Seizing the Moment

At the tender age of 17, Gale Holsman began driving a trash truck. His route took him into neighborhoods with high-priced homes where he could only dream of living. He decided he wanted to be in control of his success, and eventually struck out on his own in 1985 and built a successful street sweeping business called American Sweeping Inc. In 2006, he decided to diversify and get into the portable toilet business.

Holsman created a sister company, American Waste Systems, to provide portable toilets for special events and construction. “We have around 3,000 units of all types. Our customer base from our other companies afforded us a great base to expand into the port-a-let business. We have bought a few competitors which grew our company the fastest. Now, we operate seven trucks using Satellite equipment. We like their equipment due to their experience and durability.”

The business grew until we had offices all over the country and investments in other companies. I bought a plane and had a pilot that flew me around and it was quite a hoot. I was pretty good at making money. Being Donald Trump was fun for about nine years, but I decided that it was time to slow down.”

Holsman sold many of his out-of-town businesses and reduced his offices to one in Kansas City, Missouri. He kept several sister companies in the city such as Total Venue, American Waste Systems Inc., American Labor Source Inc. and a 187-acre horse ranch. American Sweeping Inc. will sweep anywhere and employs approximately 150 employees.

Knowing Where You Stand

“The key to owning one or several businesses is knowing exactly what your payables and receivables are,” says Holsman. “Mine are kept up on a daily basis and sent to me on my smartphone. I know a lot of guys that just want to work and not worry about that revenue, but if you aren’t careful, you can work yourself out of a job.

“I have the desire, wherewithal and energy to be successful. You have to have a plan for tomorrow and keep an eye on today. You have to be trained to be successful and know what to do and what not to do.”

Diversity

Holsman is a strong believer in diversification, which allows you to weather the bumps when one industry is down. Although his services cross over and he can provide them all to one vendor, he isn’t limited to just one service or industry. He can provide portable toilets, sweeping, special events, powering washing, pavement maintenance or any of his other services.

Street sweepers and roll offs are evenly tied to make up the bulk of Holsman’s business, but his portable toilet business is almost as big. You just have to look at your percentages. Numbers are great but you need to compare your percentage of profit from month to month and year to year. That’s when you know if you are making money and where to invest your money.

“You might say, ‘I made $1.2 million this month,’ but you need to know how much labor, fuel, insurance premiums, maintenance, etc. costs and what your percentage of profit is. I know at any given time where I’m making money and losing money.

“Because I know my percentages, I sold my parking lot sweeping business. The percentages just weren’t there. I reinvested that money into areas where those percentages were higher. I had also been in parking lot sweeping for 25 years and gotten burned out. When you get tired of doing something, it’s time to do something different. You always want to sell something on the upside too.”

“That is another reason I decided to come back to Kansas City and sell the other businesses. You end up running all over the country and your business ends up owning you. Back when I started out, I didn’t have much money. I just went out and worked. I stepped forward and made money. Now that I have assets, the challenges are greater and bring more tension.”

Associations

Holsman is a big proponent of joining associations as a great way to improve the overall knowledge and professionalism of an industry. It’s also a great way to network and gain business.

Advantages

“My advantage is my staff,” says Holsman. “Our follow up and follow through is what sets us apart from our competitors. We take great pride in making our customers look good. If we are doing your event, your people will have a place to go to the bathroom that smells and looks good. We will make sure the venue is cleaner than you found it. We are well-trained and well-staffed and put a great plan together that make our customers successful.

“I’m in business to do business and will be here for the long run. I’m big on surveys and want to know what my customers think. We keep the lines of communication open.

Equipment

When Holsman became interested in providing portable restrooms to his clients, he researched the market. “I looked at equipment online and researched the different manufacturers. Satellite offers a two-day class and I liked it so well that I went two years in a row. I also went to the Pumper show. I took the time to gain the knowledge I needed before opening up the business. I was able to interview folks and make sure I had my pricing schedule right. You don’t want to become one of those companies that grow, grow, and are then gone because the bank
came calling.

“When you look at toilets, they run $800-$1000 each. To get a truck load, you need 100. Then you need a truck to service them. I ended up with a $600,000 investment so you want to make sure that you know what you are doing, that you have a plan.

“One of the toughest jobs we do every year is making sure our special event units stay our special event units. You don’t want to lose them to construction jobs or accidentally put one of your construction units on a special events job. It’s easy to do.

“Another thing we have to handle is when vagrants decide to make a house out of one of our units. That’s a job.”

Holsman’s business sense and drive has taken him from trash truck driver to successful businessman. His route included homes in upscale neighborhoods where he only dreamed of living. Now he is living that dream in that neighborhood.

Story by Jennifer Taylor

RESOURCES
For More Information, visit:
■ American Sweeping Inc., www.americansweepingkc.com
■ Satellite, www.satelliteindustries.com

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