A nationwide service network made up of independently owned power-sweeping companies, 1-800-SWEEPER unites sweeping companies throughout the United States beneath a common marketing and service structure. Partner companies provide parking lot sweeping, street sweeping, and construction-related power sweeping services to a wide variety of customers, from nationwide and regional facility managers to municipalities and local contractors.
Last year, Business in Focus reported on the organization’s history, growth, and success. This year, we caught up again with Founder and President, Mike Lucht, to learn about 1-800-SWEEPER’s commitment to giving back.
1-800-SWEEPER raised $65,492 for Veterans Matter in 2020. Veterans Matter is a Toledo, Ohio-based non-profit that brings private sector resources and Veterans Affairs (VA) resources together to house veterans in VA-supported housing as quickly as possible. The non-profit’s innovative, cloud-based rapid resource response, carried out in partnership with the VA’s homeless veteran’s program, allows veterans to access housing in a matter of minutes, rather than the standard thirty-day to sixty-day waiting period. Basically, donations are used to pay deposits directly to a landlord to get veterans and their families housed right away.
In addition to helping veterans in need, the nationwide fundraising effort by 1-800-SWEEPER’s Partner companies strengthened the bonds between these Partners as they worked together on a common goal. “With an organization like 1-800-SWEEPER, we have people all across the country, so it’s not like we see each other every day,” Lucht says. Working together on a charitable initiative that everyone can support “brings people together.” The team launched the initiative in November of 2020 after they had to cancel their annual in-person Sweeper Summit and hold it virtually instead. “Last year there weren’t many in-person opportunities [to] bring all of our members of the group together,” Lucht says. “So, we were looking for ways that we can connect with those Partners in a meaningful way that would carry forward from the meeting.”
Lucht points out that Veterans Matter’s mission to help house veterans is something that virtually anyone can get on board with. Veterans Matter has “the right platform for us,” he explains. “If you can’t agree on supporting a homeless veteran, I don’t know that we will be able to agree on anything.” In addition, Veterans Matter and 1-800-SWEEPER are both based in Toledo, making the partnership local as well as national.
To raise money for Veterans Matter, the 1-800-SWEEPER team asked for pledges from Partners as well as from individuals and organizations outside of the 1-800-SWEEPER umbrella. Partners like Lucht “reached out to friends, family, customers,” anyone who might be willing to help a veteran in need. “I went through my phone list and sent many text messages and sent off the flyer that we created and just broadcasted it to anybody and everybody because there is no exclusion here—everybody can participate in a campaign such as that, so it wasn’t specific to people in our industry,” Lucht says.
Many of the participating 1-800-SWEEPER Partners matched donations to raise even more funds for homeless veterans. “My company matched dollar for dollar up to fifty dollars per donation,” Lucht says. “Whoever contributed to this cause through my company, Progressive Sweeping—which is a Partner of the 1-800-SWEEPER group—they got their money doubled in many instances. So, if they gave fifty bucks, we turned it into a hundred dollars… and we encouraged our Partners to do some of that matching themselves.” The resulting $65,492 exceeded expectations. “I think most people were surprised that we raised the amount of money that we did,” Lucht says.
The 1-800-SWEEPER Foundation is another way that the organization gives back. The brainchild of Lucht, the organization launched the foundation in 2016 to serve Partner companies’ local communities throughout the United States. “We earn our money in the communities that we live in, and we try to identify the needs within the communities of our Partners that on occasion might need a little boost,” Lucht says. “We are all privately owned small businesses that have a commitment to give back.”
Funds go to a variety of needs including qualified environmental and community beautification projects, local Wounded Warriors programs, and natural disaster relief. For example, the foundation donated a substantial sum to help rebuild Gatlinburg, Tennessee after a wildfire ravaged the Smokey Mountain community. In addition, $10,000 of the $65,492 raised for Veterans Matter came from the 1-800-SWEEPER Foundation.
The 1-800-SWEEPER Foundation is controlled via the Toledo Area Community Foundation, which administers the funds under the guidance of the 1-800-SWEEPER Board of Directors. Partner companies and vendors contribute to the fund, which currently has around $30,000 available to aid communities in need.
Coming together to support local communities reflects the 1-800-SWEEPER culture. That culture is “the binder of a team that you’ve got to have,” Lucht says. “You’ve got to have people that have the same values or at least respect [one another’s] values.” This means finding common ground even though, “We’re all different. When you’re all rowing in the same boat, you’ve got to be rowing in the same direction. We’ve got to be working in concert with each other.”
This synergistic company culture must include flexibility due to the constant demands of the sweeping industry. “It doesn’t shut off. We’re working twenty-four hours a day. We’ve got people out every day, any hour of the day, so flexibility is a huge element that makes it all work. We have to ask for it, and then we have to be able to give it when it’s needed.”
This mutual understanding and support between employees and owners are paramount. “A common thread to making a successful sweeping business is dealing with people and understanding the give and take, kind of the gray area you’ve got to operate in. In a lot of corporate environments, they don’t allow gray areas. It’s too black or white. Here we’ve got to be a little more sensitive because we maybe ask for things that others wouldn’t expect to get, but our customers are asking for it so you’ve got to figure that out because [the industry can be] very demanding,” Lucht says, but the effort is well worth the payoff. “It can be very, very rewarding.”
The sweeping industry managed to escape much of the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The sweeping business was fortunate during this period because sweeping was deemed an essential service,” Lucht says. “So, for the most part, people in our organization, their businesses remained active [and] strong. In some cases, in many cases, they grew through that period because of that exposure they got as being an essential service along with sanitation services, and hospital workers, and nurses, and doctors… Sanitation is a big deal during a pandemic. So, while it was a stressful time for many people in our industry, we were all pretty busy and remained busy.”
As 1-800-SWEEPER celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, the team is eager to keep moving forward as they look back over a decade of supporting local communities and successfully bringing the industry together. “We’ve accomplished some things that I think most people in this industry never thought would ever happen in terms of creating a successful cooperative,” Lucht says.
If you’d like to make a donation to the 1-800-SWEEPER Foundation, please visit www.toledocf.org/1800sweeper.