Fresh off the ASCA’s annual Executive Summit, I wanted to share some of the insights this year’s attendees shared with me while at the event.

  • First and foremost, there is no replacement for face-to-face interaction. Conversations are longer and more in depth. We need human contact. While I completely understand the need to be cautious and safe in these times, don’t underestimate the value of face-to-face interaction and peer-to-peer networking. It was great to see so many old faces, as well as a number of first-time attendees.
  • There was a nearly unanimous feeling that 2020 was a lost year. And on top of that, attendees simply wanted to move forward and put recent events behind them so as to focus on future growth and success.
  • Many of the conversations I participated in or overhead had to do with the current state of the snow and ice management industry and the challenges we face. Labor of course was the hot topic. What do you do? How do you overcome the challenge of filling out your winter roster? Brilar’s Mike Voories, who served on a panel addressing the labor issue, may have said it the best: We need to work harder because it’s not going away any time soon. First, never stop interviewing because you don’t know who will walk through your door. Secondly, build and nurture a company culture where people want to come to work for you, where you employees are recruiting for you, and where your employees want to stay.
  • Supply and material costs will continue to rise. Most importantly, truck prices (both new and used), steel prices and fuel are all heading for new heights. Therefore, you need to account for this in your proposals for this winter. In all, critical expenses for snow contractors are up an average of 15 percent. Stay ahead of the curve by monitoring any news events that involve the industry’s supply chain.
  • The salt market appears stable, but this can change quickly. There have been a lot of behind-the-scenes changes in this market over the past year and a half. Mergers, mine closures, and mine production issues have all been mentioned separately. However, if North America experiences a decent winter, then this could put a squeeze on salt availability more quickly then we have experienced in the past. In addition, a variety of scenarios involving international events and the global market could also come into play, further straining the supply chain.
  • Foreign hackers are aggressively attacking US small businesses with ransomware. This is a real threat and many small business owners have not taken the necessary technological precautions to protect their business systems. How long would your operations survive if you were completely locked out for one day? How about three days? Or a week ... during a winter event?
  • Finally, the conversation I heard most dealt with knowing your numbers and charging appropriately for your services. Don’t be afraid to price your services properly. Work for those people who will pay you properly for what you do and the costs you have. You can service 100 properties at slim margins and one mistake can wipe those margins out. Or, you can service 50 properties and establish the proper margins for a decent profit. Which one sounds the most appealing to you?

Kevin Gilbride is executive director of the Accredited Snow Contractors Association.