Cancelled flight

Laid off from an airline job, Carl Bolm fell in love with snow removal.

BSR Services has a fleet of about 40 trucks and employs up to 700 employees and subcontractors during peak season.
Photo courtesy of BSR Services

For Missouri-based BSR Services, it has always been strictly snow and ice.

“That’s what we focus on. That’s what we’re educated in, and that’s why we buy all the specific equipment for snow and ice,” says Carl Bolm, company founder and president.

BSR services high-end commercial clients such as hospitals, parking garages and government properties.

“Our client mix is Fortune 100 companies that understand risk management,” Bolm says.

Bolm has been working with commercial clients since his company’s early beginnings in the mid 1980s.

“From day one, we always wanted to be quality over quantity. We’ve always provided that type of service. We wanted that kind of client. We know that we are not the service provider, and the partner, for everyone out there and we accept that,” he says.

Today BSR is comprised of an executive team of seven along with several hundred contractors. Many of the contractors, which include construction companies, have their own equipment. BSR has a fleet of roughly 40 trucks.

“If they’re in a pickup truck and have a plow, of course, that would be their equipment, but we’ll provide them snow pushers, bush spreaders, anything that is snow specific that they do not have,” Bolm says.

BSR also provides 85 to 90 percent of all of the chemicals needed on site.

Humble beginnings.

Bolm’s snow removal experience began with shoveling driveways as a youth. But it wasn’t until the mid 1980s, when he was laid off from his job in the airline industry, that snow removal work became his career path.

“I was desperate to pay my rent. During the winter, I started doing driveways to pay my rent. I really enjoyed it, but not only that, I started doing a couple commercial properties,” he says.

The layoff period continued for three or four years. By the time he was hired back permanently with the airline, Bolm says he had a solid portfolio of about 20 commercial snow removal accounts. Clients were upset to see him go.

“You would have thought I broke their hearts,” he says.

Bolm had his own change of heart and decided to pursue snow full-time.

“I was just compelled to, and I loved it, and I enjoyed it,” he says. Since then he has devoted the last 30-some years to the snow and ice management business.

Today BSR has an annual revenue of between $7 and $13 million. The company is headquartered in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

Employee recruitment.

The snow season in St. Louis typically runs January through the end of March.

“We take some time off June and July, but about August we’re really deep into the business again. Just preparing the equipment, ordering supplies, ordering our chemicals, sending out contracts. We start kicking it in high gear,” he says.

That preparation includes securing a large workforce. During peak season, the company has a combined total of between 500 and 700 seasonal employees and subcontractors.

Many of the contractors and seasonal workers at BSR return year after year, Bolm says. Contractors often network for BSR and refer friends.

“We’re always trying to improve, we’ve always had the high expectations for our guys. We don’t just hire anybody. We just don’t put anybody in a BSR hat and coat,” he says.

While expectations are high for workers, in return they are handsomely compensated.

“We pay our guys within 48 hours after a storm,” he says. “We have barbecues for them every year.” This year the company took workers out to Pyromania, a huge fireworks show.

“It’s about building a relationship. They’re key and important to us,” Bolm says. “We appreciate them and want them to know that.”

Team management.

While BSR does not have anyone devoted full-time to prospecting for clients, Bolm says there is an executive who handles employee recruitment.

Employees are cross-trained to be able to fill in on various roles and job sites. Contractors are typically assigned to one area, Bolm says. Some contractors have been on the same account for 10 or 15 years.

“We want them to be married to a particular zone and particular buildings. We want them to completely understand the layout of the building: where the foot traffic’s going, how the lot is laid out, where the fire hydrants are and the handicap spaces are,” he says.

Some properties are so large, such as a hospital campus with multiple buildings, that a team of workers will only service that account. If accounts are smaller, Bolm says he will group them together into one zone for that set of workers.

Despite most workers returning year after year, Bolm says his company’s biggest challenge remains manpower.

“Here in the Midwest we’re a low snow market. Depending on the season, it’s very hard to even make money or break even. Therefore, since you’re in a low snow market, you’re always struggling to find the quality guys,” he says.

Finding clients.

While finding manpower can be challenging, finding clients is typically not a concern at BSR.

Bolm says because he is specific about his ideal client, he has no concerns telling a prospect they aren’t the best fit and referring work elsewhere.

“If we have asset managers or property managers that are micromanaging or calling off service, they’re probably not our best client. We’re not the best service provider for them, and we let them know that during the introduction and the meeting of the client, we just let them know,” Bolm says.

Over the years the company’s book of business has grown primarily through word of mouth.

“Some of our largest accounts have actually reached out to us and said they’ve heard great things about us. We keep in touch with our clients; we do a newsletter, I’ll do about 10 visits with them. That’s how we’re continuing to grow our base of clients for our service,” Bolm says.

Transparency with clients is key, Bolm says. “They want to know what’s going on and we’re doing a great job with expanding our technology and investing in technology to let them know when they’re being serviced, how they’re being serviced, how much time it takes you to service them,” he says.

And communication is important. Bolm says he works to make sure his clients don’t get surprises from his company.

Lastly, high-quality service is vital. “Your best sales pitch is your service. Your service speaks louder than what you say,” he says.

The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.

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