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Cleaning commercial parking is different from cleaning offices or homes. Parking lots are usually full of debris, leaves, cups, food wrappers, cigarette butts, broken glass, grease, and grime owing to the large number of vehicles that use the facility. The specialized nature of cleaning and the constant attention required for such parking lots causes most janitorial services to exclude parking lots from their purview. This provides a lucrative business opportunity for the willing entrepreneur.
A good related diversification is street cleaning or sweeping, as more and more municipal services are becoming privatized.
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So, here are some steps on how to start a parking lot cleaning business.
The first step toward starting a parking lot clean-up business is having a basic understanding of cleaning techniques. Unlike normal cleaning, cleaning a parking lot with water is inappropriate.
The major tasks involved in cleaning a parking lot include:
- Pushing dirt and litter into appropriate waste facilities
- Blowing remaining debris into the central area with a gas power blower and vacuuming it up with the sweeper
- Removing automobile fluid stains, a hazardous waste from the cement by steam cleaning
The entrepreneur needs a good idea and preferably some first hand experience on how to complete such tasks.
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A primary step in starting any business is licensing and legal compliance, and the same holds true for a parking lot cleaning business as well.
The standard licensing requirements to start any business, such as applying for a license at the county/town/city office is needed for the parking lot cleaning business as well.
Parking lot businesses wanting to maintain sweeping and service equipment on site to save fuel costs and eliminate commuting time may require a municipal contract. The prerequisite for municipal contracts are permits and performance bonds from the relevant state.
Insurance is a must for the business, and in many cases, can make a difference in landing the job.
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The major tools of the trade are:
- High quality portable power sweepers
- Durable gas power leaf blower
- Pick-up truck
- Breathing masks, ear plugs, work gloves and goggles
Large truck chassis mounted sweepers and vacuums do a better job, but are expensive and do not fit inside basement parking lots.
The right type of equipment, and the exact range of equipment required will depend on specific projects.
Start-ups may do well to purchase reconditioned sweepers, or even lease or rent sweepers. Of critical importance is to acquire training in the usage of the machinery, and to service it regularly. Success in the parking lot cleaning business depends on maintaining professional standards always, and proper functioning of all equipment without breakdown is one critical component of professionalism.
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Another critical area in starting a parking lot cleaning business is ensuring the availability of right staff. The entrepreneur can start off with part time and temporary employees sourced from local employment exchanges or inexpensive classified ads. The important aspect however is to train employees on the cleaning operations, how to handle equipment well, and relevant guidelines on waste management. The success of the business directly depends on how well the staff does the cleaning job.
The entrepreneur needs to be actively involved in scheduling, supervising, marketing, maintenance, and customer support operations. As the business grows, the entrepreneur can hire a manager for such purposes.
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Success of the parking lot cleaning business depends on the pricing strategy.
The pricing depends largely on the prevailing rates in the area. The underlying principle however, is to compete on the range of service and quality rather than price. Setting too low a price could mean inability to recover the cost of machinery, labor charges, and overheads.
A good pricing policy covers a basic rate for a range of services, and additional rates for additional equipment such as the mechanical broom machines for specific projects, and appropriate labor charges.
As a rule of thumb, general sweeping services fetch $30 to $40 per sweep that extends about an hour. The rate however, ultimately depends on:
- The overall nature and extent of cleaning required.
- The number of times cleaning is required. Some parking lots may demand daily attention, while others may require cleaning services only twice a week.
- The size and layout of the parking lot. Layouts with corners hard to gel require more effort than a simple square layout.
- Extent of bumper stops that are harder to clean.
- The extent of vegetation and concrete in the parking lot.
- Wind patterns that may accumulate or blow away debris.
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The biggest challenge in operating a parking lot cleaning business is securing parking lots for cleaning. Potential clients include malls and shopping centers, office complexes, corporate houses, schools, strip plazas, hospitals, car dealerships, grocery stores, and other businesses, agencies, or organizations with parking lots.
Unlike most businesses, a parking lot cleaning business does not require any extensive advertising campaign to generate work. The most effective method is to prepare business cards and flyers advertising the strengths of the business, and visit such premises directly, seeking an appointment with the manager in charge. The alternative ways of cold-calling and sending e-mails meets with limited success and will require a follow up visit. The key strengths listed in the flyer could be highlighting the range of services offered, the equipment used, and staff strengths.
The business will also do well with some marketing and publicity. Visibility through magnetic advertising signs on personal and work vehicles, and some advertising in trade journals rank as two good options.
The clinching factor that would secure contracts could be:
- Competitive pricing
- Creativity and flexibility in offering customized services best suited to the client, such as cleaning at night and early morning
- Superior cleaning techniques and equipment compared to competitors
- Track record of high quality work over time
Be ready to offer a free trial or a money back guarantee, especially in the initial days to secure contracts.
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The entrepreneur can micro-manage operations at the initial stages, but as the business develops a proper billing system and process, and a customer tracking process with preferably a 1-800 vanity number takes priority.
Unlike many other businesses where the entrepreneur after establishing the business can afford to relax and let the operations manage itself, a parking lot sweeping business always requires the entrepreneur to be on his toes and provide constant attention. Those looking at how to start a parking lot cleaning business would do well to understand that success depends on keeping promises, and delivering impeccable top-notch service every single time.