Brett Laing is the Director of Commercial Operations for the largest sweeping contractor in Australia, Enviro Sweep. The company is headquartered in Adelaide, where this interview was conducted in May of 2016 by Ranger Kidwell-Ross, Executive Director of the World Sweeping Association. Enviro Sweep also has offices in Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne.
WSA: Brett, please tell me about Enviro Sweep.
ENVIRO SWEEP: Glad to do so. Enviro Sweep commenced operations in 1997 in Adelaide, South Australia, as a result of two business partners, Colin Miller and Matthew Howe taking on a contract to clean gross pollutant traps. A road sweeper was seen as something that might be a good machine to assist in removing silt out of these devices. So, a second-hand sweeper was purchased and utilized in that capacity. Subsequent to that there was a natural curiosity as to what the rest of the machine was used for. So, the decision was made to start sweeping with it.
One of the first contracts they picked up was in 1998 with the Norwood Payneham & St Peters Council, a contract we still have today. The business grew slowly but it grew. I had an accounting background and was doing some advisory sort of work for Colin and Matthew and was probably looking for a bit of a challenge — a bit of diversity in what I did.
In 2000, Colin Miller suggested that I should buy into the business not because it needed capital but because he was looking to expand and grow. He saw great opportunities in the environmental services field and, in particular, in road sweeping. He said, “Brett, we want you onboard, but we want you joined at the hip!” So, I added financially to the business and from that point didn’t just “come-and-go.” I was happy for that, because I was looking to get into a business of my own. At the time, Enviro Sweep had probably about 4 sweepers and about 4 or 5 employees.
WSA: Plenty of room to grow!
ENVIRO SWEEP: Plenty of room to grow, which is what we did almost immediately because right after joining the group the Rosmech business was on the table. Graham Treloar who owned Rosmech was looking to retire and sell out. Colin was quite interested to pursue that business, because Enviro Sweep had formed an affiliation with the Scarab sweeper product line which he quite liked. Rosmech was the Australian Distributor for Scarab so we saw some real advantages to operating both businesses as a joined entity.
And so, I did the work on the acquisition of the Rosmech business, and on the 1st July, 2000, we purchased Rosmech, which operated as the distributor for Scarab and, soon, our own Rosmech regenerative air sweeper.
Since that time Enviro Sweep has continued to grow in South Australia and has became the largest sweeping contractor in the Australian market place. Today, we probably have about 70% of the market in South Australia and run somewhere around 40 sweepers in South Australia.
WSA: Are you saying you run 40 sweepers out of your office here in Adelaide, or does that also include also other offices in South Australia?
ENVIRO SWEEP: From all of South Australia, which is a really big state. From North to South, it’s probably 1,800 kilometers, and width-wise — it’s at least that, as well. However, most of our work is in Adelaide itself. The total population of South Australia is probably in the vicinity of about 1.7 million people, and 1.3 million of those live in Adelaide.
It’s the driest state in Australia and Australia is the driest continent on the planet! Most of the people in South Australia live in Adelaide because it has more rainfall. Most of our machines are run out of our Head Office in Salsbury Plains, but we have satellite offices (or depos) throughout the Adelaide Metropolitan Area as well as outside of that area where we have other accounts and municipal contracts.
WSA: From what I understand, contracting is really completely different in Australia from what it is in, for example, the United States. Am I right that there really is no parking lot sweeping marketplace here, whatsoever? Australian sweeping appears to be the sweeping of streets and car parks: Is that accurate, would you say?
ENVIRO SWEEP: There are probably about four main segments to our market. A large part of it is municipal sweeping. The municipalities self-perform, either with their own machinery (operating it themselves), or they contract it out. Of that probably about 30% contract and 70% self-perform.
WSA: So, as contractors, there is plenty of room to grow that market for sweeping.
ENVIRO SWEEP: Yes, although the Councils are a bit slow to change their ways. There are some opportunities to grow, but I don’t see it happening quickly. I think the ones that are “contracted out” now will continue to do that; the ones that are “self-performing,” in the most part, will continue to do that. I think we’re seeing some reviewing of what they do and they ensure that they’ve been meeting their stated benchmarks. When these are not attained, I think that might lead to some more contract sweeping opportunities. It does vary state-by-state, however.
