For snow removal companies looking to specialize in large commercial accounts, heavy equipment beyond a simple truck and plow are vital, contractors say.
This heavy equipment may include wheel loaders, tractors and dump trucks, which can all cover more ground in less time.
Best for tight corners.
“We use (an) array of wheel loaders and skid-steers, and a lot of big dump trucks,” says William Moore, president of Executive Property Maintenance based in Plymouth, Michigan.
Executive Property Maintenance employs 45 individuals during the winter season and has an annual revenue of approximately $3.5 million.
Moore says his business was truck heavy for a long time and over the past decade or so, he has moved to machine heavy. In 2006, Moore started out with one skid-steer and probably five trucks. Today he is buying skid-steers and loaders more frequently. He’s up to five loaders and nine skid-steers.
“When you get a lot of places with islands, tight corners, a lot of driveways such as condo communities the truck just doesn’t work,” Moore says. “It’s too cumbersome, where a skid-steer or a wheel loader is able to be a little bit more nimble, clear a lot more space, get closer.”
Larger equipment can carry snow to where it needs to go.
“For instance, my office complex is a weird-shaped building,” Moore says. “We have an elongated building with some weird sidewalk bumpers and sidewalk that jump out. There’s a big open area in the middle to where there’s no place to stack snow, there’s no islands or what-not, so, I used to do it with a truck. Now we do it with the wheel loader and it cuts down the time by 75 percent.”
George Stoll, president of CSB Contractors, based in Suffern, New York, has found using larger equipment can increase visibility on the job. Stoll’s fleet includes wheel loaders, single-axel dump trucks and an agricultural tractor.
CSB Contractors performs snow removal, plowing and salting for commercial and municipal clients. His company has two employees, but an additional 45 to 50 workers from his other company, George Stoll Construction, fill labor needs for CSB. The company has an annual revenue of just under $1 million.
“We modified (the tractor) in our shop to best fit in a municipality cul-de-sac,” Moore says. “The snow was (previously) being pushed into driveways and around the mailboxes.”
The tractor offers improved snow removal on smaller municipal roadways and incredible visibility on the job, Stoll says. His whole cab is made of glass, so he can see everything from the bottom of people’s mailboxes to fire hydrants as he operates.
Efficiency is what Stoll is working toward.
“I need to use the one single piece of equipment that can be the most efficient in our work environment. Whatever piece will clear that road in the quickest amount of time is the piece I need,” Stoll says.
Time is of the essence.
Having heavy equipment available for snow removal and housed at a client’s property provides faster service and improved client satisfaction.
Mark Krog is the owner of KCG Management with multiple locations and a corporate office in Schaumburg, Illinois. Snow removal clients are all commercial and the company does business in Illinois, southern Wisconsin and western Indiana. The company has 120 workers during the winter months and has an annual revenue between $3 and $5 million.
Krog’s fleet includes dump trucks, loaders and tractors. Loaders are frequently used on large parking lots.
“We tend to put loaders on a lot of our sites, we just need an operator there on site to be able to hop in and go,” Krog says. “If we have plow trucks that we’re relying on getting there, if the truck gets in an accident, the truck’s down.”
Risk is reduced and clients receive expedited service this way.
“All of our sites are running at the exact same time. Customers are being taken care of simultaneously,” Krog says. “Timing is of an essence in our industry.”
Meanwhile, Moore says he can sell more jobs within an area if he knows he has a piece of equipment ready and an operator to just head out there. The operator will cost more but more work is being done per hour, he says.
In the southeastern Michigan market, Moore says a typical plow driver will command $15 to $17 per hour. A wheel loader driver will command $20 to $25 per hour.
“We’re spending $5 more but his revenue generation per hour is a lot more than $5 per hour,” Moore says. “The initial upfront is higher but your end game, the end result, is efficiency and you’re putting less people out there.”
Krog builds the expense into the bid, but with a clear understanding of what larger equipment will provide.
“We have a budgeted price on each piece of equipment and that’s how it gets blended into the bid,” Krog says. “A $100,000 machine is going to command a little more, but we educate our customer that they’re going to spend a little bit more money but they’re going to get the most efficient service.”
“We’re ISO certified, so our requirement is a minimum of five years operating heavy equipment to be able to get into our loaders.” George Stoll, president, CSB Contractors
Most of Stoll’s drivers have a long tenure with the company. When bringing on someone new, slow is better when it comes to training and adapting to the equipment.
“If you’ve got somebody in a loader and don’t know what they are doing, you are going to burn up the transmission and cause mechanical problems,” Stoll says.
For Krog, ISO certification also plays into who he has driving these larger pieces.
“The operator is going to have more knowledge. He’s working with a large piece of machine, with a lot of weight behind it,” he says. “For us, we’re ISO certified, so our requirement is a minimum of five years operating heavy equipment to be able to get into our loaders.”
Krog has seen first-hand other companies with drivers that are not up to par on these machines, and the risks associated with.
“You’ll see these guys ride around, the front tires are off the ground. I mean they’re just wearing the boxes out, they’re ruining the equipment,” he says. “I don’t want to see those kind of things happen. They’re operating an $80,000 plus piece of machinery.”