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From Newbie to Newbie: My experience in the business

Discussion in 'Introduce Yourself to the Community' started by road2damascus, Mar 9, 2012.

  1. road2damascus

    road2damascus PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,833

    I was going to post this in an thread arguing that a Jeep (with personal plates and probably not insured properly) wasn't good enough to plow a bank parking lot. Just for the record, I agree on the plates and insurance because of liability and the law. I thought this post would be used better here in the newbie thread. I then expanded the email to include several aspects of the business that I ran into, to try and help a newbie out. I am sure most of this is covered in several parts of this forum. I hope some of it is new and can help. By posting this, I might get some advise myself from guys that know more than me.

    History:

    I have had my own business for two years. It is registered as an LLC business with the state. I do 30 driveways, 2 private lanes, 1 small apartment and 1 small commercial lot. I have two small vehicles. A 1994 Jeep Wrangler 4 cylinder manual and a 95 GMC Jimmy. I have three commercial liability policies. One on the business, one on the Jeep and one on the Jimmy. Both vehicles are registered/titled under the business name and have commercial license plates. The commercial liability covers my other driver whom has a clean driving record. I have it all set up THE RIGHT WAY.

    Unfortunately this was not always the case........

    You have to start somewhere:

    I started plowing for a Country Club at a young age using loaders, skids and trucks so I already knew how to plow. If you have never plowed before learning from someone that knows would be better than starting your business now. My business started when I was 30, had no work and a family to support. I started with a shovel and 6 driveways ($20-30 a piece). Then a manual plow (snowsport) on a jeep. Then driving for another company with an agreement to do my driveways with their truck. Then I went on my own. All this time with improper insurance, improper plates and collecting cash. Absolutely clueless as to how a real business runs.

    Need a mentor and to do research:

    I would be out there right now plowing for million dollar homes, with my passenger plates, on my personal insurance and my low ball prices if it wasn't for this site and a veteran to the business John the "Garagekeeper". He was nice enough to guide me through this business without bumping my head to many times. All I had to do was bring Dunkin Donuts coffee to his shop and listen.

    I found that most other people in the business views newbies as competition:

    They won't lift a finger to help out a guy trying to get into the business. Scratch that last sentence..... They will lift a finger.....the middle one! Seriously, I used to wave to fellow plowers all the time. I would get the finger back or deadly looks. I can't stand the unfriendly aspect to this business!

    Learn about insurance, taxes, types of ownerships of a business and contracts

    Call your personal insurance carrier to see what is covered on your policy. Most companies will not cover you with a plow hanging form the front of your vehicle. Call several insurance agents about commercial liability insurance. Get more than one quote. Understand why you have this insurance and what it covers. Understand it will cost three times as much if not more than regular insurance. I have a great guy you can talk too if needed.
    Learn about "sole proprietorship", "Incorporated" and the different types of "LLC" business's. This will be found through your secretary of state. Figure out what is best for you. There are fees that go with it. Mine were: $500 initial filing fee for the first year, $200 filing fee each year after.
    Keep all receipts for vehicle repairs, maintenance, plow repair, gas, ink for the printer, laptop purchase for the business, registration fees, salt, shovels, everything so you can write them off on your taxes. Keep all records of how much you make and put them in a 3 ring binder and a computer program (computers may crash so the 3 ring binder is crucial).
    Talk to a lawyer about a contract. I did not. I took someone's contract and adapted it to my needs. Understand your contract completely and understand that a contract will NOT always save your butt from being sued. Also understand there are different ways to set up contracts (per push, per inch, and seasonal). Set them up in a five mile radius of each other. Time in between accounts is wasted time. Getting to a account 5 miles away in a blizzard or in rush hour traffic takes 10 times as long as normal.

    Little vehicles have their place:

    I use the equipment that was best for my application at a very cheap price. I already had the Jeep and the Jimmy was handed down to me from my dad whom passed away. Even if I had to pay for these both could be had for a total of $6000-7000. The jeep has a pull plow and a front plow on it and it is a 120HP 4 CYLINDER MANUAL. Yes, it does not push like a truck but all my contracts are set up to plow every five inches. The jeep handles this just fine and much faster then most any one in the neighborhood with a truck. It also uses half the fuel. The Jimmy is an automatic and has the 4.3l 6 cylinder with 200HP and 260ft lbs of torque. I plowed through a 20 inch Blizzard in the Jimmy strapped with brand new BFG AT's. Plowed like a champ, took apart 4 foot drifts, plowed with blade up, down, what ever.... 33hrs without shutting off the engine. The private lanes and small business lot were not a problem. Never broke a thing and it has 160k on it.

