Another type of ammo: Mastering the learning curve

Jim Hornung Jr

This is part three of LM‘s “Another type of ammo” Snow + Ice Guide. Read part one, “Fearless execution,” here, and read part two, “Inclined to think ahead,” here.

Jim Hornung Jr. has had a seat in a snow plow truck since he was 4 years old. Now, as president of Elbers Landscape Service, Buffalo, N.Y., he’s in the driver’s seat, steering the 96-year-old firm in the direction of liquid deicers.

Elbers Landscape Service is a $4 million landscaping company, with snow removal accounting for one-third of the business.
Hornung decided to get into liquids last summer, mainly to satisfy the environmental concerns of a large, commercial client. “It was a significant challenge, but it will pay off,” he says.

Due to the steep learning curve, he considers the company’s first season using salt brine a “limited success,” but notes the transition will pay off with experience—and it’s important it does, since he invested in a brine maker.

Due to the capital need, using liquids may be a hurdle for small contractors, Hornung says. He settled on brine for his intro to liquids because it was the easiest to “brew,” and it’s simpler and less expensive to apply than other liquids. But the learning curve left the company doing a “limited roll-out” of the new deicing option its first year.

For instance, Hornung discovered salt truck drivers aren’t always the best brine truck drivers. Because liquids don’t scatter like salt, they need to be applied slower and more accurately to ensure the solution lands where it’s intended.

Using liquids also meant a shift in staffing. “We needed a crew on the anti-icing side in addition to the crew that worked the storm in addition to the crew that cleaned up the storm,” he says.

Still, none of the hurdles are enough to kill Hornung’s long-term plans to expand the company’s liquid capabilities.

“Potentially, we’d like to get to a point where we’re custom blending the materials based on the conditions,” he says. “We expect to get there in the next year or two.”

Along with that, Hornung intends to add more trucks, adjust how the brine maker is set up and double or triple its liquids storage capacity from its single 6,000-gallon unit.

It may seem like he’s overhauling the company’s deicing products, but Hornung assures that’s not the case.

“I don’t ever expect it to replace our granular applications,” he says. “In the same way that it’s a tool in the basket, taking granular salt out would be removing a tool from the basket.”

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Sarah Pfledderer

Former Associate Editor Sarah Pfledderer is a West Coast-based contributing editor for Landscape Management.

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