By Cheryl Higley
Team effort: In the city and in the mountains, Bill and Eric Roeder’s Professional Snow Removal (PSR) team takes a straightforward approach to service, relying on quality assurance and a personal touch. Shown, from left, are Eric Roeder, CSP, ASM; Bill Roeder; Melanie Roeder; Heather Smart, and John Nordin. (In truck bed, left to right ) Anthony Williams; Howard Horner, ASM; and Tanya Black.
You’ll never hear Bill Roeder, president of Professional Snow Removal, a division of GSC Services Corp., waxing poetic about the joy of plowing snow. He’s never driven a plow in the more than 30 years that his company has offered snow removal services to the greater Boulder, CO, market. The thrill for him is the strategy and planning that goes into snow and ice management.
“I don’t like the mechanical side. I love to organize things; manipulate situations. In a different life, I could have been a basketball coach. You create routes but when things go wrong you have to make split-second decisions and change plans on the fly. It happens every storm,” he says. “That’s the fun part for me.”
Labor intensive: The company’s work in the city requires a lot of shovelers, particularly at the Pearl Street Mall.
Like father, like son
Eric Roeder, CSP, ASM, is Bill’s son and serves as vice president of General Services Corp., which also offers mowing, chimney sweeping, carpet cleaning, trash removal, handyman services and house cleaning. Bill bought the company when Eric was young and he worked the winters through high school. Eric recalls his first exposure to the rigors of the industry when he was 12 and Boulder was hit with a September storm that dropped nearly a foot of snow. Armed with shovels, he and his buddies tackled a 476-unit apartment complex.
Planning: Eric Roeder traded the heat of the chef’s kitchen for Boulder winters. He says working in restaurants helped him learn to better manage his team.
Today, Eric also focuses on the management side. He says he has plowed a few times but his supervisory duties make it difficult to do it consistently.
Together, Bill and Eric divide the duties but work in unison when the snow flies. Bill writes the contracts and manages the mountaintop HOAs and residential work. Eric works with the operations manager to set routes and manages work in the city. Both prepare bids, supervise the teams and work directly with the customers.
“We work separately but communicate constantly,” Bill says. “We have different personalities. Eric is calmer and deals with the team. I’m more urgency driven. We complement each other pretty well.”
Back home again
Eric, who attended culinary school after high school and worked as a restaurateur in New York and Colorado, decided to come home and join his dad eight years ago. He left one pressure-packed job for another, he says.
“There are a lot of similarities between the restaurant and snow industries. People are passionate about what they do. Conditions are harsh - you’re either on your feet in a hot kitchen or in the cold shoveling or plowing. There’s an urgency to your work, and nights and weekends are required,” he says. “Moving back to the snow business helped me understand those similarities, and I’ve been able to use that experience to manage our employees.”
The chance to be able to spend more time with his family, which includes his stepmother Melanie, drew Eric home.
“It’s nice to spend time with my dad, to learn from him. Watching the company grow and how much work and dedication he’s given to it is great to see. I’m proud to be a part of it,” he says.
Melanie also plays a key role in the business - “nurse by day, dispatcher by night.”
Dispatch center: Melanie Roeder works with dispatch and customer service and is essential to the company’s success, says Bill Roeder.
“Because of our other businesses, we have to answer the phone 24/7. Melanie does a lot of that when she’s not working at Boulder Community Hospital. She knows the business extremely well and is committed to its success. Other than Eric she is the most important person in the business. We wouldn’t be here without her,” Bill says.
Reliable labor keeps PSR moving
Having reliable workers to execute Professional Snow Removal’s game plan is essential to its success. PSR has built a team that includes 10 full-time employees, 15 subcontractors who plow routes and 10 part-time drivers who drive PSR’s plow trucks. Bill Roeder says he hired his first subcontractor 32 years ago, and this winter that sub will be plowing the same route that he did then.
“My philosophy is that it costs a huge amount of money to change employees and subcontractors. If you find someone who is good, we do whatever it takes to keep them,” he says, adding that sometimes that means compromise. “Last year we considered reorganizing routes, and he was against it. We decided it was more valuable to keep him than to make the change.”
PSR does not subcontract its sidewalk work but hires about 75 part-time shovelers each winter. For nearly 30 years, the company has found its most reliable shovelers through the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless. The shelter has a capacity of 160, and Roeder says during any given storm they may use up to 45 people to clear sidewalks.
“The shelter is our biggest and best resource for part-time labor. They are really good workers. They have a lot of pent-up energy, and shoveling gives them an outlet,” Roeder says.
Elevation changes pose unique service challenges
Professional snow removal’s snow clientele is as diverse as the terrain and climate that marks the company’s Boulder, CO, market. In the city, the focus is on more traditional commercial work (office, medical, retail) whereas the Rocky Mountains are home to affluent private homes and homeowner association communities. The clients may be different, but the expectations are identical - keep Boulder moving, regardless of the snow.
City life vs. mountain men: With clients in downtown Boulder and in the mountains, Bill and Eric Roeder must tackle the variables that come with working essentially in separate climates. Bill manages the mountain work while Eric focuses on coordinating city operations.
O’er the plains
In the city’s lower elevations, PSR’s teams have become accustomed to clients that require zero-tolerance levels of service.
“A 3-inch minimum before plowing used to be what they wanted; now, we have almost no jobs like that. Everyone wants snow cleared within the first inch,” Bill Roeder says. “We also rarely salted parking lots; now, we’re using more salt than we have ever used because our clients are so concerned about the liability.”
A significant portion of the work in the city involves post-event monitoring, which is a surcharge to their typically offered (and most requested by clients) per-push contracts.
The city receives few ice events but there are some days where it can be 10°F with a foot of snow on the ground and then be 50°F the next day. Combatting those wild swings requires a constant watch on the weather and the ability to make snap judgments and quick adjustments.
Among PSR’s clients are individual stores at Pearl Street Mall, a four-block pedestrian lifestyle retail center in the heart of Boulder’s downtown. Tight confines, plenty of obstructions, a lot of foot traffic and brick-lined walks restrict the type of equipment that can be used and requires a lot of manpower to clear.
“People in Boulder want to be outside. They don’t hunker down if it snows. It’s common for it to snow a foot and an hour later it’ll be nice and they’ll go about their day-to-day business,” Eric Roeder says. “That means a lot of pedestrians, which slows down the process. The mall is much more 24/7 than our other clients.”
Six miles and 9,000 feet up into the mountains, the weather is quite a different story. It’s colder, so it snows more and accumulates more quickly - snow that falls six inches an hour and three times that which falls in the city is common. If warmer temperatures fall after the snow starts, the drivers also have to contend with a layer of ice underneath. Drifting is also an issue as is cellphone reception.
Getting to those sites is no easy feat - the roads are steep and narrow with precarious 2,000-foot drop-offs sometimes barely a foot away. It’s not uncommon for the trucks to slide off the side and have to be pulled out.
Extra traction: Tire chains are a must to get the trucks into the mountains.
“Some of the drivers are too scared to drive up there. We always use the same drivers and never send new drivers up the mountain,” says Bill Roeder, who supervises all of the work at the gated HOAs and routes of private driveways. The wear and tear on the equipment is more intense, which also justifies the premium price they place on the service, he says.
“(Our clients) can’t get out unless we get them out - they could be stuck for a week. They are willing to pay a lot for someone they can count on,” Bill says. “You cannot get behind because you will never catch up because the snow gets too deep. The mountain sites are totally different animals.”
Cheryl Higley is editorial director of SIMA/Snow Business. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos by Jackie Schumaker.