    Learn to work on your vehicles::mechanic:

    I have an unfair advantage in this department. I went to Wyoming Tech and work on all my cars. You too can learn about your vehicle and what problems they are prone to have. Just go to a forum dedicated to your vehicle or search here. You can also keep up with maintenance. I am huge into preventive maintenance. They are set up with air shocks, timbrens, good batteries and high amp alternators. All tune ups, oil changes and fluid changes, repairs are done with the best parts and fluids available. BUY NEW ALL TERRAIN TIRES OR DEDICATED SNOW TIRES! Clean your vehicles. I spend $1.50-$4.00 at the "do it yourself" car wash after each plow. It all helps. Just look at my vehicles and keep in mind they are 1994 and 1995: http://www.plowsite.com/showthread.php?t=118785

    Know your limits with small vehicles:

    I will be adding a 3/4 ton to my "fleet" this year because I turned down two larger parking lots, last season, that my two smaller vehicles would have a hard time with. I wanted them badly but knew it would not work.
    - I didn't want to break my vehicles (we ended up having heavy wet snow for all three pushes this year and am glad I didn't take them).
    The Jeep has more limits then the Jimmy with pushing snow. I have put the thing sideways in heavy wet snow. Get to know what they can and can't do. Know their perimeters and turning radius. Know how they react on all severe weather surfaces.

    Learn to build your plows and get familiar with them:

    Mistake: I ordered a SnowSport manual plow for 6 driveways knowing I wanted to expand. Plow was good for a homeowner plow and 6 driveways but not for a business. It was never intended to do that. For the money or a little more, I could have bought a decent hydraulic plow.

    Slight Mistake: bought my second plow, a loose Western sport utility UniMount plow. It's the red one in the pictures in the "my plow rigs" thread. Still worked fine for driveway duty. It was not enough for small lot or private lane work. Snow came over the top, didn't angle as much as other plows and it didn't stack snow as well as a standard duty. Plus the life of it was going to be considerably less because it wasn't intended for this kind of use. When I could, I found a Western standard duty UniMount plow for even less than I paid for the Sport U!

    Very smart: Find a good used plow and let a professional rebuild it. John "the Garagekeeper" rebuilt my first galvanized plow. [​IMG]

    John also did my Daniel's pull plow (used made into new with a wicked pump under hood install):
    [​IMG]

    Learn to find deals on CL and build them yourself. I built this one last summer for a fraction of the cost of new: http://www.plowsite.com/showthread.php?t=134785

    Special note: I use polyurethane edges on my plows. It is a big selling factor when it comes to protecting surfaces such as pavers. Poly works great, don't believe that it doesn't scrape good enough. Poly does not scratch seal-coat, asphalt or concrete. People are now very concerned about this and know that there are products out there that don't scratch.

    Learn to track storms and try understanding maps, use info on sites and radar:

    Learn about what causes snow, what your average snowfall is, dry and wet snow, lake effect snow, ground temperatures, ice, freezing rain all of it! Most of my time here is spent in the weather forum. Lots of guys post good information. You will also need to find "trained spotter" information for snowfall measurements. I use them to cover my end. If a customer complains you have the information recorded and it is not by you. It is by a trained spotter. Can't argue with that!

    Mark your accounts with lots of Markers and know your accounts:


    I used lots of markers this year, mostly for my new driver. I pay 76 cents a piece. I use them for sprinkler heads, rocks, speed bumps, anything I don't want to hit that I may forget about. I mark a lot of stuff I don't want to repair! No matter how good you are you will hit something you forget about. It is also a pain to go around and reseed turf torn up by the plow. So knowing where the grass starts and ends helps a ton. Sure you can include in your contract that you are not responsible for turf but you may not get that contract back the following year. Polyurethane and rubber edges are very gentile to turf.

    Take pictures or draw out pictures when there is no snow on the ground to help you. When it gets covered, you will not remember everything!

    You don't have to lowball to get accounts:

    A lot of the new accounts I got this year were from well known contractors whom did not:
    -Fix damaged property or did not fix it timely
    -Did not check their drivers work afterward, including parkways
    -Did not show up within 5 hours of the storm ending

    I send out lots of contracts every fall and get 25% of them. Low baller's will never last and pros don't die in one season. Low baller's may steal your account but the account will probably be calling you back the following year due to poor service.
    This season was a terrible year for most. We got about half the average snow fall. No snow in December. It was the 9th warmest winter on record for us. Three plowable 2" plus storms. I still covered my expenses and broke even in. Last year, I made three times as much.
    I charge what I have too to make a profit, cover my overhead and keep my customers happy. I would say I am in the middle when it comes to bidding but when it comes to service I am at the top. Providing a better service at medium price doesn't get me rich but I keep all my customers including the ones I shoveled years back. I have lost one customer due to becoming a permanent resident in Florida. I turn down accounts when it is not good for me or for the customer.