WSA: Let’s not forget about the other types of sweeping that we’re going to talk about, besides municipal street sweeping, but how would you say your contracted services compare with a municipality’s inhouse force — for price and for quality? How do you assure that your municipal customers get that increased level of quality at that same price or a lesser price?
ENVIRO SWEEP: The contracting market in Australia is such that most of the contractors run older machinery. They don’t, typically, buy new machinery; instead, they buy second-hand equipment. There are a lot of small contractors, where there’s mom and dad and three or four machines. By contrast, Enviro Sweep is a large contracting business. We are approaching 100 sweepers in our fleet. There is no question that we have added costs that the smaller contractors don’t in terms of government payroll tax and other costs. We also have a greater expectation placed on us around safety, because we are a bigger business, along with a greater expectation for us to have a management structure in place that provides better training.
Our market advantage is that we are able to offer a more corporate model to the larger infrastructure businesses in Australia where our smaller competitors can’t. They simply cannot play in that space, because of the increased compliance required in workplace health and safety. We have all legal employment contracts, we dispose of the material at EPA-licensed disposal facilities — a lot of our competitors don’t have that same level of compliance that we do. At the end of the day, though, we are very competitive in our pricing — we have to be. The major infrastructure projects that we are working on are government projects to build road infrastructure, rail, bridges and that sort of thing. It’s a big part of our business.
Our model is that we have an increased volume of business, which allows us to make our profits. We won’t make as much per hour as a smaller contractor, but we have a lot more machines out there every day. We have other things in place — like GPS systems — where we’re trying to manage our labor-hours tighter. We do drug-and-alcohol testing, and all sorts of other things — to try and make us as efficient as possible, so that we continue to compete against small players.
WSA: On the topic of drug-and-alcohol testing: I know our meeting today was postponed a little bit, because you had the unfortunate task of dealing with an employee that had not passed a second drug test. Apparently, you get a “bye” on the first one, where there is an opportunity to stay with an organization, if you do the right things after a first failed drug test. I understand that directors of companies in Australia can actually be held liable for accidents that might happen with an employee that was using drugs in the company. What is that about?
ENVIRO SWEEP: At Enviro Sweep we have a zero tolerance to drugs and alcohol in the workplace. Particularly given that we are working with mobile machinery.
WSA: Is that determined by Enviro Sweep or by the government?
ENVIRO SWEEP: That is Enviro Sweep. Each business has the onus on them to implement the correct policies and procedures. About five years ago we took the stance that, because we are trying to be seen as a professional operation and trying to align ourselves with the large construction and infrastructure companies and government authorities, we implemented a drug-and-alcohol policy.
We do pre-employment medicals, drug-and-alcohol testing, ongoing random testing. However, our policy gives us a little bit of flexibility as to how we administer that. It can be done on a case-by-case scenario; it will depend on the employee’s past history with the business, their service time with the business, their performance. If they come up with a “non-negative” test, part of what happens is also what the substance is, what the levels are? They might be terminated the first time. Generally, if they are not terminated the first time, the second offense will be “two strikes and you’re out.”
There is a chain of responsibility, which I believe is part of our National Workplace Health and Safety Act, that the Directors can be jailed or fined. We’re all accountable for the safety performance of our employees. So, obviously, we take it seriously. We also want to go to sleep at night comfortably with the knowledge and comfort that we have a clean work force. It’s not legislated that every business has to do this testing, but there are consequences. As an organization, we’ve taken a stance to minimize our risk and exposure.
WSA: In the United States, I believe I would be on safe ground to say that if a company has federal contracts in the amount of $100,000 or more, then you are required to have certain drug-and-alcohol testing. In any event, it’s certainly good policy to not have people out there that can create accidents due to drug or alcohol usage. Accidents are easy enough to get into with sweepers, anyway.
ENVIRO SWEEP: We work for most of the largest companies in Australia in the mining and infrastructure fields. Those types of clients will also reserve the right to drug-test our employees. By us having that policy in place, it makes things a lot smoother. Plus, if we have an employee that, for some reason, doesn’t want to submit to a test that the client has, then we can discipline them because they are breaching our own policies.
WSA: Okay. Now, going back to street sweeping for councils. My investigation shows that there’s not much moving of cars prior to sweeping that’s being done here. Is that correct?
