SNOW MAGAZINE: From an association perspective, how would you best describe the state of the professional snow and ice management industry as we reach the eve of the Winter 2020-21 season.
KEVIN GILBRIDE: With two words: Uncertain and unsettled. While plenty of businesses were deemed essential during the lock down, many others are still reeling in their attempts to recover. The retail sector has taken a huge hit, as we all know. There are plenty of other businesses and services that have been deeply impacted by the pandemic that, ultimately, influence our industry’s business. Airports, for example, are a complete mess right now. They have huge snow removal needs and their revenues are at an all-time low. Snow contractors need to be aware of the health of their customer base and be prepared to replace accounts that they anticipate are going to have issues in the near term. With that said, contractors should have already been talking with their customers about these issues. And if they haven’t, then I predict they’re going to be in trouble. The truth of the matter is that the pandemic is forcing many businesses to manage services more tightly – and that includes snow and ice management.
From the contractor’s perspective, what are you hearing about the impact the pandemic has had on our industry, if any?
Many of their summer businesses were deemed essential, which was a blessing. However, the impact on their customer base continues to be the biggest issue as well as the biggest unknown. Many had to reduce or eliminate some services all together, and they expect the same for the winter season. However, with winter being fairly unpredictable, it’s difficult to gauge the impact of … let’s say … and aggressive winter coupled with virulent COVID outbreak in some of the major snow municipalities could have on the industry.
We’re coming off another low-event winter. How has this impacted snow professionals and what’s your best advice for how they should approach this coming winter?
First, I’m not the only one to ponder whether this last winter was a blessing in disguise. For example, low-event winter helped right salt prices for commercial contractors. Likewise, those with a diverse contract portfolio didn’t seem to get beaten up too harshly financially. What’s important here is that contractors should always be in communication with and educating their customers on not only the state of the economy, but how economic conditions impact the business of snow and ice management. A good example is educating customers if they are on a per-event contract why they should stay that way. Or, if they are on a seasonal contract why the should stay that way. Too often customers want to shift from one to the other when a season goes opposite of what they selected. The truth is history shows in time this will all even out. So, educating the customers remains the best solution when dealing with uncertainty.
Like with so many other segments of society, the pandemic seems to have halted any legislative progress in 2020. Can you update the industry on what’s happening and where behind the scenes? Has momentum died? And what legislative movement can we anticipate once things begin to normalize again?
All very good questions. And they are certainly the same questions members ask me about in my conversations with them. Without a doubt, our legislative efforts were put on hold for a few months. Legislative bodies focused only on the pandemic, which was absolutely justifiable. At the same time, we continued to stay on point with our legislative interests, especially in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts where we had good momentum with our bills. Now that other legislative work is being resumed, we are in the mix again and making progress. I actually had a number of calls with elected officials lately to discuss legislative matters. With the general election on the horizon, legislative officials are trying to make up for lost time. Therefore, we expect them to address a number of the issues that were moving forward in packages. Remember, they still have to show their constituents that they are working for them.
Let’s take a step back for a moment to the ASCA’s formation in 2012. Looking back over the last 8 years, has the association’s growth and maturity gone the way you planned, or has it veered into other directions as it built membership and momentum? And has this been a good thing?
It’s been an interesting evolution, to say the least. Anytime you do something of this nature there are always things you didn’t anticipate. Take our state-level legislative initiatives, for example. We were not aware at the time how time consuming some of these efforts would take. However, to this day I would say we have not strayed at all from our initial game plan. We remain focused on the Four Pillars of the ASCA that were announced the day we launched the association — Written Industry Standards, Education, Certification, and Positive Legislative Change. And I don’t anticipate the association will deviate far from this initial path for some time to come.
Okay, here’s a forward-looking question to ponder. Since its inception, the ASCA has racked up a number of wins for the industry – the creation of Industry Standards; the ASCA-C certification and an ISO designation for our industry; as well as bringing forward legislation and securing change in a number of snow states. As a result, have members approached you about taking up other causes and issues that could benefit the industry? And in that, how do you envision what the association’s mission will be in 5 years, 10 years and beyond?
Great question. Yes, we have been approached with other initiatives. Some of those we have taken on. And others, frankly, we have decided do not fit our core mission at this time. Those are extremely difficult decisions to make, but they must be made in order to stay on our course and to maintain momentum. However, we will always listen to our membership and the industry at large and take up initiatives that make sense to the industry in its entirety. However, at this time we firmly believe – even though we have recorded some “W’s” in the win column — there is still a lot more to accomplish within our core initiatives.
One last question. Please put this debate to rest. When referring to the association, is it “A-S-C-A” or is it “As-Ka,” because you hear both used throughout the industry?
[LAUGHS] That’s funny because internally, in the office, we all refer to it as “A-S-C-A.” Although, among association members it seems to be a 50/50 split between the two pronunciations, and at least a 50/50 mix with people throughout the industry. Truthfully, either is fine as long as people are talking positive about the association and the work we’re doing to make the industry a better place for the professionals working in it.