Another area that some cleaning contractors have ventured into during the winter is snow plowing, or “snow removal and management.”
One team that’s been in the snow removal market for several years now is PWNA Board Member Bo Josetti and his wife/business partner Meg Josetti, owners of All Clean Power Washing in Delaware.
All Clean started plowing in 2009 when they purchased a plow for one of their trucks, then subbed for a general contractor friend’s company doing commercial snow removal. In 2010, they continued to sub, but also added their own contracts. By 2011, they only serviced their own contracts.
“Once we felt confident that we understood the industry, it made more sense to have our own contracts. With the wear and tear on the trucks and cost of equipment, we wanted the best payout,” explained Bo.
That being said, they do advise that those thinking of adding snow removal should consider working for another company first. “Learn the trade and make sure it is something you can handle before you get your own contracts and invest in all the expensive equipment,” said Bo.
When adding this service, there are a lot of things to keep in mind.
1. The Equipment Costs. “Snow removal pays well and you can make a lot of money, but there is a lot of work and expense that goes into it before the first drop of snow,” Bo explained. For one, snow removal is hard on your trucks and equipment. “However, your trucks are either costing you money or making you money,” he added. “Two of our trucks have already made more money plowing than the total costs of the trucks and plows combined.”
Snow removal and management is expensive to get into. First, there are the equipment costs. All Clean started out with just one plow, adding more as they’ve increased contracts. Today, they have three plows, a salt spreader, an ATV with a plow, three snow blowers, plus additional items like shovels and safety equipment. “We have over $30,000 in equipment costs, not counting the trucks.”
According to the Josettis’ research, snow plows range from about $4,000 to $8,000, depending on the size and brand. Snow blowers are $500 to $1,500; salt spreaders are $1,000 to $3,000. “We do not recommend buying used equipment, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” said Bo. “We just didn’t want to deal with extra maintenance and repairs. Because of the high wear and tear, even new equipment can need servicing.”
2. The Liability. One of the big costs when starting snow plowing is insurance. As a sub – and of course as their own company – All Clean had to research insurance carefully, as not all liability and commercial auto policies allow for snow removal. The liability and risk of snow plowing is high, and there’s a lot to learn to make sure you have covered all your bases.
First, there’s the risk of property damage, as landscaping can be damaged or things can get run into when there is a lot of snow a low visibility. Secondly, your risk of an accident goes up with these conditions, even when the plow is not down. “Traveling from contract to contract on icy dangerous roads is risky,” said Bo. “When you have all these trucks and employees out for 24-plus hours straight, the risk grows. This work should not be taken lightly; it is dangerous.”
However, slips and falls are the bigger concern. “People are quick to sue and go for big money. Contractors are protected if they fulfill their contract, but these cases can drag on for years,” explained Meg. She experienced this first hand when the property management company she used to work for had a “slip and fall” case that went on for three years before the snow removal contractors were finally found not at fault.
The liability for plowing residential, generally speaking, has a much lower risk than commercial, mainly because the average homeowner doesn’t know what insurance coverage is needed. “As long as you have insurance, they seem to be fine,” said Meg. “We know of a few guys that push residential plowing that don’t have the proper coverage. They’ve just been lucky so far.” Commercial accounts, on the other hand, usually make sure you are compliant with your coverage. “Commercial is a better fit for us, as we service some of our commercial power washing customers,” said Bo. “Residential is a lot of running around and lots of billing for much smaller amounts. It’s really just a personal preference though.”
3. Contracts. Another key consideration is your contract, especially with commercial. It’s important to line out what your obligations are and what triggers your contract.
“First, this allows you to have a happy customer and provide great customer service because they know what to expect,” said Meg. “Also, if you do have an incident – especially a slip and fall – your contract is your friend if you have followed it.” As an example, if the trigger on the contract is three inches and someone falls in the lot at two inches, you are not liable.
“If you have a zero tolerance contract, before the snow even starts you’d better be checking your lots, salting, prepping, etc.,” said Bo. “You must be able to prove your due diligence in any event. Always keep track of everything and take pictures.” In a court of law, you must be able to prove there was no negligence and the burden of proof is on the contractor.
A few things to include in your contract are:
• How many inches: What do you charge per inch and how many inches trigger the contract?
• How do you charge: cost per inch or cost per “push?”
• Are you applying salt and/or calcium chloride? (Some customers don’t want it and this can affect your liability)
There are two basic types of contracts: per event and per season. “Per snow event” means you charge when it snows; no snow, no billing. “Per season” is a contract for a set amount that the contractor gets whether it snows or not, based on average snow fall for that particular area. “Most contractors like to have a little of both, as there is expense in prepping for the season whether you get snow or not,” said Bo. “You can also have a combo contract.”
All Clean usually writes their own contracts. If a customer brings their own, they always have their lawyer review it before signing. “The biggest issue with their contracts is there is usually an indemnification clause. We like to make sure we are protected and the clause is not unreasonable,” said Meg. “We have turned down contracts because of contract ‘language.’”
4. The Work. All Clean Power Washing is very careful about who is allowed to drive the plow trucks. “A clean driving record is a must and I personally train everyone that gets behind the wheel of our plow trucks ,” stressed Bo. Currently, they have one employee who plows while the rest blow snow and shovel. Bo drives one plow, and the third plow – which is brand new – will be driven by their son, Cole. “He is only 17, but he has been trained properly and we are very confident in his ability.” In the past, their son has plowed with the ATV and has also worked the snow side with them – and another company – over the years. “Cole loves anything to do with snow removal and has since he was little. In the past, if Bo was plowing in another state he would call another local snow contractor and ask to jump on one of their trucks as a helper. I’m proud of his work ethic, but of course, as a mother I worry the entire time they are out.”
Each plow truck has only one man. Then they also have what they refer to as their “support truck,” which is crew cab Dooley. “We pull a large enclosed trailer that holds the ATV/plow and the snow blowers, shovels, extra salt and calcium,” explained Bo. Depending on the snow, the crew truck can hold six guys. They occasionally have a second support truck if they need more shovelers. “As far as special skills, common sense and the proper training is what we look for.”
Snow plowing is hard work with long hours. “Snow removal is not a 9 to 5 job. Depending on the storm and the contract, you may have to start your day at 3 a.m.,” said Bo. He adds that he requires his crews to take breaks and work shifts. “I, on the other hand, have gone 36 hours straight. I have no choice as I am the one responsible and have to make sure everything is handled properly.”
Bo adds that the stress level is very high. “Our number one priority is to keep everyone safe, both our customers and our employees,” said Bo. “We always provide safety vests, hand and foot warmers and hot coffee and cocoa for all our guys. We try to make sure there are granola bars, etc., so no one goes hungry.”
No Guarantees Snow removal – whether from rooftops or from parking lots and sidewalks – can provide good money over the slower winter months, as well as keep your crews busy. The key word being “can.” Weather in unpredictable, and so is the snow removal industry. Therefore, it’s important to look at snow removal income as a bonus, not a necessity for your business to survive.
“Whether you get any snow or not, there are start-up costs required to be prepared. If we get a lot of snow, then we are very happy and there is extra money. If there is no snow, we get a break and have time to plan for the spring power washing season,” said Bo, but added, “Of course, we prefer to get some snow.”
Publisher’s Note: This is part one of an article from Issue 39 of eClean Magazine entitled “There’s No Business Like Snow Business,” an educational article sponsored by the Power Washers of North America (PWNA). To learn more about the PWNA, visit www.PWNA.org.
Photo courtesy of All Clean Power WAshing, www.AllCleanPowerWashing.com