By Cheryl Higley
As kids in elementary school, who didn’t love a good field trip? You got to get out of school for awhile and experience something new or get hands-on experience with something you’d been studying.
Snow professionals can have their own version of a field trip with a facility tour—a prime benefit of building relationships and networking in the industry. “It’s a good way to connect with people in the industry at a more personal level,” says Paul Vanderzon, president of Amengement Paysagers Vanderzon in St. Bruno, Quebec.
When people visit Vanderzon, he says, the focus is usually on equipment. Known in the industry for his use of ag tractors to service residential clients, Vanderzon gives visitors the chance to learn more about them first-hand. He finds, too, that when he visits others’ facilities that the contractors seek his advice on how they can improve operations.
Bob Smart, owner of SmartScapes Ohio, says he visits colleagues every chance he can and that he likes that give and take. “I visited someone to see his facility, and he used me like a consultant. As we walked around, he asked how he could improve based on what I saw. It was neat to learn from him at the same time he was learning from me,” he says.
While an overall view of the facility can reap benefits for a snow contractor, sometimes visitors are seeking help with certain operations or processes. The LawnPro’s Vice President Mike Mason, CSP, has experienced both types of tours but usually he’s after a new approach to a specific process that his company is struggling with.
“Each company is unique in their approach. To be able to see that and take one or two things away that can help make my business better…it’s such a positive experience.”
Michael Merrill, CEO of North Country Snow & Ice Management, schedules visits throughout the year and sometimes brings employees into the mix for direct mentoring. Whether it’s comparing safety plans or helping solve a specific problem, it’s a win-win situation.
“When you can hook them up face to face, that’s huge. It also promotes that relationship building and networking that they don’t often have the opportunity to experience,” Merrill says.
In most cases, visits are scheduled with colleagues farther away, but some have invited busloads—and even competitors—to see their operations.
Smart hosted a site visit for more than 100 members of the Ohio Landscapers Association and says the key is to know what you can share and what may be off-limits.
“There are no real secrets in this industry. I’m not showing them how we come up with our costs or how much cash we have in the drawer, but procedures, shop setup, contracts, I have no problem sharing that. The fact is everyone has a new way to ‘crack the nut’ so to speak,” he says.
Mason says there is a trust factor that comes with the facility visit. “It’s a very controlled experience, and in most cases, you’ve already built a relationship with the person who is visiting. I’m bringing in people with integrity that I can help make their business better—but not at my expense.”
Vanderzon agrees and says sharing as much as you can only benefits the industry and keeps competitors on their toes: “What do you have to hide? I really believe that if you’re well established and run a good business, that even if competitors come they will see how to operate a well-run business.”
There is also the pride factor. “I am so proud of what I have accomplished, when someone shows an interest in what we’re doing, it’s nice to take that extra step and show them,” Vanderzon says.
Cheryl Higley is Editor of Snow Business magazine.