Wade Gerten, owner and CEO of Clearscape Outdoor Services, was looking for a change of pace and a new career direction when he bought the company three years ago.
“I was actually a tech guy before. I had started a few technology companies, mostly in software industry, and that’s about as far as you can be from landscaping, design and maintenance,” he says. “I joke that I didn’t even mow my own lawn before this.”
Gerten says it was a simple realization about the green industry that drove him to dive in.
“All industries have gone through a lot of technology disruptions, but this industry really hasn’t,” he says.
Gerten discovered the Minnesota-based commercial landscaping company and wanted to help advance it with his technology background.
“I want to help this company become an innovative leader in the space,” he says.
And he’s been able to do it through a proprietary app the company’s built to better recruit labor for its snow operations.
According to Gerten, wintertime creates its own set of challenges that can impact every element of the business.
“The thing we most struggle with, especially in the wintertime, is the unknown,” he says. “There’s tons of change that you can’t really plan for. Is it going to snow or not? How much snow are we going to get? And things like that.
“The unknown is what gives everyone so much stress,” Gerten adds. “It brings a whole other level of anxiety. Weather, equipment and people — those are the three things that cause the most stress. And wintertime just amplifies the challenges of all three of those things.”
Another element of uncertainty that Clearscapes struggles with during the winter is finding available labor to form shoveling crews. Gerten calls this his main motivation for creating the app.
“The first winter I was here, I counted all of the job applications we had for shoveling by the end of the winter and it was over 500 applications,” he says. “That’s a lot of people. I would guess that 80% of those people worked once or twice.”
Gerten says fielding through hundreds of people, all who prefer different methods of communication, was taking up too much time for his managers and adding unwanted stress to the job.
“If you’re the manager of the shoveling team, just imagine how many people you have to email, call and text to get a team of 100 to go out,” he says. “We probably have 100 to 120 shovelers out in one snow event. And if 80% of them are new every time, that can be a tremendous problem.”
ADVANTAGES OF THE APP.
As someone who’s tech savvy, Gerten thought the easiest solution would be an app designed for mass communication and recruiting.
“The platform is called Clearfield,” he says. “And the whole idea is about getting clarity into what’s happening out in the field. We use that for scheduling all of our plowing and all of our shoveling. We built an extension of it just for shoveling because it’s really difficult to get people to shovel these days.”
Gerten describes the process behind Clearfield as something similar to a party planning app.
“You can go in and say, ‘We’re planning a snow event for Friday night at 10 p.m. Who’s coming?’ and you can get a yes, no or maybe from everyone like an RSVP,” he explains.
In its database, the app has contact information for about 1,000 shovelers, Gerten says. Once an event is created, it will first send the invitation out to who Gerten says are “our best people.”
“The people that have worked more than one time, who keep coming back season after season and who get good reviews from the manager, they get the preview first and have a few hours to respond and tell us whether or not they want to work the event,” he says.
Then it’ll go to the next group — the people who’ve worked maybe once or twice for Clearscapes before. And then it’s sent to a third and fourth group, or as many groups as the manager would like to reach out to.
“Over the course of a few days before the event, we keep broadening the circle until we have enough people recruited to show up,” Gerten says. “We know that not everyone who says they’ll come is going to come. It tries to look at how many people on average don’t show up and adds another eight, 10 or 15 people to the schedule based on history.”
And when the unpredictable happens, Gerten says the app continues to send out updated information to everyone who’s signed on to work.
“The people then get a little text invite that tells them the wage we agree to pay them, that we expect to be out this many hours, and to meet at this place and at this time,” he says. “You’ll get more details later if the storm changes, which it always does. It’ll send new information out to reconfirm if people are still available to work.”
The app was rolled out last year and primarily used for shoveling crews. Gerten says this snow season, he’d like to further expand its use.
“We’re going to add the plow operators to it this year, too,” he says.
Not only does the Clearfield app help his company sort through the labor problem, but Gerten says it has some added benefits as well.
“It’s really useful for communicating with customers,” he says. “In the wintertime, just like it’s really hard for us to know what’s going to happen, it’s hard for the customers to know what is happening. A big part of what we’re trying to do with the platform is not just give managers and crews clarity in what’s happening, but also share that with our customers in real time.”