No business like snow business

August 15, 2019 -  By
MAAC Property Services staff (Photo: MAAC Property Services)

MAAC Property Services has provided snow-removal services since 1999. (Photo: MAAC Property Services)

Adam Schlutt never wanted to be involved in his dad’s snow-removal business.

“I avoided this industry as much as possible when I was in college,” says Schlutt, president of MAAC Property Services in Niles, Mich. “I wanted nothing to do with it. My father started this business back in ’98. I’ve always worked for my father, but it was always the summer stuff and the random winter stuff.”

Schlutt says being in the family business used to scare him because he had seen it tear some families apart.

He was on the road to become a self-described “perpetual college student” when in 2010, he got a call from his dad, Mark Schlutt, and snow industry consultant Phil Harwood, managing partner of Grow the Bench. Schlutt has been working with Harwood since 2010.

“(Phil’s) focus has always been training me on all the ins and outs of running a business,” Schlutt says. “In 2011, he actually stepped in to help me with decision making when my father was out after heart surgery.”

About 60-65 percent of the company’s work is snow removal, which it performs for a 98 percent commercial clientele. There are always a few residential properties that sneak in, says Schlutt (pictured below on the far right), but the company only actively seeks to work with large commercial properties.

To offset the winter months, the company performs maintenance in the summer, doing mowing and irrigation work for large commercial properties, generally those for which it provides snow-removal services.

MAAC has 45-55 year-round employees and 75-150 members on its sidewalk crew and salt-spreading team. The company subcontracts out any plow work that needs to be done.

The company started offering snow removal in 1999, a year after it was founded.

“A good friend and one of our subcontractors convinced my father to go this route because in this area, it wasn’t a big industry,” Schlutt explains. “Not a lot of companies offered full-year maintenance.”

Snow equipment for MAAC Property Services (Photo: MAAC Property Services)

MAAC ensures crew members are ready for every possible scenario through upfront training. (Photo: MAAC Property Services)

Despite trying to avoid working in the family business, the demands of running a snow removal company are well suited for Schlutt, who says he “thrives in chaos.”

“In the wintertime, every event is different,” he says. “You don’t know if you’re dealing with the same employees this week as next. You treat each event as a catastrophic event, and you try to make it work. To me, that’s where the reward comes.”

Overcoming challenges

According to Schlutt, MAAC’s location is one of its biggest challenges. Due to its proximity to Lake Michigan, the area is prone to heavy lake-effect snow, which can be difficult to predict. “We have the luxury of that wonderful body of water to our west. It’s either 110 inches, or 30,” Schlutt jokes.

To combat the unpredictability, the company does a lot of upfront training on topics such as safety, deicing, software, equipment and routes. Schlutt says he would rather have his crew members go into an event knowing it may be four hours but could turn into 16. He also tries his best to staff accordingly per event, erring on the high side when possible.

“We try to be as proactive as possible knowing it’s going to be reactive anyway,” he says.

Finding employees who are willing to work the long, unpredictable, cold hours associated with snow removal is often one of the challenges many company owners speak about, but not Schlutt.

“We’re more mission than profit centered,” he explains. “We’re known in the area as the second-chance company. We have a lot of guys that are considered by the state or larger companies to be unemployable due to criminal histories or past histories. Our view is they’re human. There are limits, I understand that, but for the most part, we’re always willing to give them a chance.”

Schlutt explains the company’s goal is always focused on education, and training is centered around personal development rather than simply learning a new skill.

He says this employment model does two things. Either his firm hires an individual who didn’t know he or she could be successful, and that person becomes a great employee at MAAC. Or he goes on and finds a better job and does better for himself and his family. This type of approach to employment also fosters loyalty to the company.

“I’ll tell guys to go somewhere else to do better for themselves if they need to,” Schlutt says. “But they won’t leave even though they don’t make that high of pay. They feel comfortable where they’re at, and they respect the situation. It’s greatly appreciated.”

Certain correctional facilities and parole officers recognize MAAC Property Services as a place where individuals recently out of prison can find employment.

“I have more parole officers’ numbers in my phone than I do friends, but the state loves us for that reason,” Schlutt says.

Schlutt says that you can’t always expect perfection out of these individuals, but MAAC Property Services tries its hardest to give them a voice and an opinion.

“The biggest thing for me is always I’m not in this to make money anymore. My goal is to educate my guys as well as possible,” Schlutt says. “I always tell them I’m trying to find someone to replace me.

Clara Richter

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