The whole, it is said, is greater than the sum of its parts. Many professional organizations and cooperatives currently exist in the United States and other countries, focused on raising the value of their industry – except in the realm of professional sweeping. But for the past decade, that has been changing. A new group, 1-800-SWEEPER (www.1800sweeper.com), is steadily expanding to provide nationwide support for independently owned sweeping businesses all across the country.
1-800-SWEEPER provides nationwide access to high-quality street and parking lot cleaning services, through its large network of Partner-owned sweeping companies. The cooperative brings together sweeping companies and buyers of services to perform all manner of sweeping jobs, from retail parking lot to industrial, construction, municipal, state highway and all areas in between. By bringing these predominantly family-owned businesses together in a centralized cooperative, 1-800-SWEEPER brings increased business to its Partner companies while reducing their costs and enhancing the sweeping industry as a whole.
Founder and President Mike Lucht relates how the group began “with really nothing more than a vision and a phone number,” but now is poised to grow beyond 75 member companies. “Such levels of cooperation are unprecedented in the power sweeping industry, and this cooperative has outlasted initial doubts to prove small businesses are stronger when they work together. We’re building a national brand in an industry that has been very fragmented,” Lucht remarks, a first for the sweeping industry.
As Lucht explains, the vision behind 1-800-SWEEPER took several years. He himself has a long history in sweeping, having served as President of Michigan- and Ohio-based Progressive Sweeping Contractors for his 40-plus-year career. Thanks to his rich experience, he was able to leverage longstanding relationships in the industry developed primarily through the North American Power Sweeping Association (NAPSA).
“I happened to be at a time and place in my career where I had some tools along with the time and the vision to put together an organization that amounts to a cooperative,” he recalls. The final piece came together when I was introduced to and embraced the value of the buying group component for the organization to leverage the purchasing dollars of our Partners for equipment, supplies and services that rounded out the exclusive competitive advantage 1-800-SWEEPER represents.”
After crafting a business plan over two years, 1-800-SWEEPER was officially launched in July 2011. The fledgling cooperative quickly drafted bylaws and appointed a Board of Directors. “This was a ground-up initiative,” Lucht remarks, recalling how the cumulative experience of the group’s founding board members came together. While there was no playbook for building a cooperative, 1-800-SWEEPER’s board all shared experience in sweeping and a desire to succeed. This commonality, more than anything else, gave the group its identity. “We’re really based on a cultural foundation rather than anything else.”
The newly formed board learned quickly, and Lucht acknowledges the necessity of continuing education in business. “Being the first opportunity for a co-op in our industry, there was a lot of education involved there, and we’re still learning,” he says. But as time passed, confidence grew, and more sweeping firms joined. “We currently have more than 50 Partner sweeping companies in our organization and over thirty Vendor-Partners who believe in our concept and give us opportunities that are exclusive to the organization.”
To facilitate the education component of the organization, 1-800-SWEEPER hosts the annual Sweeper Summit & Equipment Expo (www.sweepersummit.com) a power sweeping industry specific educational workshop for Partners and invited guests, with industry suppliers and manufacturers represented. The three-day event allows Partners to come together and gain insight into the latest industry developments in technology and equipment as well as participate in an operationally focused benchmarking exercise that compares key performance indicators within the group. Invited guests can attend the Summit to view the open-air equipment expo, with the opportunity to view hands-on demonstrations and interact with 1-800-SWEEPER Partners and participating vendors. “The Sweeper Summit & Equipment Expo is another first in the maturing power sweeping industry as the only sweeping industry specific conference available for sweeping contractors and municipal in-house street sweeping managers,” Lucht states.
The education doesn’t stop there. The National Pavement Maintenance Leadership Academy (NPMLA) was created and launched in 2019. The Leadership Academy is a 10-month program of effective leadership skills training. It provides the tools necessary for key employees to perform at the highest level. 17 students graduated in 2019 and 26 students are already signed up for the program beginning in 2020.
Broom manufacturer and distributor United Rotary Brush (www.united-rotary.com) became 1-800-SWEEPER’s first Vendor-Partner, lending confidence and credibility to the new cooperative. United Rotary was the first of many Vendor-Partners to follow, supporting the cooperative by providing exclusive benefits to 1-800-SWEEPER Partners, a trend which continues today.
At present, 1-800-SWEEPER enjoys a position as a nexus in the sweeping industry, creating new connections and business opportunities between its Partner companies, Vendor-Partners and buyers of power sweeping services. “For Vendor-Partners, we’ve opened up an audience for them, through us and with very little initiative on their part,” Lucht remarks, referring to the cooperative’s Partner companies.
Today, the co-op helps connect Partner companies with buyers of power sweeping services in all fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Partners represent coverage by paying a fee based on phone area codes. 1-800-SWEEPER requires all Partner companies to be members of NAPSA, with all employees fully licensed and drug-free. This model not only raises client confidence but lends support to NAPSA with their educational and legislative initiates for the power sweeping industry.
“If we bring our purchasing dollars together and leverage them, then we have something that we can take to service providers and manufacturers and attract their interest in working with us,” Lucht explains. The result is the furthering of 1-800-SWEEPER’s goal of providing competitive advantage and exclusive benefit.
As the first national cooperative in the sweeping industry, 1-800-SWEEPER offers highly advantageous benefits to its Partner companies. In addition to the national branding and buying group leverage, the third competitive advantage 1-800-SWEEPER brings to Partner companies is the combined brain power of the group. This intellectual capital that is shared openly amongst Partners is priceless and has become the fabric that binds the organization. “The combined and diverse years of experience in every aspect of power sweeping is unmatched,” Lucht remarks. “We help Partners who are sweeping parking lots move into the construction and highway-sweeping business, for instance. We want our Partner companies to be successful and grow.”
