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Bright lights, big city

  • SIMA
- Posted: February 26, 2016
By Cheryl Higley

About Executive Snow Control
Locations: Maspeth, NY (headquarters)
and Somerset, NJ
Founded: 1983
Employees: 30 full-time, 200+ seasonal during winter operations
Clients: High-end industrial, distribution, commercial, retail

SB0216_Executive-SnowTeam (250x198)
Executive team (from left): Vice President Kerry Schembre, Founder and President Frank Schembre, and Director of Business Development Ernest H. Brackett.

Executive Snow Control doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Not only does the Maspeth, NY-based company provide snow-only service to the largest metropolitan area in the United States, but its diverse client portfolio demands nothing but the best. For companies like global delivery service companies, baked goods and meat distributors, and a power company that delivers electricity to greater New York City, time is of the essence.

“We understand the critical nature of their businesses. Their peak season, like ours, is November to February. We have a slim margin for error. They demand a high level of service with no excuses. Losing an hour because the trucks can’t leave on time can cost them tens of thousands of dollars,” says Business Development Director Ernest H. Brackett. “We are dedicated to having the right equipment and the right operators and personnel on the ground before the snow falls. We won’t compromise on delivering a level of service that allows them to get to their customers.”

Founded by Frank Schembre in 1983, Executive Snow Control has grown from managing services for nine bank branches to serving about 500 locations throughout the New York boroughs, central and northern New Jersey, Rockland County and into the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. Despite the big footprint - the company is one of the largest privately owned snow providers in the market - Executive Snow Control self-performs 95% of the work with a fleet of 80 trucks, 50 pieces of heavy equipment and 250 seasonal team members.

Key differentiators
Both the large labor pool and equipment fleet are key differentiators for the company and essential for delivering on the benchmark level of service expected.

In terms of the equipment, Brackett says their fleet size is necessary given their in-house focus, their clients’ requirements, and - most importantly - the logistical nightmares that snow in New York City can bring.

“Working in a concentrated market is our biggest challenge. Going two miles across the city in a snowstorm may take two hours. Logistically, it’s not uncommon to have a 2- to 3-acre lot that demands a dedicated piece of equipment. We separate ourselves by being able to allocate that equipment,” he says, adding that the addition of specialized snow pushers with hydraulic wings that can go underneath semis and three TrucBrush units that clear snow from atop them has helped increase their efficiencies. “Before we purchased ours, there was not one TrucBrush in New York City. Industry standards are constantly changing, and we want to be at the forefront of the revolution. But to effect change, you have to understand your industry, your company and your clients.”

SB0216_Executive-SnowTruck (250x167)
Keep the fleet moving: Executive Snow Control’s large fleet opens the possibility of breakdowns, which can be costly. The company has three mechanics ready to deploy to the field during storms.

From a labor standpoint, Executive Snow Control has insulated itself from the snow and ice labor shortage that has taken its toll in other markets. Schembre says that is due to a conscious decision to widen its geographical hiring area.

“Five seasons ago, we made the necessary contacts to go outside of our market to procure drivers and laborers with more experience in order to raise the level of service to our customers,” he says.

Brackett says the company relies heavily on repeat seasonal workers: “We’ve built our company around compensating our team well and treating them fairly. We’re attracting young talent who don’t just go out and plow a lot or shovel a sidewalk. They’re taking ownership of their site and taking pride in their work.”

Big city challenges
As mentioned, geography is Executive Snow Control’s biggest challenge. With that comes the need to manage routing, properly allocate equipment and manpower, and handle multiple channels of communication. The company operates a 24-hour call center to respond quickly to client requests.

SB0216_Executive-SnowShovels (200x134) SB0216_Executive-SnowSalt (200x134)
Stocked and loaded: (Left) With a team upward of 200 operating during a storm, Executive Snow Control makes sure they are equipped with the proper equipment to get the job done efficiently. (Right) Executive Snow Control stores salt on-site, which removes logistical challenges and allows faster service. 

Brackett says Executive Snow Control must also understand the diverse regions, boroughs and even part of the towns within them to best create a service plan. “Will a community tolerate us being there in the early morning? Without prior communication, running a payloader at 5 a.m. might not go over well in such a dense area.”

