A year-round approach to snow can help your bottom line

June 14, 2023 -  By
Don’t limit your ability with a seasonal approach to snow management. A proactive, year-round approach will set the stage for success. (Photo: buzbuzzer/E+/Getty Images )

Don’t limit your ability with a seasonal approach to snow management. A proactive, year-round approach will set the stage for success. (Photo: buzbuzzer/E+/Getty Images )

Snow and ice management services are by far the highest profit center of any exterior maintenance category in terms of the percentage of spend and gross margin. And with good reason — winter services are demanding and risky. Crews must be available 24/7. Every storm presents its own challenges. Slip-and-fall liabilities can destroy profits. Crews almost always perform the work in cold, dark and dangerous conditions. The rewards for those are substantial yet well-deserved.

Yet there is an additional self-inflicted risk that far too many companies assume when it comes to snow and ice: taking a seasonal approach to snow. Waiting until the weather turns colder to work on a snow business is a costly mistake when compared to the potential of a professional company offering winter services.

Take advantage of early contracts

A year-round approach is a necessity for those serious about service and profit. Clients award nearly half of all winter maintenance contracts in the spring. Customers, especially those with large snow portfolios, don’t have anything to gain by waiting until there is a threat of winter weather in the forecast to secure a vendor. But by delaying until the fall, dozens of issues may arise in contract performance with a late award. As a result, there has been a dramatic shift in the market for when to deal with snow contracts.

Yet, only companies with a year-round approach can take advantage of these opportunities. Those who focus on snow seasonally pick up whatever work remains.

Securing contracts just before the snow season begins, limits a company’s ability to balance its contract risk. Snow contracts generally pay on a per-occurrence basis — where services rendered result in payment — or on a per-season basis — where a client pays a fixed price regardless of services rendered.

Given the unpredictability of snowfall in any market, companies must keep a balanced portfolio to have enough guaranteed revenue to cover all fixed costs with enough variable revenue to cover the labor, fuel and materials used in heavy snowfalls.

Achieving a contractual balance is hard enough, but limiting opportunities for contracts and introducing time pressure by taking a seasonal focus makes it immensely more difficult. Snow service providers who take a year-round approach can win a group of contracts by early summer and then make an informed decision about its portfolio balance to know what to target in the fall. With the extreme snowfall variations across the country in recent years, there is simply no other way to responsibly manage a winter division.

Planning ahead

A year-round approach to snow has benefits that go far beyond contract management. It’s no longer possible to order trucks, heavy equipment or snow-specific necessities like plows and spreaders weeks before the first storm. Pandemic-induced supply chain issues showed the need to plan a snow operation months earlier than ever before. The only way to guarantee an efficient and capable fleet of snow equipment is to plan and purchase when few others are thinking about winter.

Snow and ice service companies today do more reporting and verification of services. While there has been a proliferation of new and improved software solutions specific to the industry, selecting and implementing one is neither quick nor easy. It can take months to properly set up a new system and integrate it into a larger operation, not to mention training all the employees who must now utilize the software. Once again, a year-round approach becomes a necessity.

Securing insurance for snow and ice operations has become arduous and time-consuming. The same liabilities that justify immense snow profit lead to fewer opportunities and increased cost of coverage. Working with an advisor to understand processes and risk-management practices of a snow business is only possible with the advantage of time, and even the best insurance agents can do little to nothing to help a business with innovative solutions once snow is in the forecast. Only those with a year-round approach can leverage the expert help of great providers.

Use the summer to get stronger

Finally, there is the training component for snow and ice. Professional companies serious about growing and improving their business will focus this summer on increasing sales competencies, operations and management by improving processes, attending snow-specific events, participating in peer groups and working to level up their workforce. They understand that getting to the next level requires a full-time commitment and the results are more than worth it when they break through.

A year-round approach to snow only requires a change in mentality and a small investment in time by key leaders to dramatically move the needle. One meeting every two weeks to plan and implement snow and ice management initiatives can revolutionize the winter without affecting green season services. Taking just a few days to attend a great event can provide all the insights needed to shift snow operations or sales from good to amazing. Simply having a year-round attitude can make all the difference.

If you’re interested in improving your snow and ice business, I recommend attending a Snowfighters Institute event. These events feature great education, networking and facility tours. Space is limited. Visit SnowfightersInstitute.com for the full agenda and to register. It’s time to take snow and ice management seriously and shift to a year-round approach.

Neal Glatt

About the Author:

Neal Glatt is a green industry sales coach and Managing Partner of GrowTheBench.com. Contact him at Neal@GrowTheBench.com.

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