Canada's Arrowhead Parking Services Sweeps the High Road, Gives Scofflaws the Boot and Much More
by Ranger Kidwell-Ross
Paul Lemmon, the president of Arrowhead Parking Services, entered the sweeping industry via an unlikely background. Drawing on his background in law enforcement – which included stints with both Canadian Customs and with Immigration – he started as a consultant helping customers make sure their business signage conformed to legal guidelines.
"We started out by just telling customers what their signage needed to be," said Lemmon. "Then, in about 2005 we decided to take it one step further and take installation in-house and start doing it ourselves. As we started working with some bigger builders,we began to see other services they needed and set out to solve their problems in some specific areas. One topic of need was keeping construction sites and parking areas clean.
"We have 3 main areas of business, which are property managers including condos, retail commercial locations, and the development by builders. Solving their needs has guided us all along about the process."
In Ontario, although there are not the strict laws about trackout that there are in many places of the US, any downtown area builders nonetheless make sure they keep their construction areas clean and without trackout onto the main roads. That is one of the areas of sweeping that Arrowhead provides.
The business of sweeping around condo areas is very similar to what occurs in most of the US. People in the condo association, says Lemmon, are paying a monthly fee and expect the areas in and around their condos to be kept clean and well-maintained. Plus, because all have underground parking garages, another needed service that Arrowhead provides is pressure washing these barrages and other areas, as needed.
When it comes to retail parking lot sweeping in this part of Canada, there is quite a divergence from what occurs in the United States. As one might expect, spring cleanup is an enormous problem given the winters of the Canadian Northeast. For about a two month stretch every retail organization wants their exterior parking areas cleaned of winter snow abatement materials, the sooner the better.
However, after that spring cleanup is done, most retail areas are subsequently cleaned by hand by in-house employees who act as day porters. Although there is, says Lemmon, a slowly rising recognition that a slip-and-fall danger exists when you have an ever-increasing amount of dirt and sand on a parking lot as summer fades to fall, the majority of retail managers still will only pay for that one good cleanup each year. The concept of having routine weekly sweeping has not developed in the Greater Toronto marketplace.
"We pushed getting into that [daily/weekly retail sweeping] market a little bit more," said Lemmon. " people want the image but it seems the money is not there and there's no law in place to say that retail areas need to be cleaned up. The difference between the US and our area of Canada is that in the US you have sweeper trucks going out and doing the job. Here, you have guys going out with a broom and dustpan who goes around the parking lot and picks up litter.
We have tried to sell ongoing parking lot sweeping services [using marketing info about cleanliness, slip-and-fall danger, etc.] but have largely been unsuccessful in changing the mindset that exists. Retail managers want sweepers to clean up after the snow but then don't want any sweeping services until the following year.
"In terms of liability, it seems generally that if they have someone out there picking items up on an ongoing basis, then that covers the legal liability end of it. As a result, older managers appear to have the attitude of 'if it's not broke we're not going to fix it.' We now do have some younger managers who are starting to see the value of ongoing parking lot sweeping."
Because of the large number of underground parking garages his company cleans each year, predominantly via pressure washing, Lemmon had a small 'mini sweeper' built as a support vehicle for that aspect of his company's work. As you can see in the accompanying photo, this truly is a mini machine, with a custom-designed air sweeper mounted onto a small, Daihatsu chassis. Before US readers get too excited about the low fuel possibilities, though, they need to know that this particular chassis is not sold in the United States.
"In my experience, to be successful you have to think of products or services outside the box. When we started four or five years ago we did what everyone else did it terms of underground garage cleanup, which was to use a rotary broom sweeper on the cement along with pressure washers. What we found, though, is that the rotary broom action would create a lot of dust. We wanted to keep as many particles as possible from going down the drain.
"When I looked to see what was on market in terms of a small air sweeper, I didn't find anything I liked. After doing my own research this is what we had built. The Daihatsu mini truck stands about six feet tall and five feet wide with the sweeper mounted, so it will fit into any carpark. The sweeper portion is powered by a Kohler engine."
If you'd care to take a closer look at Arrowhead's Daihatsu-mounted sweeper, check out the 5-minute YouTube video of the mini sweeper in action in an underground parking garage. Or, click here for the video's direct link.
Another portion of Arrowhead Parking Services' business model is an interesting service that is quite different from sweeping or signage. Building upon his prior law enforcement experience, Lemmon has built a growing segment of his company around parking enforcement.
In Canada, a segment of private contractors are in the parking enforcement/illegal vehicle recognition business. When he decided to enter back into that field – again thinking outside the box – Lemmon had software for that purpose designed, as well as worked through the legal system to allow his company to actually immobilize vehicles as needed.
"We run the software with license plate technology and couple that with the ability to mobilize. We are not the first company in Canada to use a vehicle 'boot' immobilizer system, but we are the first in the Toronto area. And, we're the first in Canada to run all the hardware and software as a private organization.
"For example, when I worked in this business before, if we came across a stolen vehicle we would have to call it in to the police said that set up the vehicle waiting for a police vehicle to arrive. Now, we call the car license plate in, immobilize the vehicle, and move on without having to wait. It's a much better allocation of resources in all regards."
In addition, and as part of Arrowhead Parking Services' goal of being a complete parking management company, the firm deals with all manner of signage issues, repairs and cleans catch basins, offers a wide range of pressure washing – and even offers items like bollard covers and benches to its customers. Lemmon says he has learned by listening to his customers that they only want to deal with one person for all manner of services, as far as that is possible. Arrowhead's mandate is to be that company.
Lemmon did mention that he noticed that his insurance rates went up significantly when he took on line painting, and cautions contractors getting into other areas of work to check with their insurance company prior to adding a new service. This is especially true if you are evaluating between getting into one type of service versus another.
"We want to assist our clients in every way possible," said Lemmon. "In addition, because of my background in law enforcement our goal with all of our clients is to reduce their liability in any way we can. If we see something that they don't, we tell them about it. That's something that is very well appreciated by clients.
"...When you do a good job day after day, no one notices or comments. When you screw up, everyone talks about it. So, in terms of my corporate image, I'd rather pay more for good employees and do whatever else it takes to do a good job. It's much better than to have that lower reputation and have say to someone after you did work for them at a too low price, 'you paid for a poor job and that's what you got from us.'"
Besides the information you've read, above, in WorldSweeper's audio interview with Paul Lemmon he discusses a number of other topics. These include his experience with regard to wage rate, employee incentives and longevity on the job; the importance of having the right equipment for the job; the short- and long-term benefits that accrue to one's company by keeping it on 'the high road of professionalism' and more.
In the approximately 50-minute audio interview with Paul Lemmon, you will hear details about everything written above and more. Note: The audio interview with Paul Lemmon will play without downloading any files onto your computer. If you hear the interview at 'chipmunk speed,' you will need to download the latest version of Adobe's free Flash player.
If you have questions or comments about this article and interview, please, let us know and we can add it in as an addendum to this article.
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