As a record-setting winter bore down on Boston in 2015, Ippolito Snow Services was “down for the count,” says owner Frankie Ippolito. The enormity of the events - more than 60 inches of snow fell in consecutive storms during a two-week span - made it difficult to keep pace.
At the same time, Mid State Property Services owner Travis Dassylva of Heath, Ohio, saw opportunity on the East Coast. With plenty of equipment and no snow in his market, Dassylva searched online for snow companies in the Northeast and started dialing. First on his list? Ippolito Snow Services.
Little did they know then that Travis’s entrepreneurial phone call would forever change their lives.
“I took him up on the offer to come, sight unseen. It was a huge risk but he was persistent! We were buried in snow, so I said ‘Let’s roll the dice,’” Ippolito says.
Boston snowfalls: By bringing Travis Dassylva on board to help manage field operations, Frankie Ippolito can continue to build the company’s growing sidewalk business.
The beginning of a journey
Dassylva and another employee loaded equipment and began the 750-mile journey to Boston. They were lucky enough to find a hotel and then went straight to work. Dassylva and his employee worked tirelessly, only seeing Ippolito once when he reallocated resources in advance of one of the storms.
“He owned every site he cleared and helped us where we were falling down,” Ippolito says. “Whatever we gave Travis got done well. He was treating those sites like they were his own. To see him put that much time and care into it stood out for me.”
After three weeks in Boston, the storms had cleared and Dassylva headed home, but not before they agreed to keep in touch. Ippolito Snow Services, which is a snow-only company, was in growth mode and Ippolito saw potential in what would become a mutually beneficial long-distance relationship.
During the summer, they spoke on the phone and when Ippolito suggested Dassylva plan to come back during the core snow season, Travis jumped at the chance.
“At first there was a lot of uncertainty. We really didn’t know each other. I knew his guys and his secretary better than I knew him,” Dassylva says. “But I got to know him, and since I had just started my business and we weren’t getting any snow I didn’t feel I was in a position to say no.”
For the winter of 2016, Dassylva came (alone this time) for six weeks beginning right after New Year’s. He rented an apartment, had a route of his own and worked alongside the Ippolito team, who accepted him without reservation.
“I was worried about Travis not having any connections to the folks here. On the one hand, it was a positive because I knew he’d be ready and not distracted; but I didn’t want him to feel alone during the lulls,” Ippolito says. “He made friends quickly and was welcomed with open arms. As a member of the team, his natural leadership ability drew people to him. Even our tougher drivers told me ‘this one’s a keeper!’”
Travis says leaving behind his family and girlfriend was made easier because of the easy transition.
“They make me feel like I’m one of their own. I’m a big family guy, so that means a lot to me. I know I’m wanted, and I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to welcome me back every year.”
After departing in 2016, the pair decided to take the partnership up another notch. They began talking more frequently and Ippolito started to rely more and more on Dassylva’s expertise in large equipment and bidding. They now have a standing weekly call and touch base other times as well.
Team Ippolito: Field operations team members Richie Christopher and Rosey Virula were among those who helped Travis Dassylva (back, center) integrate seamlessly into Ippolito Snow Services’ operations.
Today, Dassylva is already entrenched as a member of the Ippolito team. He arrived in early December to scout sites with Ippolito and will take on a larger, more managerial role until he leaves in April.
“He is going to formally take over all of the operations duties, doing a lot of planning, and he’ll be out with the team filling in the gaps,” Ippolito says. “This will allow me to step back and focus more on the big picture and continue to grow the business.”
As his time in Boston increases, Dassylva says he’s confident in his team to keep Mid State rolling: “I have a core group of guys I’ve created that have been with me since I started. I have zero concerns - my trust level with them to maintain our accounts is high.”
Entering into their third season together, both agree they don’t see any end to this burgeoning relationship.
“No reservations and no regrets. We’re only looking forward,” Ippolito says.
Opposites attract: Different paths bring Ippolito, Dassylva together
Frankie Ippolito and Travis Dassylva bring out the best in each other. In some respects they couldn’t be more different - their locations, how they came to the snow business and the skill sets that make them successful. But those differences, along with a common love of family and appreciation for hard work, have shaped their partnership and helped each solidify their companies.
Frankie Ippolito (left) & Travis Dassylva (right).
To say that Dassylva experienced culture shock when he began commuting to Boston to work with Ippolito is an understatement. He came from a small town of about 10,000 to a fast-paced city of nearly 700,000. “Riding with Frankie was like getting a history lesson. It’s so big and there is so much to do that I’m not used to. I live in a small city so it was a big adjustment for me,” he says.
A father’s influence
Although Ippolito grew up in the business - his family’s company started in the 1940s and added snow services in the 1970s - he didn’t really get involved in day-to-day operations until 2011, when his father, Frank, passed away. It wasn’t an easy transition since Ippolito worked full-time as VP of human resources for a Fortune 500 company.
“Looking back, I didn’t realize how much work he was doing. When I took over, I saw we had a big gap between the person running the business and those doing the work. My strength is in the back of the business,” he says.
Dassylva also grew up in the industry. His father mows for the State of Ohio and also provides snow services through his lawn care and landscaping company.
“Traveling with him around the state, I learned more than I realized. I would always pick his brain...listen to him. I gained a lot of hands-on operations experience with big equipment and how to manage snow at an early age. Starting my own business was a dream of mine for as long as I can remember,” he says.
Merging skill sets
Their diverse backgrounds have brought Travis and Frankie closer, and they share their expertise to help each other’s companies grow stronger.
Being able to talk to Travis about operational logistics and knowing he would be in Boston in the winter to help manage operations, for example, gave Frankie the confidence to bid on bigger, more complex jobs than he had in the past. For Travis, Frankie’s biggest influence can be seen in the back of the office, with marketing, billing software, online advertising and web development.
Although the relationship started as a way to help Ippolito’s company, in no way is this a one-sided deal, he says.
“When we talk, it’s not the business; it’s our business. The ‘we’ is really important. It can be lonely at the top, and Travis understands that. I can bounce ideas off him, and he’ll give advice without judgment. The results speak volumes. Our growth is good and Travis is key to that,” Frankie says.
Travis agrees, wholeheartedly. “We want to see each other do great things. I’m glad I found Frankie to help me, and to accept me in to let me help him. You don’t find someone like Frankie every day. He’s a true good friend that will give you the best advice and tell you how it is. That’s the kind of person I want to surround myself with.”
Cheryl Higley is editorial director of SIMA/Snow Business. Contact her at email@example.com. Photos by Frank Curran.