By Collin Corso
For some snow & ice management companies, having a geographically dense route can be a key to profitability, but it may also pose challenges. However, with constantly fluctuating fuel costs and the pressure to work more efficiently due to generally lower contract values, focusing your efforts into a small area can provide many advantages for commercial and residential snow contractors.
When starting out, I was chasing work all over a portion of my region. In my first year or two, I had several accounts that were separated by a 30-plus-minute drive time. Looking back, I can admit that it was barely worth it. I quickly learned that tightening my routes would help my journey in the snow industry. I was able to stage equipment for better (and more cost-effective) scheduling and reduce time spent on nightly ice watches and salt runs.
The little things add up
As time went on and my expenses grew, I was amazed when I would calculate what a seemingly small waste item would add to the cost in the long run. For instance, that one-hour round-trip multiplied by 20 or more seasonal service events, added to the number of separate salt runs, site inspections and on-site customer meetings, equaled a significant amount of lost billable opportunities. That doesn’t even begin to factor in the additional cost of fuel and wear and tear on equipment. This was simply lost time that my company could have used to service and bill another account.
The addition of GPS tracking equipment allowed me to quantify my suspicions of serious waste with real numbers. I was able to mathematically figure my drive-time waste into a percentage of the total route cycle time. This has become a number that, while never perfect, allows me to focus on filling the gaps in my routes by selling more in those areas while cutting customers who are on the outskirts of our focus areas.
Eventually, those single accounts that were separated by 30-plus minutes have become separate, larger groupings of relatively densely packed accounts. Crews are assigned to these areas accordingly, and I supervise all sites.
A change in approach
The biggest ongoing challenge faced when moving toward a goal of route density is that the marketing and sales approach must change dramatically. The question is no longer how can I get another several accounts, but how can I get the property next to the other three I already service? This involves hyper-focused targeting of specific properties on a one-by-one basis. It has proven to be much more difficult than cold-calling or dropping an ad in the local publication that your target demographic happens to read.
Some suggestions for targeting such a geographically specific market include:
- While general branding is still important, marketing dollars are best spent on methods that focus on individuals rather than broad regions.
- Introduce yourself to your target property owner/manager and let them know you are servicing the neighboring property. By making yourself accessible and demonstrating a high level of service quality, the visual impact of your work will begin to sell itself.
- Follow up with target prospects if/when a service failure is noticed during a winter event. By “saving the day” midstorm, oftentimes loyalty can be built into a deeper customer relationship.
- Create direct mail campaign lists by driving target areas and listing specific properties you would like to service. This will not only save postage but also weed out the prospects that do not qualify for your service model.
Service model challenges
With all the advantages of having a denser route, it can present some challenges and disadvantages, the biggest of which is that it narrows the larger pool of potential customers. While everyone’s business model is different, mine involves turning down service inquiries that are even 1 to 5 miles outside of my target area. This may seem odd, but by remaining steadfast in my approach to obtaining density, I’m making progress toward my goal.
Another challenge is the need to almost always achieve perfection at every property, since we are often selling to the neighboring property based on the visual impact of our service. In this situation, brand reputation is even more important to protect on every level. Customers that neighbor each other will talk and draw similar opinions on service quality through conversation. This makes it both easier to gain new accounts…and to lose existing ones.
- When looking at your routes, look at the hidden costs that can devalue an account.
- Routing density requires a sales and marketing approach that focuses less on area and more on prospects that fit into existing routes.
- Be prepared to deliver service perfection since your finished product will help sell to potential customers.
- GPS tracking can help identify waste and streamline routes.
Collin Corso is CEO of Driveway Snow Blowing Inc.