A successful snow removal operation requires setting customer expectations before the first snowfall and managing those expectations throughout the season – and into the next, says David Lammers, president of Garden Grove Landscaping.
The Waterdown, Ontario-based company was founded in 1991, providing some snow removal for homeowners. Nine years into business, snow removal service was added after customers began asking for it.
The commercial side of the business dominated over time and today Garden Grove clients include homeowner associations, retirement communities, light industrial strip plazas, corporate campuses and manufacturing plants.
Much of that early marketing of the business was word of mouth. Today, the team attends property manager trade shows to seek out new customers and network.
The company also does speaking engagements, among other events. “We’re doing lunch and learns with them. We’re actually going to their offices and helping them learn the snow business, learn landscape management, learn best practices,” Lammers says.
Contracts at Garden Grove can start out as short as one year, but are more commonly a three- to five-year term, Lammers says.
“Our goal is to grow our green and our white business together,” he says. “If we’re going to do landscape management well, that means that our clients are going to have us all 12 months.”
don’t set it and forget it.
“We’re coming in as a company and maintaining these massive retirement communities. There is no level of error in a retirement community. The level of care is high,” Lammers says.
Customers also need communication to feel good about the service they’re receiving, he says.
That includes telling customers about projected service times, explaining how a snow event will be handled and making sure the customer understands the expectations set forth in their contract.
“Our goal is to never bring on a customer unless we fully understand who they are and what we need, and if we’re even a fit,” Lammers says.
Lammers describes this level of service as “defined experience.”
“We want to make sure that our clients do have the best possible experience working with Garden Grove,” he says. “In order to achieve that, we have to make sure that we set the expectations with them at the beginning, and that we manage those expectations along the way. We don’t just set it and forget it.”
Preparation of employees for the snow season begins in March. Management will discuss what worked and what didn’t go so smoothly that season, Lammers says.
In late June, the company will work on getting training systems, software, routing and scheduling software, and sales cycles ready and implemented. In July, snow equipment is brought out, serviced and painted. The company purchases new equipment, too.
Mid-August to mid-October is busy with sales and contract-signing. By mid-October, property walkthroughs are beginning.
“What we like to do is invite (the customer) along. We walk the property together. At the same time, we ask for them to advise us of any new updates, any new information, anything that we need to know,” he says.
Then in late September or early October, staff training takes place.
“We can’t train them too early, because they’ll forget,” Lammers says. “The last two weeks of October, we’re doing our dry runs with our staff where we take them to sites. And we’re doing site tours of all of our properties and getting all of the in-the-yard equipment training.”
Training is detailed for each employee – even down to walkway operators. “They’re getting the machine equipment training, walkway machines, snowblowers, best practices for how to shovel snow, how to lift snow, how to lift salt bags,” he says.
The company aims to be snow-ready by Nov. 1.
Extra employees in winter.
Garden Grove employs 60 people and has an annual revenue of roughly $6 million. In the winter that employee count jumps to 75, due in part to the company’s second location in Guelph, Ontario, that runs in the winter. The additional staffing comes in the form of hourly employees who work in other industries.
“They could be pavement workers, concrete, construction, golf course, and then they join us for the winter,” Lammers says.
Snow removal employees are hired on in one of three distinct roles: Equipment operators drive plow trucks, tractors and loaders and perform heavy removal of snow. Walkway operators work in big lots and on walkways, using equipment like snowblowers and hand shovels. And salt truck drivers handle salt applications.
In addition, there is an area manager who’s in charge of an area of properties. Subcontractors are also used for snow removal.“They could be working in a region where our company is not set up yet. We’ve signed contracts in a region, so we’ll have those providers taking care of certain contracts within a region,” he says.
On these properties it’s still important for customers to see company-marked vehicles.
“They might see a truck that’s not Garden Grove, but they’ll see a follow up vehicle that is Garden Grove,” Lammers says. “The goal, at the end of that day, is that we are maintaining that property, and our partners are there to aid in the success.”