Snow events, despite being a tad unpredictable, take plenty of planning.
Dan Robertson, director of operations at Contemporary Landscape, says it can be hard work preparing for a snow event at the St. Louis-based company.
“We had more clients this year (winter of 2022-23) for snow than we ever had before,” he says. “
Robertson says a lot of the company’s maintenance clients are also snow clients and they had some that are add-ons. He added the company also has some that they have some that were sub-contracted to others or from others.
And as director of operations, it’s Robertson’s job to have the crews — and their equipment — ready to go once the snow starts falling.
During a traditional snow event, Robertson says the company will send out about 150 laborers. For a small salting event, he sends out about 30 to 40 people.
“The hard part is making sure that all the equipment, and all the labor, is ready for when and if it is going to snow,” he says.
Robertson notes that most of his crews work a regular 9 to 5 job outside of the industry in addition to clearing snow.
“When it snows, you’ve got to get 100 people together for a snow event that might happen or might not happen,” he says. “Having that much labor ready to go at the drop of a dime is the hardest part.”
Robertson says the first step in the preparations is getting the fleet in order. “All of our trucks are out working, so if all of a sudden it’s going to snow, we’ve got to bring them all back in to get plows on and get ready,” he says.
“We don’t just set equipment up for snow and park them to let them sit. They’re out working and making money in the meantime, and when snow comes, we switch gears and switch them over.”
Then comes the more difficult part — finding and scheduling his laborers.
“So, I have to take these people and put them into the schedule wherever I can fit them,” he says. “I have to take their availability into account. You might have one guy who is available till midnight, and another till 6 a.m., and that’s hard to schedule it all right.”
Robertson says he makes sure to waste no time when snow is in the forecast.
He also stresses the importance of keeping employee contact up-to-date so he can get ahold of his workers as fast as possible when scheduling.
“If the weatherman is calling for a snow event to move in, and there’s even a chance, I’m on my phone two or three days out prepping my seasonal help and start checking availability,” he says.
“I have a spreadsheet I go through and highlight everyone who says they’re ready to help, and who can’t. Then I route them according to that availability.”
And when the snow isn’t coming down, Robertson says there is plenty else to do.
“More than anything we always hope that if we don’t have snow we stay busy doing landscape installs or doing property maintenance,” he says. “We still have a lot of guys out now doing cleanups and one-off jobs.”
January is notoriously slow for Contemporary Landscape but the break in the action allows for lots of in-house tasks to get done.
“In our downtime, we’re mapping, routing, bidding properties for the season to come and trying to get scheduling going,” he says. “We’re also trying to hire people and interview people during that time, plus equipment maintenance you normally can’t take care of during the busy time of the year.”
Robertson says not knowing when the snow will start falling, or if it will at all, is tricky. This is especially with where St. Louis is located on a map.
“The challenge is predicting the weather,” he says. “We can get either end of a weather pattern.
“We’re stuck between the flow usually. We’ve got warm and wet to the south, and cold and wet in the north. We’re in the middle of that jet-stream all the time, when a system comes through, we can catch either side,” Robertson adds.
And even with all the challenges associated with it, Robertson says providing snow services is still one of the most lucrative aspects of the business.
“Snow is always one of our biggest moneymakers for the year,” he says. “It helps us purchase new equipment for the next season and take care of some other things. Snow is like a slot machine sometimes, but you make good money when it snows.”
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