SNOW MAGAZINE: Heading into Winter 2017-18, what are you hearing from the snow and ice management industry, and what do you see as the greatest business challenge contractors are facing?
KEVIN GILBRIDE: As simple as it is, snow or no snow is the major topic of discussion right now among contractors. While the good companies budget to ensure they have some profits no matter what happens in the winter, a low-snow winter really hurts businesses. From a snow contractor’s perspective, the difference between a good winter and bad winter for a small operation means $1 million in revenue instead of $400,000. The $400,000 keeps the doors open, but the $1 million puts money in your and your employee’s pockets.
The industry saw the introduction of the Snow & Ice Show in 2017 (which took place in Indianapolis). What was the goal you were trying to achieve with introducing this show?
To deliver more of the ASCA’s messaging to the masses in a face-to-face format. We are often asked if the ASCA-C certification is available face-to-face. This allowed us to provide that opportunity to the industry at large. We also have a wealth of knowledge and experience within the association’s membership. This gave us a venue to share that knowledge with others of like minds. The trade show format made the most sense as a forum to do this.
And how does this differ from Executive Summit?
It’s a different focus and level of education. The trade show is about snow and ice management. You will see more of a focus on the operations and snow-specific business education, while mixing in the high-level business topics. There are plenty of networking opportunities and, of course, plenty of products to see and experience. Executive Summit is a time to look at your business from a big-picture perspective — the 30,000-foot view. The educational topics here are more about the business. Whether it HR, sales, asset management, or even the economy, contractors will find topics covered that generally are not covered at other industry events. Of course, the networking is top notch and a key focus of the entire event.
And speaking of Executive Summit, how have you seen this event evolve in recent years, and what are you anticipating for the near future?
I’m not sure that evolve is the right word. I think we got it right the first time out of the gate. We continue to utilize the same format (schedule), but I believe we have improved at selecting educational speakers and topics. Generally, the feedback from attendees has been outstanding. One aspect of the event people who have not attended probably misread, is the large amount of networking time built into the schedule. With sessions only in the morning, I have heard a comment that the schedule is not full enough. The truth is, you will learn as much, if not more from your peers sitting next to the pool, over a cup of coffee in the lobby or on the nearby golf course as you will in an educational classroom setting. If you fill every minute with a speaker, you miss perhaps the most valuable opportunity available – to talk shop with your peers.
So how would you describe the state of the association and why?
Validated. When we started, everything was based on theory. The theory was if we created credible written industry standards, education to support those standards, verification that companies were in fact true professionals, then we could change the way the outside world views snow contractors and our industry. Then we could enact real change for the industry. Today, individual companies are reaping the benefits of this hard work. Soon, we hope many more in the industry take advantage. Of course, this is a business, and the association is profitable, so in that regard we are on solid footing.
It’s been a year since the ASCA’s landmark legislative victory in Illinois. How are the association’s legislative efforts going on in other snow states, and how soon can the industry expect another announcement?
We are making progress. Unfortunately, the Illinois victory woke up the opposition in other states, and we are getting more of a fight that we did in Illinois. However, the ASCA hopes to realize the same success by year’s end in one or more states where our industry does business.
How about the ASCA’s efforts on the federal level?
Thirty-plus snow professionals made the trip Washington D.C. in September. Frankly, we owe them a debt of gratitude for taking the time out of their schedules and, on their own dime, travel to D.C. to represent their industry. From those modest actions alone, they made an impact and opened the lines of communication with our elected officials. I am in frequent communication with Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley staff and continue to update them on frivolous lawsuits and how they impact our industry. I recently introduced the North American Power Sweepers Association to this bill and through me, they joined us in the support for the bill. We sent over an issue briefing and five-page report detailing the issues they are facing, which are the same as ours. The more people we can get on board, the better chance we have of getting this done.
The association has updated its Industry Standards. Can you alleviate any confusion about this process and what, if any, major changes were made?
We did not update the standards. We had to update SN 9001, the snow portion of the quality management system that works with ISO 9001. Recently, ISO 9001 was updated, and we had to update SN 9001 to work with the new version of ISO 9001. For years, ISO has admitted they have an image problem. The problem is that most people thing they are a manufacturing only system. The truth of the matter is that ISO 9001 works as well, if not better for service industries. So, the new version of ISO 9001 is even more service industry friendly. Which is good for us.
There are more than 30 ISO-certified snow and ice management companies in the industry, and just as many – if not more – operations at various stages in the certification process. How have you seen ISO begin changing how business is done in the snow and ice management industry?
I’d encourage anyone who is curious to ask a company that has gone through the process and earned certification. Overall, ISO companies talk about improved processes, better positioned for growth, employee buy-in, increased sales and marketability, risk reduction, more efficient – and less costly – processes and procedures. And for some, ISO is the differentiator between them and their market competition.
Lastly, what’s your prediction for Winter 2017-18? Can contractors expect a healthy snow season?
I am no better than the weather folks we all know about. El Nino is rearing its head, so if that true, we should enjoy a nice winter for the industry. Many industry vets will tell you that the weather is cyclical. With two light winters recently, the cyclical folks would say this going to be a big winter. But again, I don’t know. I do know, that the best snow companies will have a good year, snow or no