    Overall, it has been a challenge to start a legit business. So many guys out there desperate for a dollar bill willing to do sell them selves short to get it. So many disappointments (only because I had higher expectations). So much stress when it doesn't snow (doctor almost put me on meds). So many times I question being in this business. It is not easy to work all night only to get a complaint the next morning about where you placed the snow because it is unsightly. Chasing people down for your money is not fun. Pushing snow around is the easy part. The business and handling the responsibility is the hard part.
    It is rewarding in the end. The pride of being able to build something in your name. The ability to make a weeks worth of money in one night. Better yet, a months worth in 33 hrs payup (Blizzard). I love working on cars and plows and this gives me a chance to do my hobby for money. There is lots of room to expand. You don't need a PHD or an associates degree. It also leads to a lot of other work. Doing a good job, owning up to mistakes (damages), and being ultra reliable has led me into lots of handyman work and am now getting into the landscaping. I am doing something I enjoy that I could never do unless I owned the company. Being a plow jockey for some other business just ain't going to cut it financially for a man with a wife and three children to take care of. I look forward to learning more about this business and expanding. I am sure I missed a lot and probably will add to this thread as I remember. I have been writing this all afternoon/evening and am getting tired. Sorry if something doesn't make sense.

    MIKE
    Please feel free to contact me.
     
  2. doyles

    doyles Member
    Messages: 95

    mike
    this is a nice thread with alot of good info on it.
     
  3. basher

    basher PlowSite Fanatic
    from 19707
    Messages: 8,992

    Excellent Post.
     
  4. TCLA

    TCLA 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,699

    Wish I could see what area you're from.

    We're hiring...how do you feel about Detroit?
     
  5. basher

    basher PlowSite Fanatic
    from 19707
    Messages: 8,992

    :eek::eek::eek::eek:
     
  6. road2damascus

    road2damascus PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,833

    Thanks for the kind words fellas Thumbs Up

    I am 308 miles or 5 hours 20 minutes down I-94 E. I appreciate the offer but will have to pass. I am pretty much planted here in the north suburbs of Chicago. My mom and sisters are all within a hour of me. My wife's family are all around here as well. I have been a member at a church that I don't plan on leaving. If you would of caught me in my younger single years when I lived in Florida, Wyoming, Illinois, California and traveled to Europe, Mexico, five Caribbean Islands and about 30 U.S. States, I would have said yes for sure!
     
  7. CGM Inc.

    CGM Inc. PlowSite Veteran
    from Ontario
    Messages: 3,590

    :drinkup: well done!
    If you ask for help you usually get some :)
     
  8. Top_Notch

    Top_Notch Junior Member
    Messages: 28

    Great thread!

    Jeff
     
  9. plowmaster07

    plowmaster07 Senior Member
    Messages: 438

    Great thread! Wish every person starting in the business would read this or get similar information like it.
     
  10. randomb0b123

    randomb0b123 PlowSite.com Addict
    from america
    Messages: 1,278

    i was thinking about doing a galvanized plow like that. how do you like it? does snow stick to it?
     
  11. road2damascus

    road2damascus PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,833

    It is awesome. It has a real head turning look to it. Snow doesn't stick to it nearly as bad as a painted/powdercoat plow. Super wet snow will eventually stick. Snow does build up above the poly urethane edge. Being an inch to an inch and a half thick, it acts like a shelf no big deal though.
     
  12. road2damascus

    road2damascus PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,833

    Thank you men :salute:
     
  13. Jim@esitrucks

    Jim@esitrucks Inactive
    Messages: 1,124

    Like has been said, excellent post!
     
  14. unhcp

    unhcp PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,245

    great post, as someone who is not been in the business very long I can agree with what you said 100%
     
  15. pabaker66

    pabaker66 Senior Member
    Messages: 117

    Wonderful post and a much needed post!!!!
     
  16. road2damascus

    road2damascus PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,833

    I contacted your company, when I was very wet behind the ears, for information without buying anything. I received a very good email answering my questions thoroughly. Thank you. I will go into my email history to see whom it was that answered my email.

    Thanks guys.
     
  17. road2damascus

    road2damascus PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,833

    I stand corrected. I did buy a bolt bag assembly from you all. Guess what? The emails where from YOU Jim. Small world. Back in 2010. Just goes to show, if you have a good experience with a company, you remember them.
     
  18. thelettuceman

    thelettuceman PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,216

    Like others said ... "excellent post' and too bad you get the middle finger from guys in the business. When I'm fueling up and see a competitor...we usually tell each other about the "no pays" to stay away from
     
  19. james.j.smith

    james.j.smith Senior Member
    from 19033
    Messages: 145

    great post
     
  20. road2damascus

    road2damascus PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,833

    Thumbs Up Thank you.