In the snow removal industry, experience counts, says Dan Jacobson, president of Landstyles Landscape Development in Northeast Ohio.
“These guys in their pick-up trucks running around, from a price standpoint, you can’t compete with that,” he says.
“You have to compete with the things that you bring to the table: having trained employees, enough equipment and backup equipment.”
Landstyles has been in business, including snow services, since 1994 and provides landscape management services primarily to commercial clients including medical facilities, hospitals, office buildings and shopping centers.
That encompasses about half its business. Landscape design and installation is offered to both residential and commercial customers and makes up another 30 percent of business.
“I’ve been in this industry for 34 years. We have a lot of knowledge and background with what we’re doing, but we’re priced competitively in the market,” says Jacobson, who also studied horticulture and landscape at The Ohio State University.
About 12 of the company’s 20 employees stay on to aid with snow removal work, which is solely commercial and makes up the remaining 20 percent of the company’s annual revenue.
“We don’t look at snow removal as a separate entity of our business,” Jacobson says.
“It’s ongoing throughout the year from a sales standpoint. As we get in toward August, September, we’re fixed heavier on certain parts of the snow business: equipment acquisition, material acquisition, equipment maintenance.”
Hit by the belt.
Jacobson likes to be ready for the season by Oct. 15.
“All the trucks have been prepped for snow events,” he says. “We monitor the weather 24/7, and when the snow event is upon us, we just switch the gear over.”A typical winter season in Northern Ohio begins Nov. 1 and runs through the middle of April, Jacobson says. But the term “typical” is used loosely.
Many of the Landstyles customers are located in the Snowbelt, an area encompassing the east side of Cleveland and stretching roughly to Buffalo, New York, along the coast of Lake Erie. There, the lake contributes to heavy amounts of snowfall.
“We run a very tight snow parameter for snow. Our response time for an event is very quick so we eliminate the need for great travel time since we’re very close to our clientele,” he says. “It keeps your customer happy.”
Grab a shovel.
Jacobson says generally the same employees work the same routes during each snowfall.
However, employees are cross-trained in case they need to help on another route or with a different piece of equipment
“Nobody’s too good to get out and shovel,” he says.
Once all properties have been cleared, if snow is still falling, they will start the route again.
“We keep going until the event is done and everything is taken care of for our customers as well as everything is taken care of from the equipment side, from a maintenance side,” Jacobson says. That maintenance is all done in house.
“We have spare parts on hand at all times to take care of the truck that may go down,” Jacobson says.
“A plow may go down or salt or whatever, we can replace out most normal things here.”
Salt is housed on site and at a few customer sites. When a snow event occurs, employees are called in via phone or text.
“When we see an event coming, we’ve already notified all our employees that this is what they’re looking at. We’ll give them a call when we’re ready to pull the trigger on snow depth,” Jacobson says.
Each customer is different on snow depth. Some clients want the property 100 percent wet before crews arrive. Others may have a 1-inch trigger. Most contracts average a 2-inch trigger.
Most snow removal contracts are set up separate from landscaping work, Jacobson says.
“Our contracts are mixed. They’re probably 50/50 on a per-occurrence pricing situation and a seasonal contract pricing situation,” he says.
There is no cap on the per occurrence contracts as long as the clients continue to pay.
Right now Landstyles doesn’t use subcontractors, but that could change in the future if the company takes on more snow removal business, Jacobson says. “We don’t really guarantee them hours, but we’re going to be out for a minimum of six hours generally on any snow event,” he says.
Jacobson does, however, offer a nighttime premium.
“They are guaranteed increases in pay when we are plowing during certain hours,” Jacobson says.
“We generally consider our nighttime hours 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. We feel it’s an inconvenience to our employees and we appreciate their time.”
Typically, employees are not working days on end, even in the worst of storms. During a rough storm, they may be asked to take a six-hour break before returning to start another shift, Jacobson says, adding that he will often buy meals for the crews as an extra way to say thank you.
All employee training is done in house at Landstyles. It is ongoing, year-round and done hands-on in small groups. Special training is done prior to the beginning of each snow season.
“We take them out and we run through sites, like the different nuances of the site, where to put snow, where not to put snow,” he says.
“There are some hotspots on particular client sites that we let them be aware of as a group.”