ENVIRO SWEEP: Yes
WSA: We had an example today of a demonstration that showed what happens when the sweeper has to go around a car. Most of the people listening to this will know that you lose at least three car spaces wherever a car is parked. Are there any councils that you’re aware of, that have requirements for moving cars, while a sweeper goes by?
ENVIRO SWEEP: No, we’re not seeing it. We have council customers that, in their specifications, say that we have to “sweep the curb and channel.” We have to make arrangements, if there are parked cars, to make the best effort to get to the curb line. However, when we propose solutions, and one of the biggest ones is parking restrictions — in these areas that are in a city and suffer from a lot of on-street parking, after hours or all the time — we get very little assistance from the council. They don’t seem to want to upset their rate-payers, and hence they don’t seem to be wanting to be too proactive around creating some parking restrictions, so that we can get better results from a cleansing perspective.
So, it’s safe to say that sweeping primarily is done in the municipal-council areas for cosmetics. At this point they haven’t seen the connection toward moving cars, getting a larger total of the debris and thus having a better environmental outcome because the small micron debris are all gone.
In Australia we still have a lot of councils that are probably a little bit further out of from the city — maybe 3 or 4-5 kilometers out from the City Center — where most houses have off-street parking, so the ability to get to the curb and channel is quite good in most instances. But where we are working where there’s a lot of on-street parking the effectiveness of the sweeping program is restricted. The councils need to look at it, but they are aware they will get a lot of push-back from their citizens.
One of the councils we are working with has adopted more of a “sweep-and-blow” scenario to those areas where they know that cars are parked at night-time. And cars are parked out in front during the daytime, because they’re close to shopping precincts and you’ve got people parking there to go to the shops, or you’ve got employees of the shops parking there in the daytime. So some of it is very difficult for them to get to, at any time, but I think if they want to get better outcomes in terms of material entering the water and the water system they need to be more proactive in that area.
WSA: So true, especially since, many times, the cars are the same cars in the same spots. Plus, if you have someone that’s dropping food bits down, then you can have a rodent problem; and, as the leaves (or whatever it is that’s under the car) start really getting some age on them, then that can do a lot to clog up storm sewers, and so forth. So, I look forward to providing information to Enviro Sweep that is targeted toward those councils and maybe together we can ultimately make a difference!
About how often is a typical residential area in Adelaide swept?
ENVIRO SWEEP: Around every eight weeks, but it varies. Enviro Sweep has operations today in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth and sweeping intervals vary a lot from state-to-state. In South Australia, you could work on a typical sweeping cycle of between 4 and 8 weeks. Typically, the ones that are doing it more often are the ones that have engaged contractors, because there is a defined service level and it’s measured against GPS data and tracking for accountability.
The larger councils, the ones that are self-performing, often don’t have well defined programs in place or a good understanding of how often they’re getting around. They have a service standard, but whether they meet it or not is another story. In Queensland sweeping is done less often. Queensland has very large “super councils” and their sweeping mandate is for about 3 or 4 sweeps a year. The same with a couple of the larger councils in Western Australia, where they are looking to get around about that same frequency.
In some of the states, the councils are smaller in size, and I find, where the councils are smaller in size, the service standard seems to be better. It’s a more personalized approach.
WSA: Where I watched the sweeping done today there were just lots of trees lining the streets. Do most of the councils employ street-sweeping as a way to remove those leaves, or do they have the residents bag them up, or do they pick them up in garbage trucks? Is there a generality to how leaf pickup is accomplished?
ENVIRO SWEEP: The sweeper is, generally, the sole tool for removing that leaf litter from the water table. This time of year — it’s now autumn in Australia (Editor’s Note: Australia has two climates, really — in the south of the country, there are the four seasons of autumn, winter, spring and summer, and in the north of the country there is a tropical climate with a dry and a wet season). As a result we have different trees: in the south, we have a lot more of the deciduous trees that drop a lot of leaf material in the autumn periods. So in autumn it’s extremely challenging, because there’s a lot of material coming down in a short space of time.
WSA: OK, let’s move on to another type of sweeping, roadway and construction sweeping.
