because there isn’t any dust to speak of. Then, when it’s not that cold but gets around freezing, they put water into the hopper to capture dust instead of spraying it thorough nozzles. As the weather warms they use water to suppress dust. The company has three nighttime sweeping divisions, as well as a daytime municipal sweeping crew and a construction crew. The nighttime crews reach out as far as 250-miles one way for parking area sweeping. The company also sweeps about 15 cities at night. Their municipal sweepers take care of 30-40 cities and Pro Sweep also works with DOTs in Minnesota and North Dakota, as well as sweeps for numerous counties in those same states. “We run the TYMCO 435s for parking lots, then have Elgin Eagles for pickup brooms and SuperiorRoads sweepers for sweeping off roadways for construction trackout and that sort of thing. “In 2000 no one cared about construction trackout,” said Christianson, “but since about 2010 the cities are cracking down on that more and more. We’re called on a regular, route-type, basis to take care of those issues. “We fleet out parking area sweeping from our Wahpeton location at about 8pm at night. The sweepers will fan out about 100-miles to the south, east and west, and make a big loop to cover those different cities. Then, we have another location farther north toward the Canadian border, so we stage from there to cover other customers. We put on about 50,000 miles a year on one of those 435s and the rest are about 35,000 miles per 8-month season.” ProSweep1The company keeps overhauling their sweeper chassis to keep them running as long as possible. One 2007 has 250,000 miles on it and some of the 2014s are at 100,000 miles already.  Christianson said they haven’t seen it be cost-effective to go to stainless steel for their hoppers but that he does stress keeping all the sweepers cleaned extremely well. “A clean sweeper is a happy sweeper,” said Christianson. “Our machines get washed every day, the hoppers washed out every morning, so they can be in top shape to go out and perform every night. We’re also very proud of our maintenance program. When a unit breaks far from the base, we do have a good relationship with our tow companies and they take care of us. I can count on one hand the number of years when we’ve had as many as 10 breakdowns away from our base, though, so that isn’t much of an issue.” Because of the large distances between client locations, one thing that comes up is the expense for travel. Whereas in urban areas a route might include a dozen stops, for Pro Sweep, with the distance between customers, four is more the average. Christianson said they charge the same as a trucking company would, since there’s not only the transport time itself but the sweeper would be working if it wasn’t on the road. “We’re in a situation where we may drive a long distance to do a lot, then another 150 miles to do the next one,” said Christianson. “The cities are so spread out that is the situation. If it’s a long ways from point A to point B, I’m going to request over a dollar-a-mile for mobilization, do the lot and return to base. We do all these on a regular basis, though, so they have all that budgeted in. An analogy I use is that if you pull into McDonald’s and say you want something off the $1 menu, they never say ‘No, you can’t have that.’ It’s the same in sweeping: We can go 200-miles and we’ll give you an NTE price (not to exceed) and if it works out then it does.” SweepersatWaterAt the start of 2016, the company is running four TYMCO 435s, three Elgin Eagles, a Tennant sweeper/scrubber for their underground/indoor market and one or two of our SuperiorRoads broom sweepers. Then, they  rent more of those, whenever needed, from their local SuperiorRoads dealer if we need more broom sweepers than we own. We also have a good TYMCO dealer in Minneapolis, Al Wolford of Environmental Equipment, who is very dedicated to the sweeping industry. “Where we struggle in the North Dakota/Minnesota market,” said Christianson, “is the heavy use of the gravel that has to be picked up in the spring. The North Dakota Red River gumbo that falls off onto, or is tracked onto, the roadways is very sticky. The SuperiorRoads broom sweepers do a good job on both of those. We employ those machines 24-hours a day during leaf season. We don’t ever have a problem with the sweeper part; they’re a very good fit here in the north country.” Christianson says what they have struggled with are the Isuzu and International chassis which, when the diesel regen systems malfunction, makes him wish they had gone back to a push broom again. Still, because they’re doing so much traveling, they don’t have as much trouble as the contractors who go slowly much of the time, without ever going longer distances at highway speed. Christianson cites his dedicated employees for the company’s continuing success. “We have a 12-year veteran, some 10s, some 5s; really dedicated night-time employees. We lose one or two over the course of a year, but currently have no openings. I credit it to our family-style operation and that we stress safety with meetings and information we provide on that topic. We’re all proud that we have had zero OSHA-categorized accidents over the last three years and that’s good for all of us. For example, last year we had over 15,000 hours and no on-the-job injuries. We have mandatory safety vest wearing no matter what an employee is doing, day or night. And, pay matters, so we try to be a little above North Dakota/Minnesota averages. “It makes a lot of sense to have a nice, safe crew out there whether you’re working at night alone or with another crew member, or on a busy highway. It just pays to be safe.” Christianson chose to sell most of his company in 2010 but to stay on a the manager. When asked what advice he might have to others on that topic, here’s what he said: “My wife and I struggled with the decision when the offer came in to sell the company. That’s not what we had in mind; we expected to stay on with ownership and continue to expand and so forth. However, we realized it just made sense to have other people involved, especially since they were more knowledgable on the business side, had more contacts, more ideas. It has really come together to be a great way to go. We have a meeting every Tuesday to go over everything and it has really helped to have more than one set of eyes on the books and the business plan. Other than that, it’s been really hands off [on their part]. ProSweep1The company networks with area sealcoaters and stripers to get their surfaces clean prior to having those jobs done.  They emphasize doing what it takes to keep their customers satisfied and to maintain their exterior pavement so there won’t be track-in that harms interior surfaces. The company also works with cities and municipalities of, typically, under 1,000 people, that can’t afford their own sweeper. They sweep as needed and in leaf season and for festivals; basically, whenever needed. “We can clean our cities and give them a good, budgeted amount to come in two-to-three times a season, give them a spring cleanup, and maybe a summer, mid-July sweep and then in the fall pick up their leaves. That works out great for everyone. Now we have also expanded to handle inside, warehouse and parking garage sweeping and scrubbing, which we hadn’t thought about previously. That part of the business has grown because of the large warehouse spaces, agricultural and other commercial places that need it.” In the accompanying podcast, Christianson also discusses how the recession hit the North Dakota/Minnesota area, on both the municipal and local, retail parking area level. They were somewhat mitigated via the oil field boom that continued on. It also includes the impact currently due to low agricultural prices. DennisCartoon“We are optimistic for 2016, since we have a good core of business activity and customers we work for. We don’t do all of it; rather, we want to work for the good ones.” He also touts the value of the website and the info coming from the World Sweeping Association and elsewhere. “It’s amazing how I didn’t care to look for help elsewhere for the first few years. Then I realized the value in seeking out other expertise, joining the Chambers, going to business after hours and more to broaden my horizons. We started making a network of people. It took about 10 years to realize that was the best way to grow our business. Don’t lose sight that you need to be out there selling yourself every day, through your website, business cards, wearing a shirt with your company logo on it, putting decals onto your sweepers, have employees who represent you well. “My advice to make your business thrive is to go out into your local community and make the best impression possible so they know the kind of business you are choosing to operate.” One of Bruce’s favorite cartoons is shown to the right. You may reach Bruce Christianson via the company’s website, which is located at ”          

Leave a Reply