At DMC Commercial Snow Management, changing the company’s business model to focus on delivering one service to one type of customer, has helped the brand become a leader in a niche market.
In addition, having the technology the competition doesn’t helps this Philadelphia-based company shine. Originally founded in 1996 as DMC Property Maintenance, company President David McWeeney says he rebranded and restructured the business about five years ago to focus solely on snow and ice management for commercial clients.
“We are the largest self-performing company in the area. We have the largest stockpile of salt next to PennDOT (the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation),” McWeeney says. “A lot of our competition is really just small mom and pop shops that try to do everything. People that want a successful season; they tend to go with the professionals. This is all we do and we prepare all year.”
Prior to the service model change, the company offered landscaping, power washing, remodeling and other maintenance services.
“Snow removal was always like a back-end kind of thing to fill those winter months. As we grew, I looked at snow as a very profitable industry and I thought I could take it to the next step,” McWeeney says.
Keeping the books in order.
McWeeney says he is frequently asked how he keeps his company’s books balanced by only offering winter services in a climate where there is also a warm season.
“We have a seasonal contract which is a set price to handle whatever nature throws at you. Whether it be 1 inch or 100 inches, it’s just covered. Then we have other clients that pay per event,” he says.
How many of these seasonal contracts are needed varies depending on the dollar amount of each contract. Usually, they encompass about 30 percent of all business, McWeeney says.
Time during the off-season goes to collecting, obtaining new clients, doing repairs and purchasing.
“We have plenty of storage for the stuff and we’re always out there looking for the new technology, better ways of doing things, acquiring new clients, things of that nature,” he says.
And ideally all of those contracts are in place by Sept. 1.
“That gives us plenty of time to build a route, scout the properties,” he says, adding that his team also stakes the properties prior to the first snowfall to mark where curbs, drains and other obstacles are to help avoid damage to both property and equipment. About 250 to 400 properties are serviced each season by the company, which has an average annual revenue of $3-$6 million.
During peak season, it employs 200 to 300 people. Only five full-time employees work year-round, McWeeney says.
Share seasonal workers.
“We have agreements with other companies that are similar seasonal businesses, just on the opposite (season), such as roofing companies, asphalt contractors, things where they’re working all summer, but then they die off in the winter.
So then we pick those guys up,” he says. “They come back every year and again, they do kind of the same route, same work.”
The number of seasonal employees hired each year, in particular hand shovelers, depends on the work and contracts in place. Seasonal employees usually begin work around Nov. 1 and continue through March or early April, depending on the weather.
The positions are what McWeeney describes as “as needed” with no guaranteed number of hours. All workers are trained in-house using hands-on methods, videos and dry runs.
“We send the guys out on their routes. Even though there’s no snow, we like to load up the trucks, do a complete dry run, pretend it’s snowing, let them go out while it’s sunny and clear, do their route, visit their sites, and really just get a handle on what they’re expected to do so that when the event does come, everyone is on the same page,” he says.
Most employees work in the same role all season unless there is an excess of drivers, for example. Then some drivers will hand shovel or use a snow blower.
“When you get into driving the trucks and the plows and some of the bigger equipment, those guys have to be dedicated and trained specifically for those, and those guys stay in those roles,” McWeeney says.
Locations with similar landscapes are grouped together. For example, they have a “sidewalk route” where a standard pickup truck, along with a few hand shovelers and snow blowers, are sent out. Bigger sites may require UTVs with snow brooms. A larger property, such as a drugstore or bank, will require all equipment to handle sidewalks and a regular plow for the parking lot. The largest sites have dump trucks assigned and include properties such as Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team.
“The stadium is a good example where they have a lot of plowing for parking lots, they have a lot of sidewalks, and they pretty much get everything: UTVs, snow blowers, shovelers, plowers, 30 guys on every event. It’s much more involved than your regular standard small bank,” he says.
Further, the routes are also designed with proximity in mind to save on time when snow does fall and to allow crews to easily return to a site multiple times during a bad storm.
“All our routes are very tight. If you’ve ever driven in a blizzard, something that takes you five minutes now takes you 30 minutes,” McWeeney says. “They just keep circling, circling all the sites until the storm’s over.”
Industry tech offers an edge.
Extensive time and research have been invested at DMC Snow in securing and implementing new technology.
Updates come from industry salespeople who visit the DMC Snow in person and often drop off samples of new products.
GPS tracking is available in all DMC Snow trucks. It can notify each client when a truck arrives and leaves a site. Also, on-site cameras allow both DMC Snow and the client to see the current conditions of the site at any time. This can help a business owner determine if they have to close the business the next day.
“It helps with billing too because people see these guys were here at 3 in the morning. They can prepare their books or whatever they have to do internally to pay for the services,” he says.
DMC Snow also works with a former local TV news meteorologist and a company that employs meteorologists. Partnering with these professionals allows McWeeney to pinpoint more accurately the amount of snowfall different clients will receive based on their location.
“They monitor any precipitation whatsoever to help us prepare better for the incoming storm, the start times, the end times and the severity of the storms,” he says.
Clients can also opt to receive free daily weather reports using the data provided by the meteorologists.
“The more communication you give to the client, the happier the client will be,” McWeeney says.