ENVIRO SWEEP: We do two types of sweeping in that space — one is working on infrastructure projects like bridges, major road projects, and major building and construction projects. If they’re building or expanding freeways and creating a lot of “drag-out” or doing a lot of earthwork, they’ll have a sweeper there full-time. When we do that sort of work, we use our vacuum-broom style sweepers. These have very, very good high-pressure water delivery to suppress dust, wet the material and make it easier for the machine to suck it up. So that is quite a big aspect of what we do, because in Australia, right now, there is a lot of requirement for expansion around our rail-port networks. As a result, there’s a lot of money being spent on infrastructure as we grow in population.
The other area we work on are road-maintenance projects where they are resealing our freeways and roadways — maybe not necessarily building new roads, but resealing and keeping them clean from loose material coming off of any vehicles, or that sort of thing. That’s all night work. We are currently doing a lot of that work in South Australia and Western Australia, and especially in Queensland.
WSA: That would include what we call millings — is that part of what you are talking about?
ENVIRO SWEEP: Yes, that would be part of that process.
WSA: Talk about the type of sweeper that you would use for that milling work…
ENVIRO SWEEP: Predominantly, we would use still the vacuum-broom style machine. For us, these include our Scarab Merlin and Mistral models. We are the Scarab dealer for Australia so we have a preference for their product. You know, practice what you preach. We also use some regenerative air machines, which are also used on our airport projects. We like how the regenerative air sweepers pick up so we’ll probably start to use them more now that we’re making and selling that product on the Rosmech side of our business. We see the advantages of that product moving forward. We have some staff in our group that are very experienced with that product as well as with operating and maintaining it and I’m sure we’ll see some advantages in that space, moving forward.
WSA: How does the broom-air hold up with milling projects? A lot of the milling in the United States is done with the mechanical broom sweepers, while others use regenerative air sweepers. Millings is probably the most wearing type of sweep.
ENVIRO SWEEP: Yes, very abrasive! Our Scarab machines work quite well in that environment, though. We do a lot of airport work with the Scarabs as well, for new runway work and road profiling work — we find that they work very well. And in terms of managing wear of the sweeper: we line some of the wearing components like the nozzle and the intake-tube. We find it helpful to use a rubber liner, or a polyurethane liner to get a longer life out of the wear components.
Plus, in Western Australia and in Perth there’s a lot of sand, so we get a sand-blasting effect. We’re very conscious about our wear parts in that marketplace. Surprisingly, even if you’re 30 kilometers inland from the beach in Perth there is still a lot of sand. It’s quite amazing, to be honest…
WSA: I know the cost of maintenance and operation is generally considered to be significantly higher on a mechanical broom machine, just because they have more wear parts, and so forth, than it is on the air machines where, essentially, it’s just your gutter brooms are what’s hitting the road. I’ll be interested to see, now that Rosmech is handling and selling a regenerative-air sweeper, how you’ll be using it at Enviro Sweep. I’m sure you’ll be cataloging your costs and it will be interesting to see how that shakes out, in terms of cost of operation.
ENVIRO SWEEP: Yes, we have two regenerative air sweepers in our Queensland fleet right now so we are starting to collect some data. We also run in our Enviro Sweep fleet the Scarab Merlin, which is a single-engine vacuum-broom machine, and the Scarab Mistral, which is a twin-engine vacuum-broom machine. We know from our statistics that the single-engine machine is about 5% cheaper to run, with reduced diesel costs and reduced servicing costs because we are not servicing the auxiliary engine. It will be interesting to see how the regenerative air sweepers compare once we have some real data on regenerative air sweepers of a similar age with similar hours.
WSA: What other types of sweeping do you perform?
ENVIRO SWEEP: We haven’t yet talked about construction of new roadways. When we’re doing work on construction of new roadways and other projects like the new hospital in Adelaide, and that sort of thing, we’re typically sweeping external to the actual site. That’s because we’re managing the drag-out of soil, that’s being taken offsite due to heavy vehicles coming in and out of the construction site.
WSA: Some of the U.S. states are now requiring that a construction project of X-amount of size have to have a sweeper onsite, whether they are being used or not. They just have to be there, available there all the time. Which, of course, those contractors love…
ENVIRO SWEEP: Of course!
WSA: Contractors can give their operator a book to read: No doubt the sweeper’s Operator’s Manual to read and re-read, to where they have it completely memorized… It will be interesting to see if that takes place in Australia later on, too.
