American Companies

American Companies, Kansas City
American Companies is a success story of bold business modeling, spectacular diversification, and logistical genius. For professionals in the liquid waste industry, look here for inspiration, fresh ideas, supreme industry training, and an exhilarating story of the building of a site services empire—portable toilets of various types throughout the region—all starting from one sweeper truck in 1984.
American Sweeping Inc. and American Waste Systems Inc. have been operating in Kansas City MO for almost 35 years. Now American Companies provides a one-stop-shop for street sweeping, power washing, roll-off containers, rear loaders for commercial and residential, day portering service, portable toilets for construction, special event toilets, luxury toilet trailers, event clean-up, trash boxes, stage rental, and other site services needs. An additional subsidiary, American Pavement Maintenance, provides asphalt, sealcoating, striping and introduced the first infrared machine in Kansas City.
Gale Holsman, founder and owner of American Companies is a force of nature. He founded the company in 1984, after working as a local sales manager for Waste Management. He had an opportunity to buy a sweeper truck, bought it, and started sweeping Kmart and Wal-Mart parking lots.
His first weekend job in the industry was with The Michael Jackson Victory tour, sweeping the parking lot throughout the three-day Arrowhead Stadium concert stay was an exciting start. “They liked me. And, today we have hundreds of toilets in the parking lots there. Crazy how much business can grow from a simple, but great start.”
Holsman went on to build up an array of sweeping companies, expanding into Atlanta, St. Louis, Columbia and other markets. In 2006 he sold the last of his parking lot sweeping companies. American no longer services parking lots, and now focuses on much larger civil street sweeping contracts for municipalities and highway work.
Gale explains that his toilet business started growing as more of his roll off customers began reasoning that since his company was picking up roll offs at their sites, it would be convenient if American could provide the toilet services as well. The special event services also offer a unique opportunity for event planners to make one call for several behind the scene event services. This along their exceeding customer service gives them an edge over the competition as a one stop event shop.

American’s Plans for Growth
Asked about plans and expectations for growth and foreseeable challenges, Gale characteristically keeps it simple while expressing his thoughts in broad industry-wide conceptualizations, “Yes, companies want to grow, because that’s the reward—growth in equipment, employees, benefits, buildings to house your equipment and operations. Everything has to do with growth.
But, growth requires a business plan that includes a roadmap. Business owners need to map out a plan of progress that takes you from where you are, to where you want to be within a given timeframe.” The plan and its roadmap must be shared with the entire team, bringing everyone on board.
Part of the discussion at our weekly Wednesday managers’ meetings is focused on where we are, where we want to go, and how we’re going to get there. We consider each manager’s wish list for projects and then match it with the numbers, to determine feasibility, modify if possible and make decisions for the way forward.
However, central to happiness, per Gale’s winning business philosophy is a fundamental tenet—”Being big is not the ideal; being big is not the program. Growing…growing…gone is a business cliché. Our objective is to provide service for the book of work we have, so that we have good account retention. We spend our time on account retention. We want to provide the best service, so that our clients have no reason to go to our competitors.”
Gale quickly adds, “But, we also charge enough to do well in business. Charge for your services. Don’t be afraid to charge for your services. If you don’t get paid sufficiently, you can’t provide good employees and services. If you can’t afford to do business, then your customers can’t stay with you.”
Gale offers a universal concept of branding, “Our growth depends upon our reputation. Our reputation rides on the perception of our company, our containers, trucks, uniforms, and everything that presents us to our current and prospective clients. It has to be first class. Perception is everything. What you have left at the end of the day is your reputation, which relies on those critical perceptions of your business and your team.”

An Industry Icon of Energy and Talent
Asked about the company’s sales system for new customer acquisition, Holsman explains, “Word-of-mouth between business owners and property managers is an important source of new business for us. Longevity naturally brings customers through those sources. Our website is also one of our #1 24/7 sales people.”
“However, our actual sales people do a great job going out and biding for new jobs. Our sales team provides bids to parks and recreation departments, cities, events, and various entities, to make sure we have that good live communication going.”
Gale also has other companies, outside of the industry. He explains that the cars, as well as his offshore race boat, the 57 horses on his ranch, along with his fiancé Gail’s 2 Harley-Davidson dealership and Shawnee Mission Cycle Plaza are all separate entities in which he stays active and that serve his need to have his range and extent of business activities rise to his personal energy level.
However, based on our interview with this extraordinary industry leader, it seems that Gale would need even more businesses and larger sets of complex challenges ever to approach his limit of ability to efficiently manage activities that reach in even the most widely diverse of professional directions.

