Hy-Tech Property Maintenance Grew to Dominance Through Competence and Compassion
by Ranger Kidwell-Ross
In 1985, Virginia's Marc Chimento launched himself into the sweeping business by making an unlikely choice for a first sweeper – a slide-in Tennant sweeper with no gutter broom or dump. "It was all I could afford," said Chimento. "To clean the curb I broke a pushbroom handle in half and taped it to my arm. I'd hold the chassis door open with my foot as I drove along with my arm hanging out cleaning the curb. Then, when it came time to dump, that meant shoveling out the hopper with a coal shovel."
Hy-Tech's expansion was far from overnight, though, and the company has experienced many ups and downs over its 28 years of existence. At first, Chimento Had no thoughts of providing more services than sweeping. However, he did see the value in assisting customers to arrange for other services to be gone, such as striping, seal coating, and other exterior maintenance services.
"The problem was," said Chimento, "many of the subcontractors I would line up wouldn't do a good job. Or, they wouldn't show up when they were supposed to. I kept getting phone calls from irate customers who complained not about our company, but about a sub I had lined up to do work for them. At some point, it became clear that the best way to both grow the company and save our reputation was to start providing other, allied services."
Sealcoating was the first to be added to the portfolio, followed by striping and then landscaping. Paving was perhaps the largest jump, says Chimento, since the equipment was so expensive to purchase. And, in a recessionary time in 2005, the company hit some dire straits when it lost over $2 million in paving contracts alone. However, with the aid of its diverse portfolio of services, which include all you see in the graphic to the right, Hy-Tech was able to weather the economic storm. Today, the company self-performs all its services, and even utilizes internal employee expertise to purchase houses, fix them up, and then sell for a profit.
Developing a business that has in excess of 100 employees is clearly a building process, and Chimento credits the move he made to hire someone with an HR degree as having been a pivotal move. From that point on, the HR professional has been in charge of Hy-Tech's hiring process, which has resulted in what he calls a "very solid, dedicated and professional team." No doubt part of the reason for that, however, lies in how Chimento trains, and then treats, his people.
"She handled both our hiring and firing," said Chimento. "That has very much been a positive for us. We typically end up with people who are a good fit for the job they're supposed to do. We also do drug-testing (which they sub out to a service company) and randomly drug test throughout our company every month. I believe that has contributed to building a better workforce, too."
However, there's no question that Chimento knows how to keep his people happy. The company provides hospitalization, paid vacations and profit-sharing to its employees. He also credits his commitment to open communication throughout the firm to keeping employees 'on board' with the goals of the company. Part of that communication that Chimento says was initially the most difficult was to be open to letting employees know about both the good news and bad news concerning the company. "What I've learned, though," said Chimento, "is that my employees truly do have the attitude that they want to help this company be more profitable. They know they share in that and so it's definitely important to each of them to get involved in making our company's reputation, services and bottom line all better. That's been a huge plus for us over time." An aspect of Hy-Tech's employee involvement might be some of the other surprising employee benefits Chimento has put into place. One is what they call the "Dream Team" concept. Management has actively solicited 'if only-type dreams' from workers; things they wish they had in their lives that are, as far as they know, unattainable. In the audio interview accompanying this article, Chimento covers three such 'dreams' that came through for employees due to getting the strenght of Hy-Tech involved. One man had bad teeth and his dream was to have them taken out so he could have dentures and a smile once again. This is one the company simply put into place for the employee, getting him a pre-paid appointment with a dentist for the removal of the teeth, then the outfitting of dentures. The man's smile, says Chimento, is fabulous and used often. In another instance an employee was being challenged by a car that kept breaking down and making him unable to make it to work. The company helped him shop for a car, even though he couldn't qualify for a loan. The company paid for the car and the employee paid back the loan and still had a fine running car after it was paid off. In another instance, the company bought and renovated a house for an employee and then got it financed for him and his family. The ripple effect throughout the company of a program such as this is bound to pay big dividends in a variety of areas, including employee loyalty, longevity and work ethic. "I feel that, including all the family members, I have 300 lives in my hands," said Chimento. "That's a responsibility I take very seriously and think about every day." The largesse of Hy-Tech spills over into community service, as well. The company's charitable contributions vary widely, with benefactors that include organizations for the fight for human rights (United to End Genocide [formerly Save Darfur]), the hungry (World Food Program), the disabled (The Smile Train), the sick (Susan G. Komen for the Cure, St. Jude's Children Hospital), his church (Church of the Epiphany), and local area police, fire, and rescue departments. At the top of the list is a program they got involved with in 2010 called, "The Christmas Train." 365 days a year, the company takes donated bicycles and collects funds to provide the Amelia County Christmas Mother/Father Program with bicycles. That year, 139 bikes were donated and there really was a "Christmas Train" as Marc, his co-workers, and other elves were escorted by Amelia County police to the drop-off location. In 2011 the number was 150 bikes; in 2012, a total of 210 bicycles were donated to the program. "I remember where I came from," comments Chimento, "and so give generously to those in need."