ENVIRO SWEEP: It is already prevalent in some states. Well, it’s probably not legislated, but I know, for example, that the Victorian Roads Authority (“Vic-Roads”) is extremely vigilant on any projects where they are dragging material out onto their roads. Some of the other states of Australia are currently less vigilant but I think there will be more and more scrutiny on that as we move forward. Sometimes it’s up to the local authorities to police it, and they tend to be a bit more relaxed about the whole thing. But certainly, at least in some areas that we work, they’re very hot on it.
So, the other type of sweeping we perform is the cleaning of industrial sites. For example, mining or heavy-industry sites where we do regular sweeping. We call that our “hard-hat runs.” That’s the other main area where we derive revenue, in the industrial sweeping sector of concrete slabs and mining-type sites.
WSA: Do you go in and out of those or leave a machine and have an operator work on that site every day? Or do those folks buy a machine from — you hope ultimately — the Rosmech side of your business and run their own operator?
ENVIRO SWEEP: It varies. We have sites where we work 7 days a week. In those cases we have a machine, or a number of sweepers there, and we run operators in and out of that site. We have other sites where they’re wanting us to be there 3 times a week, or 5 times a week for 3 hours a day, or something like that — so it’s a case-by-case scenario.
We like to get, whenever possible, the vehicles back to our base so that we can get them through our wash bays; we can visually see the vehicles regularly; so we have an understanding for how the operators are taking care of the machne — greasing it, cleaning it, and those sorts of things. We want to make sure no one is leaving material in the hopper for a few days. We expect the sweepers to be tipped (emptied) every day; we expect them to be cleaned and greased every day.
WSA: How about tipping? What does it cost to get rid of your material? Are you able to transport, predominantly, or are you dumping out and scooping up with scoop-loaders and putting it into dump trucks?
ENVIRO SWEEP: In South Australia, the rates in Victoria are around $150AU (Australian dollars) per ton — it’s extremely expensive. In the other states where we operate, it is more around the $40 a ton price. In South Australia, we have a lot of council contracts. We can tip, typically, in the council “depo.” In those cases we run our own semitrailer, or what we call a “tipper-and-dog” configuration, so that we can transport material in bulk up to the EPA landfill site. In that way we get, better productivity and efficiency out of the sweeper, and we get better disposal rights out of the EPA landfill site. It also allows us to get the water out of the load and allows it to dry out a little bit. So, the weight is being reduced by the fact that we both blow it out and cart it.
We haven’t quite got the economy to scale to do that in our other territories as yet, but it’s probably a model that we’re working towards. All of that is dependent on infrastructure facilities, arrangements with customers, etc.
WSA: How about screening of the sweepings?
ENVIRO SWEEP: The municipalities don’t do it because they don’t have the volume. We have done it in the past, and we’ve worked in a joint venture-type arrangement with one of our landfill sites. We own a screening machine and we have, in the past, screened and sold material to the marketplace. The material is used for beautification of the landfill site, to assist in growing vegetation there to green the site.
WSA: Thank you for this very nice overview of how a sweeping operation works in Australia. What kind of tax rate are you looking at, as just a general business in Australia?
ENVIRO SWEEP: The company tax rate is 30%, currently. The individual maximum tax rate is 45% (or 45 cents on the dollar), with a 2% National Health Tax on top of that — so, you don’t want to be in a high income, because you give half of it back to the government, basically.
WSA: And what does your health tax get you? Is there health insurance coverage in Australia?
ENVIRO SWEEP: That gives you access to doctors and the public hospital system. We also have a private health system in Australia. If you are over 30 years of age and you’re earning a modest income — I’m not sure what the cut-off is — you have to have private health insurance. Otherwise the government charges you an extra 1% on your income tax because you are not in the system. They feel you should be because at your income level you can afford it. One might say that the goal for everybody is to earn enough money to be able to afford private health coverage so you can get all the major coverages, hospital, dental, optical and physiotherapy, and you can select the service provider.
It’s an expensive thing but at the end of the day, if you’re earning a good income you don’t have a choice. You have to be in the private system because otherwise the government will charge you, so there is an incentive to be in the system. I can’t really speak for the public system, because I’m fit and healthy.
WSA: What do you do when you need employees? You have about how many employees at Enviro Sweep?
