Many landscape companies offer snow removal as a means to generate revenue during the off season. But Ted Glaser added the service to his company’s book of business in 2013 to aid with employee retention.
Glaser, 26, is the president of Summit Lawns, based in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“We make a little bit of money on it, but the main purpose was to have a more predictable staffing situation in the springtime, so we could hold onto more of our employees and not have to let go of some of the work force, and then just hoping they would come back again in the spring,” he says.
Glaser has been in the lawn maintenance industry for a decade and founded Summit Lawns in 2011. The company’s core focus is landscape maintenance including mowing, lawn care and seasonal cleanup.
Snow removal service customers are primarily commercial with a few homeowner associations added in.
This past year about $30,000 of the company’s annual revenue of $900,000 came from snow removal work, but it was a mild winter with only one major storm. Next season, the company’s revenue goal is $75,000 to $100,000.“At this point we set a goal, and then we move forward on what the next goal is going to be from a revenue standpoint,” Glaser says. “We want to make sure it’s attainable.”
Pre-season dry runs.
Quality control issues with snow removal work are kept to a minimum by implementing a few tactics.
“Before the snow season starts, for every property, we map out the property, we mark out where the snow piles have to go,” Glaser says.
This is done in November. The snow season typically runs December through March.
“Any time we take over a new contract, the first thing we do is find out if they’ve worked with another company, what their experience was, what problems they had in the past,” he says.
This communication is vital in stopping potential problems before they can start, Glaser says.
“One guy might be sensitive about how a company was using snow blowers in an area that had rock bed. Or, it could be something like, they know ice tends to accumulate in certain areas.”
This conversation happens during a walkthrough with the client on their property prior to the start of winter. When crews begin working the site, they have a checklist to make sure they don’t forget about any of these special requests or situations, Glaser says.
“After every storm, either myself or one of my other foremen views the properties to be sure everything was performed appropriately,” he says. “It’s better to do it that way than getting a phone call from the property manager or client.”
As another quality control component, training is done before the snow season begins. Glaser buys training videos for the plow drivers and sidewalk crews to watch.
In addition to the videos, hands-on training takes place.
“We take them out to a property and teach them how to approach a property, things that they need to be doing,” he says. “If it’s a plow driver, we take them out, make sure they’ve seen all their properties when it’s dry, and in the middle of the night.”
Sidewalk crews are also shown basic protocols for working each property – whether it’s a home or a commercial site, Glaser says.
“We map everything out. We use satellite imagery and then highlight out the areas that they need to be addressing and they have that on their devices, in their trucks,” he says.
“We use Service Autopilot as our software, so they have access in their trucks.”
This year, the company experienced no quality control issues, Glaser says.
“Part of that is proper training, making sure they understand what the details of the job are,” he says.
Crew structure and equipment allocation.
Even as a smaller snow removal operation, crews at Summit Lawns are still structured strategically.
“We have three plow drivers, and then we work with another company (subcontractor) that has two more plows,” Glaser says.
In addition to the plow drivers, there are three groups of sidewalk crews. Each crew has two individuals.
Sidewalk crews are typically clearing sidewalks and driveways within homeowner associations, which can have as many as 40 or 50 properties.
“We try to keep those routes pretty dense and be as efficient as we can,” Glaser says.
Sidewalk crews arrive separately from plow drivers and are equipped with two-stage blowers, one-stage blowers, shovels and push-spreaders for ice melt application. Plow drivers also keep shovels with them.
“Before the snow season starts, for every property, we map out the property, we mark out where the snow piles have to go.” — Ted Glaser, Summit Lawns
Workers are assigned one role and typically stay in that role all season, although some cross-over takes place when an extra hand is needed.
“Each plow driver has his truck with his plow and his route,” he says. “They are responsible for maintaining their plow, making sure fluids are appropriate and also staying on top of their own properties. Consistency is our best brand in terms of quality.”
Five of the company’s 15 employees are on staff year-round. Remaining employees only work during the green season and are on call for snow removal.
“We basically just start making phone calls on a first-come, first-serve basis, whoever wants to work the storm, will come in for that individual storm,” he says.
The on-call list contains a few contractors that work other jobs, but are available for snow removal work. That includes friends of employees or employees of other businesses looking for a job.
Summit Lawns also partners with a few subcontractors to help with snow removal work. About 15 percent of the company’s snow removal work is subcontracted.
“We have a limited number of plows. We can only be in so many places, before 8 a.m.,” he says. “A lot of (the subcontracted accounts) are maintenance accounts during the summertime.”
Glaser says he tries to mark up the subcontracted work by 15 or 20 percent.“The subs that we work with, we are pretty confident in their quality of work,” he says. “They already do snow removal on their own.”
About 95 percent of all snow removal customers are landscape maintenance customers, Glaser says.
“We really try not to oversell ourselves with snow because snow is pretty unpredictable,” he says. “You don’t want to get so much work you can’t complete it.”