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As winter approaches, many companies across the U.S. are gearing up for snow season. While contracts are being signed and plows are being tested, it is not uncommon for snow companies to partner with local area service providers (SPs) to help complete their snow tasks. In fact, as the snow begins to fall, service providers are much more than just “hired guns.” They become an integral part of a company’s snow operations.

One of the struggles most snow managers face is relying on their service providers. As a storm approaches, countless thoughts begin to race through our head. Will the service providers show up on time? What if their equipment breaks down? Do they know what they’re doing? Our thoughts quickly turn to nightmares as our service provider fails on our client’s site. Why did this happen? Surely it can be avoided, right?

Here’s four ways your team can ensure you are building the right team of service providers.

1. Interview

The process of finding service providers begins by asking the right questions. The end goal of the process is to vet all service providers and to weed out any that may cause a problem.

At Sauers, we prefer to begin the process with a face-to-face interview. During our initial meeting, we ask a lot of questions about their experience and what types of snow sites they have experience working on. Because the service providers are representing our company, we want to make sure that they are qualified to work on our sites. At this time, we also share a great deal about our company culture, our vision and core values.

If we are going to partner with a service provider, they must align with our company’s values and culture. At the end of the interview we always introduce the service provider to the rest of our internal staff. It is very important they feel like they are a part of our team and that we are all in this together. Our final step of the interview is to visit their shop. We check to make sure they have the equipment they say they do, and the equipment appears to be in good working order and is presentable to our level of expectations.

2. Set Standards

If the candidate advances through our interview process, the next step is to set the right standards for success. We make it mandatory that all of our service providers attend one of our preseason presentations. During this presentation, we review best practices for snow removal, ASCA Industry Standards, and show some photo examples of what to do and not to do. We use this training session to make sure that all of our service providers are on the same page and to communicate our expectations. We train on our mobile app that we require our service providers to use. With the right metrics and standards in place, the service providers are set up for success.

3. Build Relationships

It is vital our service providers feel like they are a part of our team. If the service provider becomes a valued member of our team, they are invested to the point that a service failure becomes unlikely. Our team communicates and checks-in with our service providers continually throughout the snow season, and through the spring and summer months. One of the best ways we build relationships is through appreciation events, barbecues, and industry events.

4. Grade and Reward

The final step in the process is to grade the service providers on the winter work they have provided and reward the providers who excelled through the season. We track multiple metrics, including app usage, start times and overall performance, to come up with a final end-of-season grade. We share these grades with the SPs at our End of Year Appreciation Event and reward those who went above and beyond.

We have found that by following this process we have built one of the best snow and ice management teams in the country. The need for partnering with service providers will not diminish, but the headaches and nightmares will fade if you build the right team of providers.

Zach Kelley is director for operations at Sauers Snow and Ice, Inc. based in Warminster, Pa. He is responsible for identifying and securing service providers for the company’s snow operations.