ENVIRO SWEEP: Enviro Sweep is around 90 Australia-wide, and Rosmech (which is part of the group) is around 45. We have a full-time Human Resources Coordinator who is responsible for governing the recruitment process. Whenever one of our managers are looking to recruit operators they will get approval, generally from myself or who they report to, to go to the market and recruit. HR will run the advertisement.
We advertise on a product called “Seek,” which is an internet-based recruitment web site. In some markets, we might use local press (the local paper) but, as I said, the Human Resources Coordinator would run the advertisement for the Operations Managers or the Workshop Manager. Typically, those managers would do their own vetting of applications and interviewing. Those people that are offered a job would be asked to complete an Employment Application Form, which collects some of their personal information. Then they will then be issued with an Employment Contract which is all-encompassing. And then an appointment would be organized for them for a pre-employment medical.
If the role is a more senior role, that will be more closely run by the HR Department, and they will be involved in the interview process. And we also have an external recruitment advisor, whom we use for the more senior roles that we are recruiting in the business, and for our more specialized roles. We also have an industrial relations lawyer that we use as a consultant if we have any industrial-relations or employment-contract issues with staff.
But typically, the Human Resources Coordinator would control most of the processes around recruitment and employment contracts, as well as wage reviews, disciplinary actions and any similar processes. It’s an excellent resource to be able to have in our business, and for a business of our size it’s critical.
WSA: How about licensing requirements for sweeper operators and for people that operate other pieces of equipment? What does Australia require for that?
ENVIRO SWEEP: Most of our sweeper operators require a Medium-Rigid License, which is for machines with a single axle on the rear that have a maximum weight of around 15,500 kilograms, nearly 35,000 pounds. After that there’s Heavy Articulated and Heavy Rigid licenses. There are also other licenses for forklifts and skid-steers and loaders. These days, there is a lot of training required and a lot of it is around competency or verification of competency-type testing.
WSA: Is there anything like — and again I refer to the United States, because that’s the market that I’m most familiar with — like union contracts? Do you sometimes have union jobs that are prevailing-wage? In other words, jobs where a higher rate needs to be paid to your operators?
ENVIRO SWEEP: Not normally. Victoria is the only state where there is a strong union presence and it is being eroded because the unions haven’t always been model citizens in terms of their behavior. Hence there’s a lot of scrutiny on the unions. The members sometimes question the value they get for their contribution. So we are not a unionized work force; we don’t have many union members. I don’t know how many union members we have — I’m not privy to that. I don’t think it would be many. I’m glad to say that we don’t have industrial-relations issues. All of our employees are on individual employment contracts. Everything we do is above board and they are taking all benefits that are legally required, so the union situation is not one that really concerns us. Occasionally, there are some sites that will ask for additional allowances for the operator, if he’s working on a site that the union has really gotten involved with, but I’m seeing less and less of that. Even those side allowances would only be a few extra dollars per hour.
WSA: Is there a minimum wage in Australia?
ENVIRO SWEEP: There is. Our employees are employed under the West Management Award, so that has a minimum award wage, which we have to meet the minimum requirements of. As I said, our contracts are individual employment contracts, but they reference the West Management Award. So we have to meet the minimum requirements of that award — for our wages and overtime penalties and annual leave requirements, that sort of thing.
WSA: Are there are a number of those different types of awards; different pay scale levels and so forth?
ENVIRO SWEEP: Yes, they’re all industrial agreements or industrial awards. There’s the award that applies to our operators; we have one governing the employment of our administrative employees; there’s one for workshop, mechanical people. Our pay scales are governed by about 4 or 5 different awards.
WSA: If someone has the license that they need to operate a sweeper but they have never been one before — would they typically come in at whatever the minimum wage would be, or is that competitive enough that those wages are bid up above the minimum even at the beginning?
ENVIRO SWEEP: All of our operators are paid slightly above the award and all of our sweeper operators are on the same wage. We found out a long time ago that, whichever sweeper operator you talk to he’s better than his colleague, and the colleague thinks he’s better than the other person. So, if we tried to categorize our operators in terms of their experience or their capability or some other criteria we know we would get arguments presented to us from all of the different operators.
WSA: Or their wives!
ENVIRO SWEEP: Yes, exactly! We do have some female operators, so maybe in that case from their husbands. But we have a standard agreement for all operators in each territory. Now, the rates between states may vary, based on the competitiveness of each market for labor and also what we can charge our customers. But all of our operators are on the same agreement.