Caveats for New Market Entrants
Gale offers some necessary facts for industry newcomers to know about certain challenges site services companies face today. “It’s a very expensive business. One air sweeper truck is about $115,000. A toilet truck is around $80,000. Wages have nearly doubled, and it can be tough to get good drivers these days. Fuel is going over $3.00 per gal this year. Truck costs have doubled. Insurance rates are off the charts.
Customers must pay for these costs in order for service providers to stay in business. You need sound revenues. (Yet, some companies try to operate offering 1980s pricing.)
Further, companies like American and other established providers may have comparatively very little debt now, which allows a major competitive edge. So, it can be a tough business to get going in.”

Team Motivation, American Style
In such a large organization, the total number of employees on staff, of course, fluxuates seasonally, and with special projects and new accounts. American staff includes managers, sales staff, administrative employees, day and night drivers, truck mechanics, technicians, night supervisors, porters, and mechanics.
After the initial three-months, the company offers health insurance, yearly raise reviews, vacation time, and annual bonuses, among other benefits. They also offer quarterly team building activities such as; Worlds of Fun, Bowling, a day on the lake, and parties at the ranch to name a few.
Boosting efficiency and employee engagement are both hands-on imperatives for Gale. He provides his organization with monthly training seminars, and training is conducted throughout the company on an ongoing basis. (A well-recognized motivator and industry expert, Gale Holsman has also been called on to present talks to various professional groups throughout the country.) Employees are also provided with a company training manual. And, the company’s Safety Director provides necessary training and guidance to ensure that drivers are safe and that equipment is operated safely.

Holsman’s Assessment of Industry Challenges Going Forward
Gale advises that maintenance on trucks can be expected to become an increasing issue as truck manufacturers continue to make service vehicles lighter. He has observed that the problem is already creating a serious strain on some less well-funded companies. Staying up with truck maintenance is an even more imperative priority.
He notes that American buys its trucks and equipment from Satellite. And, true to his form, as a leader who consistently acknowledges talent and good work that he finds benefits his company from any source, Gale asks to include a mention of Gene Clay, Satellite’s account service rep to American, if possible (though he realizes it’s probably unprecedented for this sort of business article to praise a supplier’s rep by name). He gives the supplier his highest recommendation, “They actually teach you the business and the right equipment to use. They have the best-made equipment in the industry, and they don’t oversell.” This referral seems to provide good advice for any industry participant, so we will leave it in.
Gale views regulations, taxes and other governmental issues as perhaps one of the most concerning potential impactors of his company’s maximal future success. He emphasizes that he appreciates the need for change, but is concerned about over-regulation and wasteful execution of change for the sake of change.
Finally, he reminds providers once again, “You’ve got to be smart enough to know what your cost are and that profit is not a nasty word. Remember to sell customer service and benefits, not price.”

Future Projections for American Companies
Looking ahead over the coming years, American plans to compete profitably over the next decade in the medium-sized KC sweeping market? Gale explains that “There are guys occasionally coming in and going out quickly, trying to break in. We do have a couple of very good competitors. There are good competitors in the toilet business in Kansas City. We compete against each other, and we help each other.”
Gale’s plan is to keep current on customer needs, industry advancements and legislative considerations, and otherwise to keep doing what his company has been doing—focusing on elevated service quality and cultivating customer retention. “One of our great strengths is in actually providing one-stop-shopping for our customers. We don’t just pick up the phone for them and order the work from our competitors.”
We rely on our stellar team to handle our businesses with confidence and care; and to continue to take us into the ever-changing future in our industries. Glen Hockemeier, AC’s IT wizard watches for the latest and greatest in tech innovations. Gale’s daughter, Shannon Holsman-Lock, Marketing and Event Sales Director, keeps the management team apprised of marketing advancements. Robert Felton American’s Operations Director organizes, schedules and oversees our events to ensure everything arrives promptly and on time. Our shop, led by Tony Reynolds stays on top of our trucks upkeep under the hood and appearances out on the road. And, our wonderful office staff ensures that our billing and invoices are correct and on time—an important part of our success and keeping our customers happy.”
These are just a few members of the excellent team that makes American run smoothly, day in and day out. Gale emphasizes, “Your future success is found in your employees and management team and ours is fantastic!”
GPS allows us to keep control of what our drivers are doing on the job at all times. I know exactly where my trucks are, how fast they’re moving, where they’ve been at any given time, where they were yesterday. This convenient and optimally efficient kind of micro-managing is central to our quality assurance system.
Talking to Gale, it becomes clear to see why he’s been called “the Sweeper Preacher” of site support services. He does what one with such a large industry reputation would be expected to do—he generates the systemic innovations—the thought leadership that guides the field toward ways of doing business that are evolving the industry into its future form.
It also becomes increasingly clear that Gale Holsman is that kind of leader who doesn’t fail to consistently show genuine appreciation and respect for every employee and other person, inside and outside of the business¬—which is the hallmark of leaders with elevated business philosophies. It further well accounts for the degree of team cohesion necessary for the sustained success of American’s quality management—a long-term record that is only possible in companies under such leadership.


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