In between giving to others, Chimento operates a company at the forefront of re-defining what 'full service' means. As a visit to the company's leading-edge website will illustrate, this is a firm that is large and in charge, creating positives in every aspect of the footprint it leaves on its community. From handling virtually any type of property maintenance and pavement-related challenge with quick response and thorough follow-up to involvement in making its home community a better place to live, Hy-Tech Property Services, Inc. is up to the task.
Every sweeping contractor will benefit from listening to the
"The Green Machine is great for event cleanup," said Bertholdi. "It is not too loud, fits into tight spaces and picks up everything in its path. It handles most everything, from cigarette butts to liter bottles to tennis balls.
"We can operate the machine when there are people in the area, which is very important for keeping things clean while an event is in progress. We're also able, with the Green Machine, to spray disinfectant where needed; for example, on spills or where someone gets sick. We use the brushes to mix in the disinfectant and and then remove the material. We have found this machine is great for running paths, too, and we can even walk it in the grass to pick up litter, where needed.
"The Green Machine also has an attached wander hose that can be activated quickly, without the need to install a plate or some such. This works well for suctioning litter out from between bushes and other areas inaccessible for even a small walk-behind sweeper like it. Although we have a seat attachment available, we have found that most of the time is better to simply walk behind our Green Machine as it operates."
Moonlight Sweeping uses GPS technology for sweeper tracking. The system they have chosen provides geo-fencing around each customer property to track the exact amount of time a sweeper is on the lot. Should a customer want detailed information in that regard, the software allows Bertholdi to instigate a text message or e-mail to clients telling them when the sweeper was on their premises.
When it comes to the phone system at Moonlight, Bertholdi has made the decision to bring all calls into his personal cell phone. Although this is a commitment to be personally available 24/7, he says his customers really love knowing they can contact him whenever they want, if need be.
"Before," said Bertholdi, "we utilized voicemail with an answering machine for our office location. The problem was that customers would confuse our office number with my cell phone number and not really know which was which. So, sometimes they left an urgent message on the office phone and I wouldn't get it until sometimes the next night. Although we are a small company, that is simply not acceptable. Now, if a customer has any type of urgent need I can be sure to respond quickly for them.
"Also, when a new prospect for services calls we want them to know we will be responsive on their property, should they hire us. When you don't answer the phone and don't return a call in a timely fashion, I believe it is likely they will move on to speak with another contractor.
"Another great part about today's cell phones is that we can have all aspects of our communication and customer information available on the phone. We can take photos, send photos, confirm work and talk immediately to our customers from anywhere. Taking advantage of that technology really provides us with an advantage when it comes to customer service."
In the audio interview, Bertholdi also discusses his company's take on national service aggregators. He relates in detail why they have chosen to go after few, if any, of these low-paying contracts.
"They simply do not pay enough to allow us to do the quality of work I want Moonlight Sweeping known for," Bertholdi said. "Even though the customer might be fine with having a lesser quality storefront, we don't want anyone to think that's the kind of work product we provide."
Several minutes are taken up with an exchange between Bertholdi and myself on ways to conduct business with national providers, what to expect, how to speak to current customers about the phenomenon and more.
During the attached audio podcast, Ryan Bertholdi offers 40 minutes of solid, sensible advice of interest to anyone who operates a parking area sweeping company.
Note: The audio podcast with Ryan Bertholdi 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.
Ryan Bertholdi may be reached via the company's website, which is located at www.wesweepkc.com.
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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