By Stephanie Skernivitz
Greatest Story Never Told 2014: 2nd runner-up
To Frank Ippolito III of Ippolito Snow Services in the Boston area, the phrase Boston Strong is an everyday concept lived out by all lifelong, industrious residents. It’s a way of life.
But that phrase got a little more personal for Ippolito in 2011, when he found himself taking over his father’s business after his dad passed away. Ippolito’s grandfather started the business as a service station in the 1940s in Chelsea, MA. Ippolito’s father added snow removal to the business in 1973.
“My father was highly trusted in the community and neighborhood, a really hard worker, working six to seven days a week. He probably hadn’t taken vacation in 20 years,” Ippolito says.
The business was the family legacy, built on trust and honesty, and was well established and thriving until 2009, when Ippolito’s father had a stroke at age 59. The stroke stripped his father of the ability to talk, walk or eat. He required 24/7 care, but did everything possible to get back on his feet and continue the business. He died two years later.
It might seem like a no-brainer that his son, then 42, would step up to the plate. However, he was already committed to a career he loves, serving as a vice president of human resources at Hewlett Packard (HP), a job with global responsibilities.
While Ippolito has always had a hand in the snow business, including helping his dad with billing and proposals, he had never been involved in the day-to-day operations. But when his dad died, right before snow season, he thought, “OK, now you’re in charge.”
The decision to forge on wasn’t easy, Ippolito says. “Why would I want to take over a small snow removal business that is just hard to operate, with general operations that were highly dependent on one person, my dad?” His answer: “Family matters, and Boston doesn’t give up, and neither did my dad.”
He admits the first season was “extremely difficult.” He’s grateful for family members, such as his cousin Bobby and his aunt Patti, who walked alongside him and helped him get to know the business inside and out. Ippolito says another employee, Steve, helped acquaint him with new technologies.
“One of the hardest things to do is admit you don’t know what you don’t know,” says Ippolito. “First, I have to say that snow removal is not me - all the physical work, putting gear on. I’m not great with the snowblower and haven’t driven a truck.” However, the business is much more than that.
“I had to know finance and billing to keep the business going. At first we were in survival mode, even while dad was still alive but in the hospital. My mom, Patty, is honored that I have kept this business going, and I couldn’t have done it without her encouragement,” he says.
Looking back, he reflects on how the loss of his dad presented a market opportunity for a trusted professional company to “evolve from a startup to a grown-up.” With the third-generation Ippolito at the helm, he rebranded the company, and in 2012 he developed a three-year plan that incorporated his own business experiences gathered over 15 years.
“I knew my limitations and quickly surrounded myself with a team that was skilled where I was not,” he says, acknowledging, “I’m never going to be able to drive a big plow.”
On the marketing front, specifically, he says the business has formalized its approach by creating professional marketing materials, adding billing software, implementing crew uniforms, rebranding equipment, investing in new removal technology, and leveraging online advertising.
“We want to make sure we have a consistent story from the business card to the truck logo to our sweatshirts. People like continuity, and we’ve made it kind of fun,” he says. “Our main logo makes people smile. There can be hard-core snow removal and it scares people. We want to try to make it friendlier.”
The efforts and investments have paid off, spurring revenue growth year over year at 350%. Ippolito says since joining SIMA, he is discovering even more ways to improve the business.
Ippolito is pleased with the success of the company to date, but his vision going forward is slow, sustained growth. He notes that the company ran its first online ad last year. “The outpouring of leads was more than we could handle. We don’t want to oversell ourselves. We could’ve taken 200 jobs and not done well. But that’s not what we want. We want to incrementally grow this,” Ippolito says. While growth is the long-term vision, don’t look for Ippolito to branch out into non-snow services.
“We know snow, and that’s all we do. I am not looking to make this a year-round business by adding another market segment. I don’t want us to try to be something we are not. We are snow professionals for four to five months, and it brings our family together. We are going to be the best we can be and have fun along the way,” he says. In the short time that he’s been at the helm, Ippolito says he’s learned a lot, especially the importance of family and client relationships.
“There is stress with running a business like this. This family piece really does bring us together,” he explains. “Our business is about trust, treating someone’s property like your own. Make a mistake, own it. Take care of your customers and profits will always follow.”
He adds, “A hardworking city, a hardworking family, and a brand to be proud of...that is Ippolito Snow Services Strong.”
- Know your limitations and surround yourself with quality people who have the skills you need.
- Establish a consistent brand across all channels, including uniforms, trucks, promotional materials, advertising, etc.
- Don’t be afraid to have fun.
Stephanie Skernivitz is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. Special thanks the Caterpillar for sponsoring this year’s Greatest Story Never Told contest.