Sunday, August 30, 2015

Brian Horn


A look back

2015 Snow and Ice State of the Industry Report

Here is what contractors had to say about the 2014-15 snow season and how they dealt with those long nights fighting storms.

August 19, 2015

The amount of snow contractors saw last season varies from region to region, so we decided to check in and find out how some contractors would describe their winter, what the challenges were and how their staffs make it through those long, long nights plowing snow. Here’s a hint on that last one – make sure everyone has a full belly and some extra money.

1. How would you describe the last snow season?

The word that sums it up best here in New Jersey is relentless. I'm sure the guys from Buffalo would laugh at the thought, but here in New Jersey, in a normal winter we usually will get a snow event, clean it up and it's likely melted before the next one arrives two or three weeks later. This year, though not a record-breaker or to be remembered for big snow events, it seemed as if it was an almost daily plow/salt/ice inspection of the properties to maintain safety. In reality, we did have some days between events, but those were typically spent sleeping, repairing plows or trucks or preparing/loading for the next forecasted event.

Christopher M. Merrick, C. Merrick Landscapes, Hamilton, N.J.

If I had to sum up last snow season with two words, they would be “pleasant surprise.” We all heard about how bad the winter was supposed to be in the Midwest, coupled with a sizeable storm in November made us feel like they had predicted this season correctly. We were all very optimistic that we were going to have another great snow season, like the ’13-'14 season, but that quickly fizzled out with hardly any snow for the next two months.

When all of us thought we had been jinxed, the flood gates opened and the snow storms came. We ended up doing a good amount of snow removal in late February and early March, which really set us up for a great transition into a late spring.

Tony Wilson, Grounds Pro, Cincinnati

We had a light snow season by Wisconsin standards. To offset some of the loss, we made sure we had enough commercial accounts to keep our drivers busy when we didn't have to plow our residential clients. We don't like to put all our eggs in one basket, in terms of the types of customers we serve.

Paul Terry, Paul Terry Services, Waukesha, Wis.

The 2014-2015 winter was short lived with only a few snow events. Unfortunately, here in Southeast Kansas, winters are feast or famine. Some years we may have over eight snow and ice events and there have been a few where we never knocked the rust off the plows.

Steve Finley, Finleys Lawn & Pest, Fredonia, Kan.

In Northern Virginia, we had a few record-setting days this past snow season and had a fairly steady stream of snow-related business throughout the season. Some of our snow trucks are also set up for Virginia Department of Transportation contracted work and we perform snow management for the majority of our commercial maintenance properties.

Stephanie Trimmer, Professional Grounds, Lorton, Va.


2. What was your biggest challenge last season?

The biggest challenge that I and a lot of other contractors faced this past season was shelling out a lot of money up front to pre-purchase the season's inventory of bulk salt as well as sidewalk deicer because of the “shortage" the suppliers were facing (all at a higher price, mind you). That was hard to choke down the upfront cost for a lot of contractors, but we knew it had to be done to provide the services we promised/were contracted for. In the end, it all worked out with the above average snowfall, but we sure were sweating it there for a couple months.

Tony Wilson, Grounds Pro, Cincinnati

Our biggest struggle was keeping ice melting materials in stock. Even though we pre-ordered a normal season’s ice melt we ran out in early February and our vendors struggled to keep materials in stock with periods of rationing occurring at times. Fortunately, we are a small enough company (three company trucks/four or five subs) that we seemed to always be able to find, beg or borrow from another vendor/contractor to get us through the winter.

Christopher M. Merrick, C. Merrick Landscapes, Hamilton, N.J.

My biggest challenge this season was the simple fact: We couldn’t keep up. New snow storms were rolling through before we could have all the old snow up. The majority of our contracts only budget for a certain number of snow cleanups per year, and those numbers were shattered before our main snow season even started. We battled through it just getting our hands on as much equipment as we could, brought in our part- time guys and guys from other areas of work.

James Messer, JEM Enterprises, Hampton Roads, Va.

We service more than 60 locations, including commercial and residential, and are paid on a per-push basis. With that being said, try finding temporary labor (at a moment's) notice for one or two days and then not need anybody for another month. So to overcome this we rely heavily on family. My wife and I both drive plow trucks followed by the only year-round employee (my oldest son) in the third truck plow and the forth truck plow is operated by my cousin who is a contractor and is usually slow in the winter. To finish it off, my teenage daughter answers the phones and my son, who is also in high school, runs the sidewalk crew with normally two other high schoolers on board. Keep in mind that these last two positions that my son and daughter are holding have been handed down from older siblings in the past.

Steve Finley, Finley's Lawn & Pest, Fredonia Kan.


3. How do you reward employees who work long shifts overnight in bad storms?

My area managers, who are salaried, are rewarded by getting double checks on weeks when we work increased hours, but only if the gross profit margin is where it should be. Hourly employees get paid an increased rate during any and all snow hours, so they are always motivated to work as many hours as possible. Once storms are over, or if we are breaking, we will periodically provide lunches, dinners, snacks and/or coffee. It all depends on the timing and duration of the storms.

Tony Wilson, Owner, Grounds Pro, Cincinnati

We reward employees by providing them a warm and cozy crew rest area so when they are our battling the snow or ice, they can come in for a crew rest, relax, and get warm for a few minutes or hours depending on snows or waiting for the next round of snow if there are two bouts coming in that day or night. We offer a full kitchen to use and we also stock it with breakfast, lunch or dinner items. Sometimes, we just order a lot of pizza and provide it to them. They also can play cards, games on the computer, just sit back on the couches and relax or just plain go to sleep. We certainly realize how important our employees are and the tough job that they perform in the harsh elements. This just can’t be taken too lightly.

Scott Wilson, Wilson's Landscaping & Lawn Service, Swansea, Ill.

On all snow events, our people get a 20 percent increase in wages if they are here on time and work through the entire storm. We feel that rewards them for basically being on call 24/7 through the snow season. Plus, it shows our appreciation of a job well done. We have couches and air mattresses in our conference room that people can use to take a break. We always have coffee on and a lot of the time we have food ready to eat. Sometimes, after the storms are through and all our work is done, we will bring the entire team out for breakfast.

Don Croy, Croy's Mowing, Ottawa, Ohio

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