WSA: So, if an operator’s wage went up, they’d all go up in that area, in that group, in that location?
ENVIRO SWEEP: Yes. And they are reviewed annually. We do an annual wage review, which we incorporate that in our budget process. So, across our business, we do an annual wage review for all employees, and generally most employees will get an increase each year.
WSA: How about training; what does that encompass? I know that’s different for all the job descriptions, but say — for a person that comes in and says, “I’m a sweeper operator,” what’s going to happen there? S/he says, “I’ve done this before, worked for your competitors, I know everything I need to know about running a sweeper.” Then what?
ENVIRO SWEEP: We probably operate different machinery from to our competitors, so each operator that comes into the business will be assessed in terms of their experience. Each of our branches has a trainer, someone who is an operator that can deliver training based on their experience, communication skills and their thoroughness. We have an internal training process — in terms of documentation, procedures for training, and a paper-trail to follow. Each of the new people that come into the business are taken through that. It might take two days, three days, four days, depending on how quick they pick everything up and what their previous experience is.
They’ll also be buddied up for the first two weeks, to get them up-to-speed. We have looked at the concept of having a national trainer. The problem with that is the person would be away from home for probably 35-40 weeks a year. We don’t think that’s a model that we can pursue because we won’t be able to retain people because they’d get very sick of the travel. So, we’ve gone to a model where we’ll probably employ someone who will coordinate training nationally so we can maintain our desired level of consistency.
WSA: Well, we covered a lot of ground. Is there anything that I haven’t asked that you’d like to put out there about Enviro Sweep? Either aspects of how the market works in Australia, or how Enviro Sweep separates itself in the marketplace?
ENVIRO SWEEP: Just to wrap it up, as I said we have taken the approach, as we’ve grown, that we want to be one of Australia’s most professional businesses. So, we have implemented in all of our branches our own repair facilities. We feel that’s the only way to go. A lot of our competitors don’t run their own workshops. It’s sometimes difficult to get quality fitters or mechanics, so I think some of our competitors have shied away from going down the path of trying to recruit their own people to maintain their equipment and/or invest in the infrastructure to set up workshops. We feel that’s the ONLY way that you can do it, if you want to be a large, professional operation where we can control our maintenance in terms of maintenance costs, better reliability out of our machinery, and meeting all the safety standards that are necessary to ensure compliance.
So, to that end we have a National Fleet Manager who oversees Enviro Sweep’s service programs in terms of, how we service our vehicles, what’s involved in the service that we do, how often we service. We have developed frameworks around the servicing expectations of each branch. Through the GPS system we can actually track all our servicing now, so the GPS will flag when services are due, based on hours. Our Fleet Manager gets that information and he can ensure that each of the branches is meeting our service expectations. The Fleet Manager also visits them three times a year and reviews their paperwork for compliance and that sort of thing.
That’s an area that we’re very strong on, and it gives us a bit more peace of mind around reliability and the safety aspects of our vehicles.
We’ve positioned ourselves at the top end of the market and we try and sell that to our customers. Sometimes they want the cheapest price and they’re happy to turn a blind eye to all the things they ask for — around safety, and performance, and age of equipment. However, we try and run fairly late model equipment. Certainly, it will be a more modern equipment than most of our competitors. We’re growing our fleet by probably about 15 machines a year, though, so it’s quite challenging to grow a fleet by that quantity of machines. They need you to source them, to get them into operation, to get new operators on, to get them trained.
We’re in quite a big growth phase at the moment and the business is already probably the largest contractor in Australia. We are very, very close to having 100 sweepers in our fleet — and we probably will, by Christmas time this year. It’s a challenge…
WSA: It’s a good challenge to be faced with!
ENVIRO SWEEP: Yes, I think we can probably double our size in the next six or seven years, as well — so that’s the goal! Thanks for your time, Ranger!
WSA: Well, thank you for YOUR time, and much obliged! And it’s very nice to hear how Enviro Sweep started and where you’re going as well as gain for our readers a wide range of information about how the sweeping industry — and business in general — operates in Australia. I congratulate you and Enviro Sweep on your many successes to date, as well. Thanks again, Brett.
ENVIRO SWEEP: Thank you!