Understanding the various locales also helps the company protect itself from liability: “We use trends analysis to help mitigate our exposure to slip-and-fall liability. We can pinpoint the parts of the city we want to work in, which allows us to hedge against exposure,” Brackett says.

The company’s diverse portfolio, which also includes retail, commercial and office, also poses a challenge for Brackett and Kerry Schembre, vice president of operations.
“It’s easy to segment but every client is different. It truly is case by case,” Kerry Schembre says. “We do a lot of due diligence in the preseason, including site inspections and meeting with the property operators, plant engineers, etc. We want to understand their site-specific needs and be in tune with their operations while sharing our best practices for service, which includes site safety.”

That level of interaction helps build trust and establish a more personal relationship.
“We work with them on site staging and develop very good working relationships from the beginning,” he says. We want our clients to view us as a valuable partner that provides the best service in the snow industry. By capitalizing on the relationship building - from sales to operations - our clients have the peace of mind that they’ll be taken care of.” 
Growth strategy
Executive Snow Control may be one of the largest privately-owned snow companies in the New York market now, but like every snow and ice entrepreneur, founder Frank Schembre started small and grew his business through tight financial controls and capital reinvestment.

In 1983, Schembre’s janitorial services company, Pioneer Services Inc., was awarded a contract for a bank with nine branches in Queens and Long Island. The vice president of facilities recommended that the company also handle the snow services contract with a subcontractor that had been used by the previous company. Schembre agreed, and Executive Snow Control was born. Embracing the new service opportunity and committing to financial discipline allowed him to grow Executive Snow Control to what it is today:
  • 1983 – subcontracted, no equipment
  • 1984 – 2 plow trucks
  • 1996 – 17 plow trucks, 1 piece of heavy equipment
  • 2003 – 35 plow trucks, 5 pieces of heavy equipment
  • 2010 – 60 plow trucks, 25 pieces of heavy equipment
  • 2016 – 80 plow trucks, 50 pieces of heavy equipment
That’s a lot of iron, so controlling overhead is essential. Schembre offers the following tips for financial prudence:
  • Procure the right equipment and supplies at the best possible price point.
  • Pay all expenses prior to or at the due date to maintain strong credit with your vendors and a high rating as a company.
  • Develop and adhere to budgets.
  • Do not use credit to grow or run your company; paying as you go results in lower overhead.

Command central

SB0216_Executive-SnowTech (250x167)
Executive Snow Control turns to technology to take the company to the next level with the development of its own proprietary software.

Continued growth and reinvestment in the company set Executive Snow Control on a path that will change it forever. Next season, the company will roll out its own proprietary cloud-based software that combines a mobile app running on 10-inch rugged Android tablets integrated with SQL back-end servers. The real-time integration of administrative functions with operational needs will be a key capability.

Vice President of Operations Kerry Schembre and Director of Business Development Ernest Brackett have overseen the project for the past two years. Schembre’s experience with route assignments and operations, combined with Brackett’s focus on costing, sales and customer service, ensured the business knowledge and operational expertise needed was present at the system’s requirements phase.

“We believe that integrating every aspect of administrative and operational requirements in one efficient program with real-time data capture will propel us to the next level of service and make us the No. 1 service provider we want to be,” Brackett says. “As a company we are embracing technology; we have a fairly young team so we’re used to it in our own lives.”

Once launched, the program will allow managers to collect all critical data and have everything at their fingertips - site maps, site engineering plans, service records, work tickets, signatures, GPS coordinates and more.

Schembre says the company researched a number of third-party applications but could not find one that met its overall business requirements and decided to develop a system specific to its needs.

“We decided to partner with a New Jersey company, Goleanworks, LLC, to develop the system with us. We can look at each job site and know what it costs us from every aspect,” Brackett says. “All the tools we’ve implemented on paper over the last 20 years are now being made more efficient on a tablet interface.”

The team has performed beta testing and a soft launch is planned for this year. Brackett says team feedback, thorough testing and training are essential for success. In addition to transforming the operations, Schembre says another significant benefit of the project will be improved teamwork.

“Teamwork is important to us. Getting feedback from operators and administrative staff is crucial. Staying ahead with technology is important, but at the end of the day, making sure our people are engaged and passionate about the business is what counts the most,” he says.

Cheryl Higley is editor in chief of Snow Business magazine. Contact her at Photos by Dave Neff.
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