Brian DuBose, Branch Manager of Greater Texas Landscape Services
A winter blast that pummeled the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex in the week leading up to the 2011 Super Bowl transformed how many in the Lone Star State think about snow. About 5 inches of snow fell three days after an ice storm brought the area to a standstill.
That event served as the catalyst for Greater Texas Landscape Services’ Dallas branch to step up and become a professional snow & ice management resource in a state unfamiliar with the concept of proactive storm fighting. The company has faced Texas-sized challenges - including a tremendous learning curve, lack of access to materials, and a widespread disparity in tolerance levels - in its quest to become the market leader.
With admitted trial and error and relentless determination, Branch Manager Bryan DuBose is finally making inroads as the branch’s snow & ice sales have grown year after year. As a result, the efforts of DuBose and his Greater Texas Landscape Services team were recognized as the 2014 Snow Business Greatest Story Never Told.
Less tolerance for snow
In years past, when there was snow & ice in Texas, people just stayed home, DuBose says, adding that his company is capitalizing on the market’s decreased tolerance level.
“The tolerance is getting lower and lower. People are realizing that you can’t just shut down a city when it snows,” he says.
While the tolerance for many customers is lower, committing resources to ensure professional snow & ice management isn’t quite on the same pace. DuBose says some are more tolerant than others, resulting in requests for different levels of service. He creates site plans and outlines expectations - whether it’s having a few spaces and a walkway clear to full site clearance - and charges accordingly.
“We meet with all of our clients and formulate a plan based on their needs, level of tolerance, etc. Because of the different levels of expectations, most of our contracts are per-push or time and material with escalator clauses,” he says. “It’s a balancing act.”
Ice events add another layer of complexity to Greater Texas Landscape Services’ service delivery. Because most of the current contract language stems from the company’s landscape maintenance contracts, customers are often in the driver’s seat when it comes to deploying for ice treatment.
“Traditionally, the contracts have said ‘Ice melt as directed by the property manager,’ ” DuBose says. “We’re trying to clean that up. It forces us to be reactive when they’re dictating when we can service. We do have contract language that protects us in the event that they tell us not to come.”
Educating the customer is important, and DuBose schedules preseason meetings and helps clients understand the ramifications of a delayed response.
“We’re trying to educate them that we have to be proactive and that they have to spend the money up front to treat/pretreat. Otherwise, we can’t give them the results they want.”
He says several customers learned that lesson the hard way: “Some think that you can treat a quarter-inch of ice the same as 3 inches of ice. Several clients didn’t want to do anything because the forecast showed a quarter-inch of ice. They were then calling the next morning when there was substantial ice accumulation. They learned that you have to get out in front of it.”
DuBose knows he can’t change the myriad levels of service but admits he has to find a new way to manage the invoicing. He currently generates each bill and the documenting paperwork that goes with it. “This year it got so complicated that it took me five weeks to invoice the six-day event we had in December. I have to find a better way.”
Learning on the fly
Looking for a better way has been a necessity as the branch team has immersed itself in learning how to properly perform snow & ice management with virtually no training or experience. Thrown into the fire with the Super Bowl storm, DuBose has slowly but surely developed a highly competent team thanks, in part, to the connections he has made in the industry.
“We talked to suppliers, called people in the Northeast, became active on industry message boards, watched videos and learned from associations like SIMA,” he says. “Truthfully, we are still learning.” Keys to success
Planning for fickle Texas winters requires lock-tight logistics and a dedicated equipment purchasing program that allows Greater Texas Landscape Services to excel in the field.
Every year, DuBose says the branch’s purchasing approach has evolved. After the harsh 2010 season, DuBose knew he had to move away from the market’s standard procedure of waiting to buy ice melt until you needed it. “We knew we had to have a plan and were able to get commitments from clients so we could better estimate how much product we would need.”
The following year, DuBose realized he had to look deeper at the equipment fleet. “We couldn’t get to everyone and ran out of ice melt. We again sought commitments from our clients and were able to buy 16 ZTR front-mounted plows and tailgate spreaders and more ice melt.” Every year, more equipment - including 4WD trucks and the only privately owned truck plows in the Metroplex - have been added.
More equipment meant learning how to deploy from a central location and getting a jump on the storms. Because of the size of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex (75x75 miles wide), it’s necessary to stage employees in hotels across the area in advance.
“We have to make sure our team’s equipment, trucks and materials are ready to go early because small ice events can quickly turn into a nightmare. We have freezing rain that can change to hail to snow and back to freezing rain. It makes a big ice sandwich. If we’re not out there ahead of it, we might as well just stay home.” Looking ahead
Now that the branch has a better grasp on what it takes to implement a successful snow & ice management program, DuBose is ready to grow and recently showcased his operations at a local BOMA conference.
“To this point, we’ve done ice & snow for our landscape maintenance clients. We want to let people know we have the equipment and the experience to do it professionally. We want to become the experts. We’re a long way from it, but we’re trying.”
At the mercy of the market
Bryan DuBose and Production Supervisor Roland Gomez manage snow operations.
Ice is the typical culprit for Greater Texas Landscape Services' winter headaches, yet the company’s location presents a particular challenge in procuring ice melt materials. Bryan DuBose, DFW branch manager, says since the company has added snow & ice management services it has been at the mercy of the materials sold by local suppliers.
“This isn’t a place where we can get a big volume of bulk salt. We have to keep so much on hand at all times that we have to rely more on bagged product,” he says. “Right now we’re trying to get better ice melt options. We really haven’t had a whole lot of choice. We want to get more in-depth information on what we should use, learn different applications, and bring in what’s best for the situations we’re going to have.”
Last season the company used more than 100 49-bag pallets of ice melt over six events.
“With each event we had, we resupplied to ensure we had what we needed,” DuBose says. “We had an extended event in December and no one had any salt except us. People were going to the store to buy kitty litter to at least get traction.”
Leftover pallets are stored in the shop and in sea crates. A key concern is keeping the product safe in the Texas heat. “The storage is well vented so it doesn’t get too hot. That’s another reason we use bagged products. It’s sealed, which keeps the salt from getting wet. It seems to weather the summer pretty well,” he says.
The company started the 2011 season with 13 pallets of ice melt and has increased that every year to 105 last season. DuBose says that increase in capital investment, combined with the difficulty in consistently procuring quality materials, may force a shift in contract management.
“Something we’re considering after this last winter is requiring clients to make a commitment on the level of service and/or to pay in ad-vance for salt. Clients who want to be reactive and want us to service on a per-event basis, we won’t guarantee that we’ll have ice melt to service their properties.”