By Nate Hendley
Like many companies, Snow Plus of Carol Stream, IL, used to do double duty. In winter, the firm cleared snow and ice; in warm weather, the company did paving work. Roughly 12 years ago, the firm decided to reduce its scope of operations.
“It was just basically killing everybody working around the year with the demands of both businesses. So we decided to sell off the paving portion and just do snow,” says Jim Plona, vice president of sales.
The company’s core services now include snow plowing, shoveling and salting. Specialty services cover ice removal, emergency response support, snow hauling and off-site removal.
Snow Plus teams work the Greater Chicagoland area, primarily clearing retail shopping centers. In April and May, staff “put properties back together” by removing snow stakes and fixing damaged curbs, among other tasks, Plona says.
From June through August, the company inspects and maintains its 200-plus pieces of equipment, investigates new equipment, negotiates new work, touches base with existing clients and prepares for snowfall.
According to Plona, the transition from being a full-season company to only doing snow was smooth. “We had a year to concentrate our full efforts on snow.”
Narrowing your focus
Although narrowing the range of your services may seem risky, there are benefits to making snow your primary focus.
Extra Mile Snow Plowing of West Bend, WI, currently does 90% snow work and a small number of lawn and landscape assignments. The company is looking to move out of the latter sector - a complete reversal of how the business used to operate.
“Eight years ago, our model was 80% lawn/landscape and 20% snow,” says owner Aron Rodman.
Like Plona, Rodman found that trying to be all things to all customers was a recipe for exhaustion and scattered concentration.
“The landscape industry is ‘go go go.’ The snow industry is ‘go go go.’ I could not do both and still keep my focus on my faith and family. I chose the one I enjoyed most,” he says.
Re-centering the business “has led to drastically more opportunities in the snow market. Our company and equipment is set up to service snow. We chose to move out of the jack-of-all-trades mentality and focus on becoming a master of one,” he adds.
Extra Mile does snow and ice control at commercial and residential properties including hospitals, strip malls and condominiums. Annual snow revenues stand around $1 million, “up from the previous winter,” Rodman says.
Making the transition
Kent Peddie, CSP, founder and president of Precision Snow Removal in Ottawa, Ontario, echoes these sentiments. His company started as a landscape construction firm in 1992 but soon added snow removal to its services. Around 2010, the firm shifted gears and became almost entirely focused on snow. Snow and ice represents nearly 99% of its work.
Precision Snow Removal mostly clears snow in urban Ottawa. Snow revenues for 2018 were between $1.25 million and $1.5 million, Peddie says.
Peddie transitioned to snow for several reasons, including the fact that he felt “there were fewer and fewer challenges in operating a landscape construction business. Also, many of our key staff had moved on to other industries and the prospect of hiring and training landscape construction team members was not something I was excited about.”
In addition, there was the challenge of juggling two different business models.
“Having the distraction of a summer business is difficult. It really comes into play in fall, when it’s all hands on deck to get ready for snow. It’s hard to concentrate on landscape construction projects when your phone is ringing off the hook for snow removal,” he says.
When making the decision to go snow only, it’s vital to have the appropriate equipment and personnel based on your company’s workload.
“Are they going to be doing a small parking lot? Or are they going to be handling larger sites where, if you get a 12- or 14-inch snowfall, can they have it cleared in three hours or whatever the client demands? You have to have the equipment and reliable manpower to be on call 24/7,” says Plona, noting its six full-time mechanics take a serious approach to fleet management to ensure the equipment is ready to roll.
Rodman urges firms looking to leap to snow only to keep an eye on expenses: “It is very expensive to maintain employees and equipment for snow. Charge accordingly.”
A snow-only focus means your firm can no longer rely on money from summer clients. To offset that lost cash flow, Precision Snow Removal is careful to maintain a balance of residential and commercial customers - each with its own payment terms.
“Residential starts paying as early as September while commercial clients usually don’t start paying until November and December and their payments continue into May and June,” explains Peddie.
Summer means work
Focusing on snow doesn’t mean summer becomes slack time. Use that time for planning, customer engagement, equipment maintenance and business improvement.
“I still work as many hours in the summer but they are less stressful and more flexible. I am more prepared for winter and get to customers earlier since I am not so behind on landscaping to even think about snow,” Rodman says.
2018 State of the Industry Survey results
- 51% = For the first time in several years of Snow Business State of the Industry results, the majority of respondents reported snow and ice management is their primary source of business.
- 37% Respondents who use snow as a supplemental profit to other services.
Nate Hendley is a freelance contributor based in Ontario. Comments are welcome at email@example.com.