Start thinking snow

Summer is a great time to investigate new plows.

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For landscapers looking to integrate snow removal into their businesses, the summer is a great time to select a plow that’s right for the job. Those looking to enter the industry will find that plows are far more than a piece of metal. They can be rather complex, come with myriad attachments and require maintenance during the snow season.

John Langton, owner of Langton Group, in Woodstock, Illinois, says snow plowing can be a viable business on its own, as well as an excellent way to learn extra revenues in the winter. Langton started his company in 2005 as a snow removal operation before moving into landscaping. He has 40 trucks, 20 loaders and 80 plows.

Langton says landscapers should start by first gauging market interest with existing customers. From there, they can learn more about what types of viable plow jobs are out there and what kind of plows they might need. He recommends starting small with plows that can easily be attached to skid-steers, UTVs and half-ton trucks.

“Start with any equipment you have idle in winter because all you have to do is add attachments. It’s a low-cost of entry for the potential rewards you can get,” Langton says.

Winter weather and the demand for plowing can be quite unpredictable, Langton says. The company uses the service Weather Command to receive advance storm warnings and try to best predict snow. Langton Group covers a 90-mile radius and has contracts to ensure income. But he says landscape operations venturing into plowing may want to test the first season with limited equipment investments and then scale up.

Joe Uran, owner of C&C Lawns in Minneapolis, says snow removal makes up roughly half of his revenue. One of his top priorities when shopping for a plow is dealer support, along with locally available parts and service.

He says landscapers should also match plows to the work they want to do. While an inexpensive straight edge plow might suffice for driveways and small residential jobs, larger commercial jobs will require a V-plow or expandable plow.

“We regularly oil (plows) to keep corrosion down and extend the life.” Joe Uran, C&C Lawns

On the lowest end of the scale, light duty ATV or UTV plows can run up to $3,000, while a commercial V-plow for a half-ton truck can run between $5,000 and $8,000. Langton recommends looking beyond the initial investment and considering the long-term costs of maintenance and how the equipment is used.

Larger plows with wings cost more than straight blade plows but they move snow faster and require less salt. Langton says the initial investment can pay off and make the owner more profitable in the long run.

It’s also important to learn about the plow and be able to perform proper maintenance, Uran says. His company has a tight maintenance program to meticulously check plows before each snow event to ensure they’re operating at optimal performance. And they clean and inspect plows after each use. Uran says plow owners should be sure to pay special attention to springs which can easily break if not well maintained. “We regularly oil them to keep corrosion down and extend the life,” he says.

Rubber wear edges, which adjust to surface irregularities without gouging, also need regular replacement. Many plows also have a variety of accessories that can be installed, including deflectors, wings, curb guards and blade guides. Some models also have a back drag edge for moving snow away from garage doors and other tight areas.

Maintenance fluctuates with the amount of use that a company puts on them per winter, Langton says. In periods of heavy snow and use, a landscaper can expect maintenance bills to rise. “The cost of maintenance on a plow depends on the price but I would say to plan on anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of the initial purchase price per year,” Langton says.

June 2016
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