Oh, autumn, autumn! Wherefore art thou, autumn?

Updated Jan 15, 2018

At 9:21 a.m. CDT Thursday, Sept. 22, when autumn arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the high temperature was headed toward 92.

Not bad really. Exactly one week earlier, the city where TLC and its owner, Randall-Reilly, are based topped out at 97. Forecasters tell us we may get a taste of fall later this week.

Autumn in Alabama will have its share of spectacular days, but the best are a month or more away. For many of the companies we cover, however, the cooler days – and especially the cooler nights – have arrived.

For landscaping businesses, the arrival of autumn involves an interesting shift in duties and daily routines. Interesting, in part, because the preparation for the conversion begins months in advance. Sales of fall and winter services, assessing staff requirements and equipment needs on the fly as the sales process continues, possibly working with a few different suppliers during the cold months – no wonder planning starts early.

If you read TLC regularly, you’ve noticed August was prime time for snow and ice management coverage, and that continues of course. Sales efforts are percolating. Contracts are being signed. It’s a big business.

sima-snow-ice-management-logoSnow and ice removal is an enterprise so unlike the landscaping business of spring and summer. It’s landscaping’s customer connections that make it a natural fit. For landscapers serving commercial, institutional or government clients, keeping parking lots and sidewalks at those shopping centers, offices, hospitals, colleges and airports passable represents lots of work.

Which is to say, lots of revenue: about $18 billion a year in the United States, according to a May 2016 report, “Snow & Ice Management Association: Industry Market Landscape.” And that excludes government work, which the report’s authors valued at $3-4 billion annually.

At $7.6 billion, the residential side – built on landscape maintenance customers – garners more than a third of the total U.S. business, the SIMA report says.

Landscape professionals aren’t the only people vying for a slice of the pie. Although they represent a substantial majority, bear in mind that the snow and ice management industry is every bit as fragmented as the landscaping business.

SIMA reports that there are about 110,400 snowplow operators in the United States. “The 50 largest operators when combined control just 1/12 of the industry’s total revenue,” the report says. “In fact, nearly 80 percent of industry operators (88,000 of them) are sole proprietors …”

Currently, the association says, the typical snow and ice control business’s earnings total $152,100 per season.

Fortunately, the pie itself is growing, albeit at a moderate pace. SIMA estimates revenue growth during the 2015-2019 period will average 3.2 percent a year.

As with any business dependent on the weather, hiccups happen. One need look no further than the winter of 2015-2016. For some regions of the country, it was not good. Hindsight Software, which offers a number of IT products and services for the industry, says in its “2016 Snow Industry Benchmark Report” about half of snow operators reported revenue decreases last winter.

We’ll be watching how the snow and ice management business does in 2016-2017 as we cover the “other” off-season landscaping work. Planting, chemical treatments and tree care all begin to gain steam at this time of year. Holiday decoration has also become a significant source of off-season revenue for many landscapers.

Here’s to a successful season, and to fall’s actual arrival in those places where it still feels a whole lot like summertime.

David Rountree is the editor of Total Landscape Care. Reach him at [email protected].

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