Snow focus

Honing in on snow services helps Michigan-based Sneller Snow Systems stand out.

About 10 years ago, Dan Sneller decided to make snow management his company’s main focus.
Photos courtesy of Sneller Snow Systems

At Sneller Snow Systems, snow removal is a strategic, planned service – not an off-season necessity offered as filler once the green season wraps up.

“We take the opposite approach (from most landscape contractors) and we said let’s plan ahead for snow year-round so that we can really offer better service through better planning,” says Dan Sneller, vice president.

This approach started in 2008 when Sneller, along with his brother Jeff, purchased the company from their retiring parents.

“Our primary focus is on the year-round service contracts for the landscape management and the snow and ice management,” Sneller says.

While the company’s legal name is Sneller Landscaping LLC, Sneller says the name Sneller Snow Systems was adopted in conjunction with the rebranding a decade ago.

“We saw an opportunity for snow to be a good niche because we love snow for a lot of the same reasons that a lot of people hate snow,” he says. “It’s unpredictable, there’s so many moving parts. It can be chaotic without proper planning, but we use those challenges as strengths.”

Standing out.

Sneller Snow Systems is headquartered in Byron Center, Michigan, and was founded in 1984. There is a lot of competition locally, but Sneller says most of the competitors focus on the green season. By focusing on the white season, Sneller Snow Systems can differentiate themselves more and promote value-added service. “During snow events we have daily emails that go out to our customers. We also put together site maps of each property that we service,” he says.

Service is customized for each client. Customer preferences are discussed prior to season start, Sneller says. “Every client is different,” he says. “We offer six different service levels that they can choose from and then if they want serviced more often or less often, they can adjust that service level at any given point.”

Billing is done weekly. “That way the numbers are always in front of them and that’s just part of the proactive, ongoing communication,” Sneller says.

Surveys are also used with clients, along with requests for feedback and face-to-face meetings.

Seasonal prep.

For Sneller Snow Systems, the white season begins around Nov. 15 and typically wraps up by mid-April. However, preparation for the season is a year-round process.

“In the spring we are prioritizing what we’re going to focus on before next season, whether it be technology upgrades or procedures that need to be created,” Sneller says. Management also looks at company opportunities and risks.

Hiring is done continually. During the green season, the company employs roughly 35 people. For snow season, there are about 230 workers, including subcontractors or as Sneller calls them service providers. About 150 of the 230 are W-2 workers, and the rest are subcontractors.

“The vast majority of the service providers are under the management of our (internal) managers,” Sneller says. “They can be concrete workers, excavators, guys that have their own trucks – and they work for us on an hourly basis.”

Sneller’s company sets up their route and dispatches them for service. Internal employees do quality control on the sites, he says.

Sneller says they also ask employees for their perspective in the off-season to gauge their thoughts on what’s needed for the next year. “We get a good feel for that and then in August will start having those discussions more formally again,” he says.

In terms of the sale season, Sneller says contracts for the following season’s service can be drawn up as early as spring. The bulk of the contracts are finalized from August through October.

Because the company uses a lot of subcontractors who own equipment, internally there are only about 10 snow plows in operation during peak season. Subcontractors add another 70 to 80 snow plows to the fleet. The company also has about 25 ice melt trucks, along with smaller pieces of equipment such as skid-steers.

Sneller Snow Systems employs about 230 workers for snow season, including subcontractors.
Common challenges.

The weather is always unpredictable in this business, but Sneller says going paperless has helped them to manage the unknown.

“When it does snow, we have about 400 properties to service in a matter of about six to seven hours, and 230-plus people out there doing it. There’s a lot of moving parts,” he says. “Technology is a big benefit to us because once the six or seven hours are complete, everyone’s been serviced, there’s really not paperwork that needs to be followed up on because everything’s been logged digitally in real-time from their phone apps.”

Workers access site maps using their personal smartphones. The company has its own Sneller Snow Systems app.

“When they get to a site, they log into it, they provide their service, then they enter what they did, how much product they used, and they log out when they’re done. We have record of who is on site, what they did, how much product they used. In the event of a slip and fall, we have all this information documented,” Sneller says.

Advanced planning is also vital. The company is structured so that each area manager is in charge of his own geographical area, which includes snow plows, salt trucks and sidewalk crews.

“For every three or four area managers, they report up to a regional manager,” he says. “There’s this sort of pyramid system of organization so that it’s just like a good way for everyone to work together and communicate.”

The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.

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