Learn how the business model for this service is changing.
Used to be, you would gas up the pickup, attach a snow plow and you were ready to hit the snowy roads to bring home a paycheck in the off-season.
For the most part, this was how landscapers viewed snow removal in the past. But to succeed in an ever-more-challenging economic environment, take note of the following trends and advice.
Specialize in service
With so many landscapers now adding snow removal as an extra service, customers have more choices, and the competition is stiffer. Simply offering these services no longer differentiates you from your competition.
“Landscapers looked at snow removal as an add-on business,” says Craig Geller, president of Pro-Tech. “That model is no longer working. They need to make a commitment to create a different business segment specifically for snow removal, or they will fail.”
You can’t tack the service onto your current business, view it as a way to cover your overhead and expect to be profitable.
“Snow removal is like firefighting. It’s a natural disaster that has to be taken care of immediately,” Geller says. “You can’t schedule it like mowing someone’s yard, because when it snows, all of your clients need the service at once.” Dedicate staff and equipment to get the most from this service.
Geller’s advice: Talk with peer groups, snow removal experts and associations such as the Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA) on how to bid and market the service.
You should also learn what equipment other local snow removers have adopted for your area. For locations with heavy snowfall, for example, you may want to employ snow throwers – such as Grasshopper’s DriftBuster – which can move snow up to 30 feet away.
Rotary brooms are ideal for situations where pedestrian safety is the priority, and there is less than 8 inches of snow.
Get more from equipment
With every industry affected by the current economic conditions, it’s natural for consumers to want more for their money – and the snow removal market is no different.
“Customers are looking for lower prices and more work,” Geller says. “The pressure for landscapers to become more efficient is a trend that follows.”
To meet customers’ expectations, assess your equipment to determine how to get the most from your lineup. “You need equipment that can handle a variety of jobs,” Geller says.
If you use skid steers, compact tractors or small wheel loaders, you can attach compact plows – such as Arctic’s Sectional Sno-Plow line of compact-duty plows – to clear small parking lots, sidewalks and larger driveways. Others are looking beyond plows and buying adaptations of snow pushers, like FFC’s Snow Push (above), which can move up 567 cubic feet of snow at a time without leaving windrows.
“The days of being able to make easy money are gone. Landscapers have to become true experts in this market.”
To further specialize in snow and ice removal, consider acquiring pre-wetting, anti-icing and de-icing sprayers, says James Truan, vice president of sales and marketing for SnowEx.
Using job-tracking devices, such as SnowEx’s Salt-Traxx, can help you further streamline your business, as well.
Maintenance is also important to get the most from your equipment, especially since it will likely be needed at a moment’s notice when a blizzard rolls in. Low-maintenance polyethylene hoppers and electric drive systems are gaining popularity, in part because they reduce regular engine maintenance and the problem of rust forming on steel hoppers.
“Landscapers want equipment that won’t fail in the middle of winter,” Truan says. “They need to stay productive every minute of the job, so they have less time for fixing equipment breakdowns or performing routine maintenance.”
Have a plowing plan
Eric Curry of Brust Brothers Enterprises sees his share of snow in Steamboat Springs, Colorado – with an average of 500 inches a year – and has a wealth of experience with snow removal equipment. Although the market continues to evolve, he says the basics remain the same.
1. Do your research. The amount and consistency of snow varies across the country. Talk with local snow removers to see what equipment works best in your area.
2. Plowing is hard on a pickup. Invest in a truck that can endure the elements, as well as help with your warm-season projects.
3. Have a back-up plan. You never know when it’s going to snow, so you need back-up equipment in case something breaks down.
4. Be committed. Curry’s workers are on call 24/7 from November through April – no holidays or weekends during snow season.