Experienced snow and ice contractors try to think ahead, be observant in the field and communicate thoroughly both internally with employees and externally with customers to make the time between events efficient and impactful on their overall operations.
“In between events is a critical point in a contractor’s lifecycle. It could be the difference between success and failure. Complacency is certainly not an option,” says Jason Case, chief executive officer of Case Snow Management Inc.
Case Snow Management is based in North Attleboro, Massachusetts and today the company serves commercial clients in 10 states. The company employs 50 people year-round, but on a seasonal basis up to 1,000 people work for the company along with a subcontractor network. The company has an annual revenue of $32 million.
Case and others professional snow and ice management contractors share the key actions that need to be taken between snow and ice events in order to best prepare for the next event.
Checks and balances
“Something we’ve been doing for a lot of years is what we call the bump list, where everyone keeps track of every bump in the road, any inefficiency, any challenge, concerning frustration, whatever the case might be, anything that can be improved upon,” says Dan Sneller, vice president of Sneller Snow Systems. “Then we compile that list and work on solutions for those items.”
Sneller Snow Systems is primarily a snow removal company based in Byron Center, Michigan and serving commercial clients such as medical, retail, office buildings and industrial.
A small percentage of business, about 20 percent, consists of landscape maintenance and property enhancements. During a snow event, north of 200 people work for the company – including subcontractors. Sneller Snow Systems has an annual revenue of approximately $5 million.
This list helps fix underlying issues that can impact efficiency without distracting employees from their job in the field in the moment, he says.
“We’re looking at reports that show labor budget versus actual so if there’s some drivers that need some help, I can identify where some of those areas are,” Sneller says.
Similarly, at Sauers Tree & Landscape Service Inc., documentation is made after each event for quality control purposes. This documentation can also identify hiccups between events, says Joe Sauers, vice-president and co-owner.
Eighty percent of the company’s $4 million in annual revenue comes from snow removal work. The other 20 percent comes from landscape maintenance. The company employs eight full-time managers and six laborers. An expansive subcontractor network performs the bulk of the snow removal work.
“When everybody calls in and says their routes are completed, we have account managers in the field performing quality control checks, and they will go around to each site and perform a post-event inspection,” Sauers says. “They’re making sure all of the parking lots and walks were cleared and deiced, making sure that the dumpster corrals are open, making sure there’s no snow piles in a handicap stall, all the typical stuff that kind of needs to be inspected.”
The checks do not end here.
“We cross-reference the work that was done with the snow removal plan that is part of each property’s contract,” Sauers says. “That basically dictates where the snow was to be placed and what areas were to be serviced.”
Those same account managers will often follow up with customers the day after a storm to touch base and make sure all was performed to satisfaction.
At Case Snow Management, account managers will talk to both employees and the customer if there is a dispute or concern over how a property was handled, Case says.
“You need to do a comparative analysis between what the customer is expressing versus the guys in the field are evaluating the storm,” he says.
Account managers are tasked with identifying where the disconnect is and repairing it, Case says.
If prep before the season is done correctly, along with using thorough contracts and agreements, the customer should be left with few questions or concerns during the season, contractors say.
“We’ve learned over the years that the best way to reduce any type of unforeseen issues or unexpected requests is to really have a thorough, detailed conversation with them before the season even starts, during the bid process, during the contract process,” Sauers says.
However, communication outside of the everyday (such as invoicing and billing and data reports) is sometimes required in between snow events.
“If there were any accidents or damages incurred there’s a communication or reports being delivered after the event,” Case says. “If a customer requests additional services rendered, for example: snow removal, another property, or anything above and beyond the scope of work. That’s something that’s communicated post any event.”
Requests from customers between events vary depending on the customer, Sauers says. For example, a retail center may need as many parking spots available as possible for holiday shoppers in December, Sauers explains.
In other instances, contractors have noticed a plugged drain that could lead to water pooling and freezing, roof drains that empty onto a sidewalk, or other hazards that the customer should be notified about between events, Sneller says
Check all fluid levels after each storm, says Mark Ciccarelli, vice president of operations for Neave Group.
“Make sure everything is topped off, all the fuel. The hydraulics, everything,” he says.
In addition, at Neave Snow and Ice Management equipment is power washed after every storm to remove salt residue.
“I think what a lot of people do is they’ll just leave it, Ciccarelli says.
Having a backup plan in place for equipment is also essential. Ciccarelli rents backup equipment.
“For every 10 pieces that we run I have one backup,” he says. “It costs a little bit more. But the service, especially with snow and the liability of it, I don’t mess around really. If we’re negligent or we’re not servicing the property the way we’re contracted to do it, we’re going to be liable for it.”
At Sauers Tree & Landscape Service, a combination of company-owned equipment, rental equipment from different equipment dealerships, and we use other contractors’ equipment who don’t do any snow removal of their own is used.
“We’ve established a list of what we call our backup list of nearby company owners that have large equipment but, again, they don’t do snow removal on a regular basis, but they’ve agreed to assist us on larger snow events,” Sauers says. “If we know a larger event is coming in, something that’s 12 inches or more is forecasted, we’ll start activating the guys on the backup list to supplement the standard team.”
All equipment is inspected for damages following an event, Case says. “Immediately after every storm, all equipment needs to be fueled up, greased, hooked up to any pushers or snowplows, and be fully ready for the next event,” Case says.
Common mistakes contractors make in this area include forgetting to check that windshield wiper fluid is full, checking for functioning lights and wiper blade function, he says.
Simple product inventory and budgeting is essential in getting it right between events, contractors say.
“With technology now, we know what the product budget is per property so then it’s easy to analyze how much product was actually used on a given property compared to what was budgeted,” Sneller says. “That way if the product is being wasted we can identify that and take correction before it becomes an ongoing issue for example.”
In addition to checking all equipment following a storm, operations teams check on material supplies, such as deicer, at the same time.
“We always like to have enough on-hand to get through about the next three snow events,” Sauers says. “I’ve seen other guys in the past not restocking on their deicer sufficiently. Running out of deicer mid-storm or right after the storm and not being able to resupply as quickly as they’d like to.”