By Phil Harwood, CSP
Snow & ice management service providers are facing some interesting questions. Is it better to anti-ice or not? If so, for which property types? Is there a return on investment or is this a money-losing proposition? Is there a right answer to these questions or are the answers dependent on the situation? And, more pointedly, where are the answers to these questions?
The answers can be found by gaining an understanding of the full benefits and costs of anti-icing and by applying this knowledge to your situation. It should be no surprise that every situation is unique with wide variances in weather patterns, types of precipitation, customer expectations, contract types, etc. There is no one answer to fit every situation.
There are many benefits to anti-icing, and for many service providers these benefits clearly outweigh the costs as evidenced by the increased use of anti-icing in the private snow and ice industry over the last several years. In many local areas, anti-icing is the new normal. Among the benefits of anti-icing:
- Limits or prevents ice from bonding to pavement, which speeds up snowplowing operations
- Reduces or eliminates deicer use after plowing, which cuts overall deicer costs
- Improves safety, reduces risk of slip and fall injuries and can limit liability
- Demonstrates best practices and can provide marketing opportunities
- Improves overall service outcomes, which can lead to increased customer satisfaction
- Provides additional work for key personnel
- Can generate additional revenue
Each of these benefits is difficult to measure and will be weighted differently for different applications. For example, one customer may love anti-icing and is willing to pay whatever is needed for the service, whereas another customer may see them as unnecessary and won’t be willing to pay for them.
Each service provider will need to consider each of these benefits in their ROI calculation. There may be other benefits as well. One service provider may see such a huge benefit of anti-icing from a liability and operational standpoint that they are going to pretreat every property regardless of whether the customer is willing to pay for it.
There are considerations on the cost side of the equation as well. When liquids hit the scene big a few years ago, I remember crunching numbers in an attempt to make the math work in my favor. It was tough to do because there are real costs involved in liquid pretreatments and anti-icing in general, regardless of the material.
The act of triggering an operational process involving management, people, trucks, equipment, materials, etc. is a big undertaking. Know though that jumping in with both feet into a full-scale liquids operation isn’t necessary (or recommended). Small steps (limited sites or service areas) will require a less substantial investment. Regardless, the benefits to your company must outweigh the costs, which can include:
- Labor that is not dedicated to pretreating is even more costly
- Understanding the net savings of overall material usage
- Additional strain on management, the team, and operational systems
- Impact on equipment, including new purchases, additional wear and tear on trucks, and increased fuel costs
My list of benefits and costs is a solid starting point, but you need to look closely at your own operations, your goals and the level of risk and investment you’re willing to make.
As you consider these lists, you can begin to assign weighting to each of the items. After some additional consideration, you should be able to decide and answer the questions for specific properties, customers or for your entire operation.
A ton of great information on anti-icing is available from a variety of sources, including SIMA and industry suppliers. I’ve participated in some outstanding presentations from industry suppliers that brought in an array of research data from independent sources to help educate the industry. Acquiring information from every source available is a wise strategy as you seek to better understand whether anti-icing will deliver the ROI you need. If you seek a full understanding of these questions, I encourage you to explore these resources.
Phil Harwood, CSP, is managing partner of Pro-Motion Consulting and member of the Editorial Advisory Committee. Email him at phil@myPMCteam.com.