SweepCo Owner Offers 35+ Years Experience

SweepCo Owner Offers 35+ Years Experience

Our Featured Contractor for March 2016 is someone that many of our readers/listeners will have had contact with over the last 3+ decades he has been involved in the power sweeping industry. Although recently he has become an owner/operator of the power sweeping company he called SweepCo, Mike Dyck’s experience far transcends that of a typical contractor.

Mike DyckIn 1975, Mike began working with his brother Larry’s sweeper manufacturing company, Mr. Air Sweepers. In the intervening time frame, in addition to heading up the marketing program for Mr. Air (now MASCO Sweepers) Mike has assisted many individuals as they entered the power sweeping business, as well as helped numerous contractors with the problems they encountered as they grew their businesses.

Although we are featuring Mike Dyck’s company in our monthly Featured Contractor segment, this interview is also a precursor to a planned periodic podcast that will consist of conversations between Mike and myself where we will ‘hone in’ on different aspects of the parking lot sweeping business.

Mike attended the University of Oregon in the early 1970s. Once he graduated he started teaching at a junior high school, as well as started a parking area sweeping business, inspired in part by a friend who was doing the same with a janitorial business. Based in Eugene, Oregon, Mike says he ran the company for about two years using a parking lot sweeper that his brother, Larry Dyck, built for him. At that time, Larry had just recently founded the Mr. Air Sweeper Company.

In 1979, Larry asked Mike to move to California for ‘a short time’ to assist with marketing his newly developed a line of parking lot sweepers. As these things sometimes turn out, the move was such a good fit that Mike’s relocation has lasted almost 40 years.

At Mr. Air, Mike started out demonstrating sweepers all up and down the West Coast, from California to the Canadian border. At the time, the main sweepers being used for parking lot sweeping were the TYMCO 300 and Tennant’s ride-on, industrial sweepers, that had to be transported by a trailer from parking lot to parking lot. The Mr. Air sweepers that Larry was building were different from either of these, reminisces Mike, and so it was an opportunity to show how sweeping could be done a little differently.

“The basics of selling sweepers or, for that matter, running a parking lot sweeping business, were the same then as they are today: outstanding customer service; doing what you say you’re going to do; making sure everything is done correctly and as you said it would be; and, maintaining a good relationship with the customer.

“The biggest single factor then — and I believe this remains the same today whether you’re manufacturing sweepers or trying to run a profitable parking lot sweeping business – is cost of operation. You have to not only understand all of your costs of operation, but also need to be proactive in reducing those costs wherever you can.

“One of my favorite memories from that time – this is about 1980 – was going to an American Public Works Association (APWA) show. At it, I became acquainted with Roger Parsons who was, at the time, president of Elgin Sweepers. Mr. Parsons graciously invited me to come visit him at the Elgin factory, which I did. I’ll never forget the excitement that our little sweeper generated.

The reason: Elgin engineers had not thought of the idea of using small, RV–type pumps for dust suppression, rather than the hard-to-maintain, belt-driven and relatively complicated system they were using. The Elgin engineers loved our on-demand water pump system because, among other problems, their belt-driven pumps would often lose their prime when they ran out of water. Elgin soon switched over to that same type of pump for dust suppression on the Elgin sweeper line.

“One of the other things I learned at the APWA show was how little relation there was between parking lot sweeping and street sweeping, other than the name they share. Street sweeping is such a different concept, since the sweeper is out in traffic often during the day, rather than a solitary occupation carried on at night in a parking lot.”

Back in those days, Mike recalled, fuel was only 60- or 70-cents a gallon and almost all sweepers were gasoline, not diesel. Even then, fuel was seen as one of the major expenses of running a sweeping company, so much emphasis in the Mr. Air organization was continually trying to find ways to lower fuel usage, as well as other costs of operation.

“The sweepers Larry was building at the time were put on Ford Courier chassis,” said Mike, “and were made from components such that most repairs could be made using parts from a local hardware store or similar. They didn’t dump; rather, the debris was raked out of the back of the hopper.

Overall, the basic concept of Larry’s new line of parking lot sweepers was lower cost of ownership to purchase and run, as well as making the machines as simple to operate as possible. There were no hydraulics so that made them more simple and bulletproof to operate. Even the sweeper head was raised and lowered by a hand crank.

“That was back when doing the actual sweeping was a real bonehead, down to basics, type of operation,” said Mike. “The sweepers and chassis seldom broke and, when they did, almost anybody could work on them successfully.

Masco Sweeper“I also learned, over time, that even parking lot sweeping can be categorized into two basic areas: these are how the sweepers operate in the parts of the country that are located in the snow belt region, and how that differs from the portions of the U.S. that don’t get snow.

“Contractors who have not swept in both places are likely unaware that sweeping in snow belt areas is so much more difficult. In somewhere like California, for example, the sweeper is basically just picking up litter, not sand and rocks and gravel and other heavier materials.”

Mike left the MASCO organization last year, making a decision that he wanted a change of pace. Even though he reaches retirement age this year, Mike decided this change should include starting a sweeping company of his own, which he did, founding a firm he named SweepCo. His intent is not to build up a larger and larger company; rather, he wants to run it in his San Francisco locale as an owner/operator.

