Subcontractor solutions

Speedcutters Outdoor Maintenance uses subs for most snow plowing instead of paying for equipment.

Unlike most industry peers who entered the snow removal business after starting a lawn care business, the owners of Speedcutters Outdoor Maintenance did the opposite, adding the green side of the business after plowing snow for a season.

Co-owners Tom Langlais and John Lane started in late 2004 with one truck, a plow and a contract with a national homebuilder in the northern suburbs of the Minneapolis/St. Paul market.

“It was our goal always to provide lawn services as part of it,” Langlais says. “Obviously starting this kind of a business in Minnesota in August, the odds of you landing very many accounts for lawn services are going to be pretty slim. In order to continue generating revenue on a 12-month basis you’ve got to kind of be in both areas at once.”

They expanded into lawn and outdoor services the following spring. Annual revenue for the company was $650,000 in 2014. The majority of that revenue still comes from snow removal work. The remaining 40 percent comes from lawn care and other outdoors services.

“Our main focus in the summer is lawn care, both mowing and chemical applications, but there’s not really an outdoor service that we don’t provide,” he says.

Moving melt

Speedcutters will add a new service to their already robust line of snow and ice control services – ice melt delivery. Many businesses have on-site crews to ensure sidewalks are clear, says Tom Langlais, co-owner.

“They spread ice melt on their sidewalks, and they do it as an internal function of their company,” he says. “But they have to get that ice melt from somewhere, so we will bring ice melt to you and make sure those containers are filled on a regular basis.”

In addition to this new ice melt delivery service, Speedcutters already offers power brooming, which is used to move massive amounts of snow from sidewalks, such as at outlet malls. The snow is then plowed away.

“From a time savings and efficiency standpoint, it’s much easier to broom off a sidewalk and sweep off a sidewalk than it is to shovel it,” he says.

Other clients use a service where Speedcutters hauls snow off site. This is typically implemented when, despite advanced planning, there simply is no room left to move snow anymore on a property, Langlais says.

Snow is moved off site with a dump truck and placed on open land owned by area cities.

“Cities a lot of times will have dedicated places that you can dump snow. Because it contains salt and things, they need to be aware of the sites that they pick for that so that there’s no contamination of ground water,” he says. Dump fees usually range from $15 to $25 per load.

Ice and snow site monitoring is another service offered to customers who would rather pay a company to monitor a portion of a property for safety, and then quickly remove snow or ice when there becomes an issue, rather than do that in-house, Langlais says.

Clients of Speedcutters are primarily commercial and include townhome associations, strip malls, corporate complexes, warehouses and industrial buildings. Only about 5 percent of clients are residential, he says.

The company is based in Elk River, Minn., and clients are primarily based in the Northwest suburbs of Minneapolis. Contracts for snow removal work typically run Nov. 1 through March 31.

No equipment needed.

Prep for the winter season begins mid-September to early October, but Speedcutters has minimal equipment in house. The company owns three trucks that can handle plows, a handful of snow blowers and shovels.

The staff at Speedcutters is small, but multi-functional. The company employs about 10 individuals year-round. Most are part-time snow shoveling staff who work in the winter and transition to full-time lawn care employees during the summer.

Langlais and his partner are both full-time and they have a full-time crew leader. Subcontractors make up the bulk of the remaining manpower at Speedcutters. Langlais says the idea to subcontract came about three years into the business, when the two partners realized how much money could be tied up in expensive equipment.

“If we were to do it all in-house ourselves, it would require us to have a fleet of Bobcats, as well as probably half a dozen more trucks. We don’t need the trucks in the summertime, and we don’t need the Bobcats in the summertime,” he says.

So instead, reliable subcontractors are hired and trained specifically on how snow removal work should be done at each jobsite and with what type of equipment. They have their own equipment and open availability during the winter. For example, one is a landscaper who plows for Speedcutters in the winter. Another runs an excavating company during the summer and needs winter work, Langlais says.

Subcontractors are rotated and typically not asked to work more than an eight-hour shift at a time. They typically return every season and will be assigned to the same properties because they already know what to do from previous training, he adds.

Working the referral chain.

New customers at Speedcutters are gained primarily through referrals from current customers. About 15 percent of business comes from cold calling.

“A lot of times it just takes getting our foot in the door and going through one or two or three years or contract cycles before we get a call from somebody,” he says.

Social media has also been used a little bit, but Langlais says the results so far have been intangible.

“We’re not discounting it at all because I think it still can be valuable, but we just haven’t figured out quite how to make it work for us yet,” he says.

The company’s only other advertising comes from logos on their trucks and business cards. Almost all clients are on both lawn care and snow removal contracts.

Charging top dollar.

What allows Speedcutters to charge a bit more than its competition?

“It’s attention to detail and common sense work when we’re on a jobsite,” Langlais says.

Teams plan for future snowfall, he adds. Some companies will pile snow in the same area starting in November and by February they run out of room to pile snow. At Speedcutters, crews will often pile snow further back at the beginning of the season in preparation.

Keeping open lines of communication with customers is also paramount. That contact is typically made via mass email.

“We’ll let them know there’s a big snow event coming up and here’s what we plan on doing,” he says.


Holly Hammersmith is a freelancer based in Cleveland.

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