Thanks to this wide array of resources in power sweeping experience and equipment knowledge, co-op Partners are able to quickly respond to customer needs with reliable and consistent service day after day, positively impacting the confidence of contractors requiring power sweeping services while reducing their costs. “With the creation of the 800 App, downloaded from the App Store, service leads are passed directly onto our Partners via cell phone, allowing for immediate customer response. The 800 App launched in 2019 and has proven to be a great asset for our Partners and their clients,” Lucht says.
“For a road builder contractor for instance, we take away the most maintenance-intensive piece of equipment that is fundamental to their operation,” says Lucht. 1-800-SWEEPER can also help during mill and fill operations, which requires careful timing. “That’s like a big parade with a lot of coordinating pieces that must be in sync, and we can roll with that. That creates a lot of value for a contractor.”
1-800-SWEEPER’s status as a national cooperative also allows it to better utilize its centralized resources to create innovative new technologies. “By consolidating our resources, we’re able to develop things we wouldn’t otherwise,” Lucht remarks. A prime example of this is SweeperSIM, a custom-designed simulation tool designed for driver training. Thanks to his own contacts and 1-800-SWEEPER’s wide reach, Lucht was able to reach out to a major simulation technology programmer, Digital Image Studios (www.dimage.com), which had experience working with high-profile clients in Detroit’s auto manufacturing sector. “They wanted a challenge, and the sweeping business is a good place to find one!”
The resulting program is the first parking lot sweeping operator training simulator, which the cooperative and its Partner companies use in their hiring practices. “It’s rather generic in what kind of sweeper it is,” Lucht admits, “but it’s all about getting the mindset correct and understanding the patterns that we run and the process that we want to see our operators follow in cleaning a parking lot.” The simulator boasts extremely high realism, including all manner of obstacles. By enhancing trainees’ skills before they get behind the wheel, SweeperSIM helps 1-800-SWEEPER and its Partner companies solve the perpetual challenge of hiring and training qualified operators.
This technology, while a significant investment, is well worth the expense, creating value in highly trained operators. “When I started, a small parking lot sweeper was $15,000. Now they’re $90,000,” Lucht recalls, and the significantly higher machinery costs justifies more extensive training protocols. Additionally, hiring tools created by the organization enables 1-800-SWEEPER Partners to post employment ads across multiple platforms, screen applicants and subject them to customized assessment testing to minimize time in the hiring process and increase the odds of hiring the right individual for the job, resulting in reduced turnover and overall hiring costs.
Further, the cooperative has created highly intuitive video ads to introduce and demonstrate the rigors of the work required of a sweeper operator far more effectively than any written job posting. Lucht illustrates how the videos pull no punches in fully describing the work: “For a parking lot sweeper, you’re going to work at night, you’re going to work in the rain, it’s going to be cold, it’s going to be hot.” Similar videos, designed for attracting construction or municipal type sweeper operators, present potential scenarios when dealing with unique customer requests and conditions for which the applicant must be prepared. Both videos sharply exemplify a ‘show, don’t tell’ philosophy, exemplifying 1-800-SWEEPER’s knowledge of its industry and provide the applicant a better understanding of the job before they pursue the opportunity further.
1-800-SWEEPER also sees itself as an advocate for environmental responsibility and activism. Far more than aesthetics, Lucht remarks how the average person fails to recognize the positive environmental impact of sweeping. “Most people think of sweeping a street or a parking lot if it looks dirty, but with the environmental and storm water runoff regulations that exist, we’re starting to change that perception by promoting the positive impact sweeping has on clean water and clean air.” A series of graphic videos on its website, including one illustrating the impact of a single cigarette butt on a fishbowl, was created to educate customers.
“Sweeping the pavement is a big piece of a solution, because we sweep up things you don’t necessarily see and, with the right machine, we reduce the contaminants on the pavement that otherwise find their way into storm drains or are blown into the air as fugitive dust,” Lucht says. “We play a role in the environmental arena that most people wouldn’t recognize and, while getting that message out, we are raising the bar for the entire power sweeping industry – and doing a public service simultaneously.”
Yet despite the cooperative’s lofty goals, Lucht is the first to realize the long road 1-800-SWEEPER has to travel. The group has now soundly established itself, but some sweeping company owners remain reluctant to join simply due to the cooperative’s perceived novelty. “You can’t hit a home run if you don’t step up to the plate,” he remarks. Still, the cooperative has outlasted doubts and criticisms to attract an ever-growing number of power sweeping companies. “We got here, we’re still here, our organization is growing and the buying group is getting stronger,” he says proudly.
As 1-800-SWEEPER approaches its ninth year of operation, the cooperative is poised to continue its track record of steady expansion. Lucht and his fellow board members along with Executive Director, Ben Steyer; Marketing & Communications Director, Carolyn Bell; and Business Development Manager, Andy Williams are working to continue building the national brand of sweeping companies across the country, bringing high quality to buyers of power sweeping services and unprecedented growth to 1-800-SWEEPER Partner companies in an industry that has never experienced such a development. As more sweeper company owners recognize the value of 1-800-SWEEPER, Lucht is confident this pattern of growth will continue. “There’s no denying that when someone embraces what we have going on here, the change will come easy for them, through us, for the betterment of their personal and business development and their organization as a whole.”