During a time when many businesses were struggling to stay afloat, B&B Group took an unconventional approach – slashing services.
The company, which was founded in 1990, used to be a full-service landscape maintenance company but in 2008, when the Great Recession hit, management took a hard look at where the company was heading.
“We took that time to kind of reinvent ourselves in terms of what are we passionate about? And what are we good at? And it was snow removal and irrigation. We cut all other services out,” says Kevin Mangin.
Mangin oversees business development and operations for snow and ice removal at B&B Group headquartered in Indianapolis. The company serves the greater metropolitan area and surrounding counties.
Clients fall under two primary categories: snow and ice management, offered to commercial clients only, and irrigation and outdoor lighting, which is a mix of commercial and residential customers.
“We talked to our key tenured guys, and we just found that our guys really aren’t passionate about mowing,” Mangin says. “And there’s a lot of people that mow. We weren’t necessarily better than anybody else, so those services just got cut, so we could focus our investment resources and our time into the two things that our guys are passionate about.”
Today, the company services just shy of 40 million square feet of asphalt, and 3 million square feet of sidewalks. Clients typically include medical buildings, office buildings, industrial and retail properties.
A specialized service.
In addition to specializing in specific services, Mangin says the company also now specializes in how service is offered.
“We really specialize in high scope, high expectation properties,” he says. “We plow at 1 inch. Anything under that, we apply chemicals. They want us on site even before it snows.”
Contracts vary. Some are for one year or one snow season, covering November to May, and some contracts are on a two- or three-year term.
“There is a little bit of variability, but, again, we specialize. And what we want is that high scope, high expectation. We don’t have a big menu of different services or scopes that they get to pick from,” Mangin says.
The customers who need this level of service are often hospitals or medical facilities – properties that have a higher liability risk or that need extra attention to detail.
“The people who are coming in and out of those buildings, they’re already sick or injured. They’re on crutches or in a wheelchair or have a leg brace on or they’re just not feeling well,” Mangin says. “And for them to show up and have to navigate through an inch or two of snow and a split parking lot, and sidewalks that aren’t clear (is difficult).”
Large residential properties, for example apartment complexes, that want a 3-inch trigger are not their target Mangin says.
“We’re just not a good fit for them,” Mangin says.
Customers are found via long-term relationship building and referrals, he says.
Prepping for the season.
The white season in the area typically begins at Thanksgiving and runs until St. Patrick’s Day.
The company’s approximately 250 subcontractors come in every year to watch in-house filmed training videos, regardless of how many years they have worked with B&B Group. It’s usually a half-day commitment, which is then followed by a company-wide kickoff meeting, usually the first week of November.
“We feed everybody. We go through expectations for the season. We collect paperwork. We let them know what they can expect from us. A lot of times, we’ll give property assignments out at that time,” Mangin says.
Then, once the winter season closes, a debriefing takes place, looking at everything from employee use and performance to customers.
“We go through what went well, what needs improvement, what subcontractors need more training, which subcontractors excelled,” Mangin says. “We’ll go through that on a property level, and we’ll go through that on a subcontractor level because we’re not a good fit for every property.”
During this time, the company’s two full-time mechanics will also inspect and service all vehicles. They take note of new equipment that needs to be purchased and then all vehicles go into warehouse storage during the off-season, Mangin says.
Then, throughout the summer, vendor meetings take place. “And then our sales process and activity really kind of starts right back up,” Mangin says. “In June, we’ll start talking to people about renewals and new properties and any changes. As much as we can pull that process forward, the better prepared we can be for the season.”
Staffing and employees.
B&B Group employs about 20 full-time individuals year-round. During the winter, they add subcontractors, along with another 20 hourly seasonal employees and salt truck drivers.
“In the winter we’ll have about 250 pieces of equipment running. It kind of works out to be about the same in labor – about 200 to 250 laborers,” he says.
Like customers, subcontractors and seasonal employees are found through referrals and previous working relationships, Mangin says. Most work in seasonal trades with a slow winter.
“We’ve been at this long enough that a lot of those seasonal employees come back to us year over year,” he says.
Internally, the company has 16 salt trucks, about 10 pickup trucks and two or three work trucks, which are used by the company’s sidewalk crews.
While B&B Group has been able to staff adequately in the past, Mangin says more challenges are beginning to creep up.
“Finding labor that will show up in bad winter weather conditions and work for long durations is getting harder and harder,” he says. “The economy is good. We have a heavy presence of large distribution centers. A lot of guys that used to work with us now work in these distribution centers.”
Mangin understands the appeal. In those centers, hours are predictable and guaranteed, and working conditions are warm and dry. But there are still many who see the appeal with snow.
“Whether it’s the people in the office, our supervisors, our mechanics – our company is our people,” he says. “We have such an amazing team. And the work is hard in the winter, and it can sometimes make for not-ideal home life, but we have an incredibly close team.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.