Parting ways

Recognize the unmistakable signs you have a bad client in your snow and ice portfolio.

Managing season snow and ice operations, you’re most likely looking for ways to expand your business and bolster your bottom line But, there are occasions when a relationship with a client isn’t working and it’s best that the two of you part ways.

Obviously, the decision to drop a client must be made carefully. But there are circumstances in which that decision might have to be made.

Brett Perrone leads Perrone Landscaping, headquartered in Holden, Mass., which has serviced the central part of the state for the past 12 years. Like many business owners, Perrone is concerned when customers are late paying their bills.

“The number one red flag is payments not coming in when they’re supposed to,” he says, “and the number two red flag is when they promise you a payment shortly, the next day, next week, two weeks, and it’s still not there. So that to me is the number one red flag; not holding their end of the bargain in term of payments.

“We do payments every 30 days from the point of invoice so we like to look at that 31st day as a late payment.”

Perrone’s concerns could likely be echoed by many business owners, regardless of the product or service they provide.

But there are scenarios unique to the snow industry that raise red flags of their own.

“If the client does not allow us to service the property properly,” Perrone says, “meaning, they want to control when the salt can be put down. We do not allow the client to tell us when we can or cannot apply deicer, whether it’s salt or whatever the case may be. If a client is looking to do that, but in turn does not want to hold the liability for a slip and fall, that’s a red flag. You can’t prevent a clip and fall without servicing properly.”

Perrone notes some clients fail to recognize the realities and complexities of scheduling. “That could mean an ice storm where you’re doing multiple (ice management applications) throughout a 24-hour period,” he says. “They say, ‘We don’t open until eight o’ clock, why did you salt at four o’ clock?’ Well, at four a.m., we need to start our route in order to get everyone done in a timely fashion, before everyone opens.”

Perrone cites the issues involving clients who look to cut corners to save a few dollars. “If a client says, ‘We don’t open until 10, the sun will melt the ice,’ that’s another red flag,” he says. “That’s somebody that’s not going to allow us to do the job properly to prevent a slip-and-fall (claim). That’s a huge red flag and we won’t take on the contract if that’s the way they want to handle it.

“Also, I have clients who still believe in sand, and we don’t use it,” he says. “In extreme cases in cases of heavy, heavy, heavy ice we will, but if a client doesn’t want to spend for straight or magic salts, or liquid, that to me is another red flag. It says that client isn’t really prepared to spend the amount of money that’s needed to service them properly. We wouldn’t take the client that would not allow us to use straight salt.”

James Lynch founded the company that today is JPL Cares in 1993. Headquartered in Littleton, Colo., his crews serve the entire Denver metro area. He says clients become complacent if they experience a season or two of low snow totals and that can become problematic.

“We have two seasons we don’t have any snow,” he says, “and people duck, dodge, and dive when they get their bill.

“The challenge is quality communication, but when you communicate with a customer and don’t get reciprocal communication back, you know you’re going to be in trouble,” he adds.

Some customers are not clear about what their needs are and/or are ambiguous about their expectations, Lynch says.

“A lot of times, we want customers so badly that we’ll sign somebody that has unrealistic expectations,” he says. “That’s our mistake. But we’ll sign somebody that has unrealistic expectations and try explain to them that those expectations are unrealistic but we want the work so we sign them. And we shoot ourselves in the foot because we want the work so bad. And I think that’s a common mistake with contractors and I’ll use myself as an example.”

Contractors set themselves up for problems if they are unable to meet client expectations that the contractor knew in advance were unrealistic, Lynch says.

“We get so hungry we forget about what our criteria is,” he says. “Our critical drivers, or key performance indicators (KPIs) for our business, are things that are important to us as a business. But we want money so badly sometimes and we want to grow, that we forget about what our values are.”

Rick Woelfel is a Philadelphia-based writer and frequent Snow Magazine contributor.

October 2019
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