When your customers are looking to buy liquid deicer sprayers, what should they consider when making their choice?
Source: Adam Hansen, Tracey Fischer-Gaetz, James Hignight
Warming up to liquid deicers
- What are you trying to accomplish?
Contractors should evaluate their current business and determine where they will use the product and the frequency of use. They should consider the features, advantages and benefits and most importantly the technical support that the manufacturer provides.
- The right vendor
Customers need to look for a vendor with excellent customer service. If no one will answer your phone calls after hours or during an event to help troubleshoot, then the sprayer is worthless. In the event that a sprayer cannot be used due to a malfunction, and there is a snow event on the way, every penny of that investment is lost, and the potential income is gone as well.
- The right capacity
What weight/size can your truck support? Work with your vendor to determine the right size sprayer based on your truck’s capacity. We never hear people say they regret buying too big of a sprayer, but we often hear people say they wish they would have bought a bigger one. Refill drive time is not profitable!
- Focus on the purpose
Are you looking to mostly pre-treat or post-treat or both? Not all brands of sprayers are built to efficiently do both.
- Quality and capability
What kind of electronic components come with the sprayer? Can the sprayer self fill or will I need an extra pump to pump into it? How many acres per hour can you cover at your desired or average speed? What is the spray boom made out of and will it shatter if you back into something while plowing?
How to overcome the huddles of training and investment
As with life and liquid deicers, change is good but it’s also a tough sell. A recent SIMA survey showed that 65% of snow and ice professionals are not using liquid deicers, citing lack of training and equipment costs.
Education and training
Sustainable salt use through liquids is becoming more and more present in the private arena. They've been used for years in municipalities but it's been harder to catch on elsewhere.
“There are many barriers to entry for the brining market that are easy to overcome, especially the mindset that, ‘This is what I have always done,’ ” says James Hignight, Vice President of Operations and Business Development for Deicing Depot. “For a successful brining operation, companies need the right sprayer for their specific job sites, availability of brine in their area, and proper training to understand how to make brine and how to use it.”
For most professionals, the source of education is often experience — and that’s not always good. “When we talk to perspective customers, many of them have had a bad experience or talked to another contractor who had one with liquid due to not being educated on proper use or mixing,” recalls Adam Hensen, Shipping Coordinator with Voight-Smith Innovations (VSI). “When we started experimenting with liquid seven years ago at our sister company there was very little information to be found online, so we had to figure a lot of it out on our own by trial and error.”
Training is one of the biggest keys to success for brining. Hignight recommends his customers to receive an onsite training day to teach them everything they need to know about the sprayer and brine.
“Customers should know how to use and maintain their sprayer, as well as the application rates and techniques they should use to keep their lots ice free,” he says. “Helping a client have a successful first run with brine is crucial to the future of their program. Many companies that do not apply brine correctly the first time, due to badly designed equipment or lack of training, tend to never want to try it again. Brine is a great tool for snow companies as well as their clients, so a good first run is crucial to their success.”
Sprayers and brine makers are must-haves for most brine operations; however, the set-ups costs can mount.
“For larger companies, the startup cost for brine sprayers and brine makers is typically not a challenge. However, for smaller companies and small contractors, spending extra money on brining equipment can be financially challenging,” Hignight says. “For these types of customers, financing the equipment through an equipment financing firm can solve their issues. Most equipment builders have good recourses for financing solutions for their customers.”
In terms of investment in many cases, Hansen says, a brine maker and liquid storage tanks will cost around the same as a compliant bulk salt bin of similar capacity, and a liquid sprayer will be comparable to a quality V-box spreader. “Of course, there are many factors and scenarios that can effect cost and price, but generally speaking your return on investment (ROI) with liquid equipment is going to be faster and the longevity of said equipment is going to be longer than a comparable granular spreader,” he says.
Knowing the product
“If space is not available for a brine maker, the prevalence of suppliers is increasing, and brine and additives can be purchased instead of mixing on your own. This makes cost of entry more affordable, but ROI will be slower.”
Every company has unique needs and unique situations concerning its liquid operation setup. There are a plethora of issues to address when making such an investment. Having a strong contractor-manufacturer relationship is key.
“Depending on the size of the contractor, the question of whether they should make brine or source it privately is the most substantial question we encounter,” says Tracey Fischer-Gaetz, North American Sales Manager with SnowEx. “What is the breakpoint where investing in a brine maker makes sense?”
Many manufacturers speak with contractors about the frustrations that come with their equipment performance. In those cases, customers are offered sprayers with batch meters or GPS capabilities and other tailor-made needs. ”There are no one-size-fits-all solutions for brining, so a specific plan of attack for each customer will give them the best chance for success,” Hignight says.
The liquid option
Once trained and educated, snow and ice professionals have realized the advantage of having brine/liquid in their arsenal.
“The capabilities and flexibility allow us to give our customers a much higher level of service and thus our retention is incredibly high,” Hansen says. “Using liquid helps to insulate us from price spikes in salt supply shortage years and consistently make higher margins than we could with regular or treated salt.”
Although a liquid deicer is an effective option in the toolbox, it’s still just one piece of the puzzle. “It’s not an end-all technique that will replace dry salt, but a very specific tool that can really help a snow contractor and their client. Brining is extremely effective when done properly, and it can really drive revenues for contractors,” Hignight says.
“It doesn’t track indoors like dry salting, and brine uses a lot less salt versus spreading dry salt. For instance, enough liquid brine to treat one acre only uses 100 pounds of salt compared to an average of 500 pounds per acre. For a snow contractor that wants to have a very diverse portfolio of snow tactics, brine is a must.”
Taking calculated risks on new options to combat snow and ice owners are significant, Fischer-Gaetz says, but ultimately, owners need to take that leap of faith.
“The snow and ice control equipment manufacturers can show the business owner the risk/reward in a presentation; however, when the decision to move forward needs to be made, there is still the perception in the market that this may not be a profitable solution for private contractors,” she says.
“Education and successful implementation of the liquid approach in the commercial sector will make businesses more confident in adopting the liquid solutions.”
Michael Freeze is assistant editor for Snow Business magazine. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.