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An industrial-sized task

  • SIMA
- Posted: March 20, 2018
By Nate Hendley

Industrial and manufacturing facilities present special challenges for snow and ice management companies. Many of these sites operate around the clock - meaning parking lots are always full and delivery trucks are constantly coming and going. And everybody wants the work done by shift change. That 24/7 challenge on sites that can be large and quite complex is key to consider when developing an accurate price for service.

Start/completion times
Unlike an office complex or shopping mall, many plants operate three shifts and are open 24/7. Ensuring that workers can safely get to and from their cars at shift change is essential.

In general, “these sites typically are more time intensive than a shopping mall that closes at night,” says Rick Lemcke, president and founder of R.M. Landscape in Hilton, NY. “They usually tell you they want the work done 45 minutes before a shift change.” That can be a difficult level of service to achieve if snow is still falling. 

Removing snow and ice so employees can park and make it into the plant is only half the battle. Many sites feature constant truck traffic, as supplies are dropped off and products picked up. This means dealing with loading docks and big transport vehicles. 

Brian Churchill, CSP, co-founder and COO of The GroundsKeeper in Ashland, MA, says his customers expect “cleanups at all the docks” following several rounds of snow or a storm. 

Although this sounds like a simple task, it’s more involved than it seems. The company has to move its transport trailers out of the loading dock, “then we go in, clean everything up in front of the docks, then they put the trailers back,” he says. 

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Site complexity and start/completion times are key concerns when properly evaluating an industrial property to establish pricing for a proposal. Loading docks, acreage and shift changes are among the factors that should be taken into consideration. 

Equipment and labor
With the level of service expected, contractors typically dedicate personnel and equipment to the site. Staging equipment on site allows operations to start as soon as the teams deploy.

“We’re not fortunate enough to be in any indoor garages, but we require all of our sites to have outdoor electric plugs. Our equipment has preheaters plugged into them. That way, with big equipment, when it’s preheated you can show up and five minutes later be moving,” Lemcke says. 

Larger equipment is the typical go-to solution for these sites, given their size and the fact that constant traffic and cars can create hard-packed snow that is difficult to clear.

“Snow in the parking lot areas gets driven on when it’s still falling. We don’t have a time when the parking lot is empty. We’ll use sectional pushers with metal tip edges to make sure there’s no hard pack,” Lemcke says, who also notes that the size of the pushers they can use depends on the congestion in the lots. 

“The biggest thing to keep in mind is dedicated resources. If you’re going to do large manufacturing and industrial places, you have to have dedicated personnel and equipment,” Churchill adds.

Deicing operations can also be a delicate matter at industrial/manufacturing properties. 

Mark Schlutt, CSP, ASM, founder and CEO of M.A.A.C. Property Services in Niles, MI, says one of his company’s clients is a steel mill in a large watershed area. “Out of the 50 acres we plow, we’re only allowed to salt 10 acres of it because of runoff,” Schlutt says. 

Some food manufacturers that work with GroundsKeeper have internal health and safety departments that insist upon reviewing any deicing solutions before they’re applied. 

For one such client, “we’re only allowed to use untreated salt on the parking lots. We’re only allowed to use [calcium chloride] in the walkways,” states Churchill. 

Lemcke also has a manufacturing client that doesn’t want rock salt used on its sidewalks for fear it might cause problems inside the plant. Some clients are also requesting less salt out of concern for the environment, he adds. 

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Dedicated equipment and labor is common for industrial sites, which are often large and can take hours to service.

Level of service variables
Although timely service is expected, that doesn’t necessarily translate to zero tolerance for industrial and manufacturing clients. Schlutt says some properties “don’t have a lot of foot traffic throughout the day” other than employees. Although some clients insist on zero tolerance, particularly for walkways, others may have a 2- to 3-inch trigger, he says. 

Beyond plowing and walkways, industrial clients may also require hauling and ice watch, and given the size of the plants, it is important to pay attention to the details.

“You have to be conscious of debris on the ground and of people walking where you don’t expect them to be walking. They might pop out of a side door for a cigarette,” Schlutt says. 

Know the details
A preseason walkthrough and a close working relationship with the facility manager at industrial/manufacturing sites are strongly recommended. 

“We take a map of the property and identify any existing damage that might have been done by a previous contractor. Then we talk to the facility manager to see if they have anything different with production - another shift, more or less people, peculiar situations. Some of our sites have government contracts, so we need to have our people pre-screened for security. We start that process way in advance. If they have parking lot gates, we get the keys and remotes for [opening them],” says Lemcke. 

When The GroundsKeeper does a preseason walkthrough, company officials photograph existing damage and conditions, Churchill says. The company also has a preseason discussion with the client about where snow can be piled during storms and if they want it moved when the weather clears. 

Getting your foot in the door
As with other property types, word of mouth and referrals are customary, but given the complexity of these sites and the level of attention they require, Lemcke says he sometimes takes a more proactive approach. 

“If a property isn’t being maintained and I see some potential there, I’ll snap a couple pictures, send them to the facility manager and say, ‘We’re here for you if you’re interested,’ ” he says. 

M.A.A.C. Property Services hosts a seminar each September where company representatives invite clients and prospects to learn the benefits of proper snow and ice removal.

In addition to providing snow and ice services, The GroundsKeeper, M.A.A.C. and R.M. Landscape do landscaping work for industrial/manufacturing clients. 

Being a full-service firm might increase your odds of breaking into the manufacturing/industrial market, but it’s no guarantee of work. 

“There is not as much value put on landscape at industrial and manufacturing places,” Churchill says. 
Building a better price for service
For industrial/manufacturing sites, site complexity and often 24/7 operations require extensive labor and dedicated equipment. As you build your proposal, consider the following:

Start/completion times: Many manufacturing/industrial sites operate three shifts and are open 24/7. Clients almost always insist on having the work complete before shift change. Start times might abruptly change if the client adds or drops a shift or otherwise adjusts their schedule. 

Equipment: Loaders with front and rear blades, skid steers and pushers with metal blades to break up hard pack are the standard. Smaller pushers might be required to get around parked vehicles. Depending on the type of facility, deicer use may be restricted.

Services needed: Beyond clearing parking lots, roadways and walkways, some sites have loading docks and/or truck terminals that require special attention and extra time. Determine who is responsible for ice watch and build that labor cost into your price.
Labor: Industrial and manufacturing sites hate to close, so plan for dedicated personnel to be on site until the job is done.

Cycle times: This is less of a concern since most large sites will require dedicated personnel and equipment, ready to work around the clock. 

Site size & complexity: Industrial/manufacturing sites can be quite large and fairly complex. Make sure to consider any docks, loading spaces, etc. that will require additional time and attention. Some industrial/manufacturing clients have government contracts, so security checks might be required for anyone working at the site. 

Marketing strategy: Marketing often comes down to word of mouth. Facility managers will make referrals if you do a good job, and the inverse is also true. Offering year-round service and dedicated crews and equipment are selling points. Newer specialty equipment that can clear snow from the tops of semi-trailers or underneath the trucks so they don’t have to be moved are upsell possibilities if you’re willing to make the investment in that equipment.

Nate Hendley is a freelance writer based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Photos courtesy of R.M. Landscape and The Groundskeeper.
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