By Kathie Zipp
Salt and snow have gone hand in hand for a long time. But in an industry faced with constant variables, innovative companies are looking for even more options to increase efficiency and performance.
More companies are realizing the benefits of adding liquids to their ice management toolbox. Yet this year’s State of the Industry - like past years - uncovers continued reluctance by some to add liquids, citing costs, lack of training and concerns about effectiveness.
Though the initial investment in equipment and training can be a commitment, companies of various sizes in various regions have found success. The key is to realize that adding liquids is a scalable opportunity, depending on how much time, money and energy you’re willing to commit, but even small steps can make an impact.
Investigate the benefits
Mark Aquilino is president of Outdoor Pride Landscape & Snow Management in Manchester, NH. His company has multiple branches, including in Massachusetts, to service its commercial customer base that includes large corporate campuses, retail shopping centers, hospitals and trucking and logistics facilities. His company started evaluating using liquids several years ago, curious about how they might help lower costs and reduce reliance on granular salt.
“We wanted to be able to make our own blend because we knew we’d need less salt to make the liquid applications,” he says.
Aquilino has seen many benefits of using brine, magnesium chloride and calcium chloride. Liquids are more environmentally friendly than salt. Also, the ability to calibrate the spreaders to distribute exactly the right volume mitigates overapplying. Furthermore, he says liquids make pretreating easier and safer.
“When we would pretreat with granular options, we’d have to go out close to the start of the storms,” he said. “Now we can service our properties up to 48 hours in advance, which helps us better strategize and do a more effective job because we can get into every nook and cranny. It’s also safer for our employees because we’re able to come out earlier, before the storm hits.”
Aquilino and his employees aren’t the only ones pleased with the liquids; clients have been happy with the new offering, too. Calcium chloride has been a hit with his corporate campus clients.
“We’ve seen the best results on walkways,” Aquilino says. “Our customers love it because their patrons track less salt inside. A lot of our facility managers worry about these cleaning costs, so being able to alleviate that with the liquids has been a home run.”
Kimberly Jewell, CSP, general manager at Snow Management Services in Denver, CO, has also made customers happy by adding liquids. The company made more than $4 million last snow season focusing on commercial clients from healthcare facilities to churches.
Salt supply isn’t a concern for her company as it is in some markets; so her reasoning for using liquids is more to comply with requirements from clients that have LEED-certified commercial buildings. After Jewell became LEED Green Associate certified in 2011, Snow Management Services invested in several liquid spray trucks, offering magnesium chloride as a pretreatment and an in-event option.
“Bringing liquids into our organization helped us leverage our position in the marketplace,” Jewell says. “In our industry, it’s ever-changing, and you have to keep up to be relevant. A benefit to liquids is the majority of our competition doesn’t use them, so clients turn to us to fill this void.”
Mark Arthofer, CSP, CEO of Skyline Construction in Dubuque, IA, has been using liquids for six years, since attending his first SIMA Snow & Ice Symposium. He was seeking a solution to end slips and falls for his high-end commercial clients and found it. He treats salt with a high-performance ice melt, and uses a blend of 20% of the melt and 80% brine as a pretreatment. Last year his company added a spray bar to its newest salt truck to hit trouble spots while simultaneously applying the treated granular.
“The results were wonderful,” Arthofer says. “It helps to keep the snow from adhering to the pavement. It is like creating an Oreo cookie scenario, brine on the bottom, snow film in the middle and treated granular on top creating a melting capacity that cannot be beat.”
Arthofer said pretreatments used to be a bit of a guessing game, but his fleet is getting GPS speed-controlled devices to ensure correct application. Skyline partners with its municipality to provide services and plans to continue to do so as it grows its liquid offerings.
“Liquids are a work in progress,” he said. “Every storm is different and strategies need to adapt. We are constantly changing our storm strategy. Luckily, what we haven’t tried they have and it has been a great partnership.”
When incorporating liquids, all three companies advise scaling slowly.
“Everyone is really intimidated when it comes to the use of liquids, whether it’s cost or process or they just don’t understand it,” Aquilino says. “We didn’t want to just invest into it and not allow proper time to set up processes that could really drive success, so it’s been a slow implementation.”
Arthofer says it’s important to take time to get employees on board.
“You need full buy-in from your employees. Provide training so they understand exactly how, why and what they are doing,” he says.
Educating clients is also valuable. Arthofer said his company initially experienced some resistance from customers due to the added cost. But the benefits have outweighed the cost and customers have come to expect the added protection.
Aquilino also encountered some reluctance, but recognized that it’s typical when something new is introduced into an industry.
“There’s hesitation. I mean salt has worked forever,” he says. He recommends having all ducks in a row when sitting down with a customer and explaining how the liquid can benefit them. He encourages companies to share success stories and have customers validate for others.
Eyes wide open
Investing in liquids can be costly. Buying the necessary equipment and training your team is a commitment, Jewell says.
“Like anything in life, go in with eyes wide open. Learn all you can and make sure they make sense for your market,” she says. “If you’re still uncertain, survey your clients. We do this every year. It’s amazing the feedback you can get if you just ask.”
Aquilino has found the more his company scaled liquid operations, the more cost savings added up.
“It’s just a matter of understanding all your costs before you jump into liquids to ensure you can understand your payback and really make sure you’re making the right investment to get a return,” he says.
Talking to peers and using resources like those from SIMA can also help lead to success.
“Liquids are like anything else; practice makes perfect,” Jewell says. “The more you know, the more you commit, the more you do, the better you become. You have to learn to walk before you run. It can be quite profitable, but like anything in business it takes time to become masterful.”
- The SIMA Library has several articles on how to slowly and effectively add liquids into your operations: www.sima.org/library
- SIMA’s Sustainable Salt Best Practices Guide has tangible steps to take to implement liquids into your operations: www.sima.org/bestpractices
2018 State of the Industry survey results
Kathie Zipp is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. Comments are welcome at email@example.com.
- 59% = Respondents who did not use liquids in 2017–18.
44% = Respondents who said they applied liquids to parking lot surfaces. Other common areas for liquids use are sidewalks (26%) and steps (20%).