“The San Francisco area is home to some of the largest corporations in the world,” said Mike. “These include Apple and Google, both of which are growing rapidly. It’s a very fertile area to be able to have a service business where your accounts will be profitable. It’s one of those rare areas where people are willing to pay good money for excellent service, which is not the way it is in many other parts of the U.S.

“I am currently following my plan, which is to have one sweeper and I drive it myself about 95% of the time. That works most of the year though in the leaf season I have to get some help for about two months out of the year. I’ve built a schedule that works around my personal life and that allows me to do all the work myself.”

Much of the work that Mike did with MASCO involved helping contractors with problems they might encounter in building up their business, no matter where they were in the country. He also wrote a booklet, which is still available on the MASCO website, designed to help contractors start a parking lot sweeping business.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Mike. “The basics are do what you say you will do, stay in contact with your customers, when you do good work make sure your customer knows about it and, most importantly, find out what problems your customers have and then offer solutions. We’re in an era when companies are outsourcing and passing the actual work down the line to someone else.

Mike Dyck“Doing the hard work of cleaning baby diapers off the parking lots seems like something that nobody really wants to do. In fact, they avoid it at all costs. So, if you can find somebody who needs your kind of work and you do it such that it solves their problems, they will be willing to pay at a good rate.

“As an owner operator is very important that you let your customer know that you will be doing the work when you’re meeting with them to get their account. The fact is that most people recognize that when employees are told to do something – even when trained well – there is every likelihood that they won’t be following through correctly. In addition, you don’t know what someone else noticed while they were on the customer’s lot. You also don’t really know how they went about their sweeping task. You might think you do, but I’ll guarantee you that, much of the time, you don’t.

“The point is, when it’s me out there sweeping and I see anything that my customers should know I make sure they find out. Whether a sign is broken down, garbage has been left behind the center, there’s a broken window, the sprinkler system’s not working right – whatever it is, my customer knows about it the next day. And, along with presenting them with the problem I give them a price — my price — for the solution. Usually, the fact that I would do all of that, even if I stand to make money from the repair, is met with pleasant surprise.

“To me, that shows how seldom professional follow-through actually occurs. And, the repair on those types of items are more profitable then my everyday sweeping work. Plus, it secures your relationship with your property managers. I do as much of this type of work as I can and, if I can’t I handle it, I have put together a group of people that have a similar outlook toward professionalism as I do, other business owners who I know will do a good job. That kind of follow-through is what your customers looking for as well as what you want to have happening in your business.”

Mike reiterates that any owner/operator needs to make sure to tout that they, themselves, will be doing the work. The fact is, he says, when a company gets large it is very difficult to have that sort of personal relationship. That factor is one of the advantages you have as an owner/operator, so if that’s the type of business you have he reminds you to be sure to capitalize on it.

“There is little doubt that sweeper operators with a large number of sweepers can make more money than I do,” Mike said. However, one sweeper guy can do a lot to maximize his profit and, at the end of the day, there are many fewer headaches and you will also have a very profitable business. I maximize the profit in whatever I do. Another company, one that operates on a philosophy of trying to grow, will often take low margin accounts to gain the volume. They’re looking at gross revenue to compensate for profit. My own personality is such that I don’t want to build up the business to have lots of equipment and employees.

“Through the years, I have sold sweepers to many companies that operate 20 or 30 sweepers at a time and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. However, if someone is the type that they want to be an owner/operator, or just have a couple of sweepers, then there’s nothing wrong with that either. If that’s the case, key in on the profitable accounts, build your business with customers who appreciate your quality and are willing to pay for it, and you’ll find there is much value in that method of operation.

“The sweeping business is a little unusual. If you have a retail store with employees, as a contrast, you have a way to keep an eye on them all day. With sweeping, you’re sending a relatively low wage person out in a $70,000 sweeper, along with giving them a credit card and telling them to drive all over town for eight hours in the middle of the night and be real responsible and do everything I told you to do and I’ll see you in the morning.”

Another concept that Mike talks about in the accompanying audio interview is the move towards subcontracting accounts that started in the 1970s in California and is rampant there even today. As time has gone on, the requirements for subletting accounts to ‘independent contractors’ have become more stringent, however, and today many of those subcontracting operations are on thin ice with the federal government.

In addition to this interview as a Featured Contractor, Mike Dyck has agreed to record more podcasts designed to help sweeping contractors – and especially owner/operators – on a periodic basis. We see this as discussions between Mike and myself about different topics of especial interest to power sweeping contractors.

For example, these could include targeting such areas as backpack blower usage and how to choose the correct model/type; mitigation of noise in sweeping operations; the use of independent contractors as part of your business model; dust control; maintenance issues; routing and scheduling; best practices in selling your services; and, Mike said he has some ideas in the category of “do as I say not as I do.”

We also are requesting that our readers use the comments box at the bottom of this article to suggest areas they would like to have us cover. We will have more information about this in the near future. In the meantime, let us know if there are topics you would like to see covered.

Contact Information

You may reach Mike Dyck via any of the methods shown on his business card.

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