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Help...need some serious advice.

Discussion in 'Bidding & Estimating' started by ahaycoman, Dec 16, 2008.

  1. ahaycoman

    ahaycoman Member
    from Montana
    Messages: 78

    I need some direction here from somebody more wise than me.

    I've been plowing just by myself for several years...strictly commercial lots and have always taken pride in finishing a job that I can be proud of and say that I did it. My minimum charge is $55 and that usually only takes 5-15 minutes to do (Blizzard 810 moneymaker). But most of my accounts are billed at above the minimum. I don't solicit jobs because I feel that would make it necessary to cut some corners just to get the route done in a timely manner.

    Recently I was approached by a local physician and asked to maintain the private lane into his home...about a mile of good gravel road eight miles out of town with a not unreasonable slope and only one turn. Although I've never wanted to do any residential plowing for various reasons I agreed to do it mainly because this doctor was responsible for some critical surgery I had had a while back, plus the fact that he is a really super nice guy. This would be my only residential contract and the only gravel I do. I was certain that I could work him in after I finished my regular commercial route which he was ok with. We didn't discuss the price then but I wanted to do it once before I gave the price which was fine with him. Well, we have had our first severe event of the winter the last few days and he phoned me Saturday morning and said he was stuck in a drift on his road and could I come out and try to get him out and then clear his road, since he was on call in the ER and needed to be able to get to the hospital. In a nutshell, I went out there before I was finished with my commercial customers and ended up backing into the ditch. By the time I got pulled out and made it back to town I had gotten fired from four convenience store accounts that I had had for years because people had been getting stuck in their lots because they hadn't been plowed. It didn't bother me too much to be fired in this case other than it being a little blow to my ego because I'd been doing those four stores satisfactorily for years for the previous owners and when these new people bought them they agreed to keep me doing the lots...but they were much more demanding and very slow paying, although I always got paid eventually. Besides that, the lots all were a PITA with a very high liability factor. Anyway, I won't miss them much.

    Back to the doctor.... After finishing the rest of my lots Sunday I rented a skid steer and worked most of the rest of the afternoon on his road breaking through drifts until it got too cold. After finishing my lots again this morning I intended to go back out and get him done but the skid steer would not start and the rental company had to come out and work on it for a couple of hours to get it going. Diesel...18 below zero! I did go out then and finish his lane and then plowed it. It turned out very well although I couldn't even see over the snowbanks on both sides of the road in some spots where I had plowed. I didn't really keep track of my time, but I probably put 4-5 hours on each of the three days in connection with getting his lane done. I would never have let it get that bad, but we had 40 mph bitterly cold winds on top of the snowfall all in the space of a few hours and it just happened. Anyway, he told me to just give him a bill and it would be paid and furthermore to do whatever I had to do to maintain this lane on every snow event so that it would hopefully never have a chance to get like that again. "Just do whatever you have to do and send me a bill". I know I put a lot of work and time into this and I'm sure that whatever I charge will be paid without question but I really want to be right about it too.

    I've never been in a situation like this before and I was hoping that some of you guys hopefully might be able to give me some input, opinions, direction, advice...whatever.
  2. big acres

    big acres Senior Member
    Messages: 653

    bill him straight hourly for all time actually plowing (not brokedown and stuck)... if he balks, explain that you lost four accounts to get him to the ER even though he agreed to be last.

    IMO... "a bird in hand is better than two in the bush", and you shoulda taken care of your longtime customers because great doctor and all, he may suck to do business with. Good luck.
  3. LoneCowboy

    LoneCowboy PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,760

    Bill him for all the work (not you getting stuck)
    Drifts, as you have found out, are a serious issue to move and a serious wind can create huge issues. They simply can't be moved with a typical truck.

    I take care of a private road (HOA, about 15 hours on it, about 1/3 of a mile long). 3 years ago, we got a monster storm, 30 inches in 24 hours and then it was windy. This road is out in the windy area, I'm always moving drifts. They didn't have anyone at that time, they just drove on it, no one expected (I don't know why not, we get one every 5 years or so) such a storm.

    well, it took them 2 days to dig out using 3 of the people's compact (30hp or so) tractors.

    It would have taken my crews a while too, they know it, we know it, everyone knows it, and they get billed for time. It's still money well spent for them.

    Same thing with this doctor, he simply couldn't have gotten out and he would have worked at it forever.

    it does sound like you need a better plan to deal with this place though.

    BTW, when it's cold, you need to put fuel conditioner in your diesel's.
  4. QuadPlower

    QuadPlower PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,056

    Bill him for you hours like was stated above. Don't feel bad about charging him. He will make in one operation much more than you will all season of plowing his drive.

    PITA or not, it sucks to be fired. Sorry you lost the other contracts.
  5. Bajak

    Bajak Senior Member
    Messages: 999

    I agree with everyone else too.

    As for the diesel engine not starting, conditioner for sure and a shot of methyl hydrate goes a long way to prevent condensation if the tank is not full.
  6. QuadPlower

    QuadPlower PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,056

    The diesel fuel ideas are good, but it wasn't his. It was a rental.
  7. Bajak

    Bajak Senior Member
    Messages: 999

    Still cost him time. Time=Money
  8. ahaycoman

    ahaycoman Member
    from Montana
    Messages: 78

    Thanks for all the input on this. I guess I just feel kind of guilty since the charge necessarily is going to be very healthy...much larger than I normally send a bill for. But on the positive side he was happier than he could be with the job that I had done on his road.
    The rental place extended the contract and it didn't end up costing anybody more so that was good. Since I had talked to the clerk about putting it inside when I was renting the thing and she told me that they never put them inside, I had kept the skidsteer in my unheated barn the night before so I wasn't really worried about it. But had I known I could have put it in my heated shop...just spaced it out I guess.
    Again, thanks for the replies but I think I did make the right choice by going to his aid. I know what you mean by "a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush" but in this case I think the bird in the hand was a turkey...they always demanded to be done by 6am regardless of any other circumstances and they failed to understand that a ground blizzard @ -20 degrees can create some delays in performance. Anyway, I was tickled @5:30 this morning to notice that none of them had even started to be plowed yet by my replacement.
  9. rjnjr1019

    rjnjr1019 Senior Member
    Messages: 159

    So what did you end up charging him?
  10. bam

    bam Senior Member
    from .
    Messages: 201

    a few ideas:

    if this road is that important to the doctor:

    set up a season rental agreement with the equipment place, and have the doctor pay for it, and worse case just charge him an operator rate for you to do the work

    or better yet: have him purchase a compact tractor or skidsteer with cab and heat with a blade and maybe a snowblower to make easy work of the job. Again you be the operator. If you get a larger snowfall or a big seasonal snowfall, it would be well worth it for him. In small events use the truck, in bigger events use the tractor. Depending on how large the property is, and what type of terrain and landscape, the machine could be used for summer projects, and maintenance.
  11. ahaycoman

    ahaycoman Member
    from Montana
    Messages: 78

    I did end up charging him close to $900. I figured it every way I could and I felt in my heart it was fair but its still a lot of money--to me anyway. Its all in the past though since I've plowed him out several times since and now it's plugged up again only worse!
  12. In2toys

    In2toys Senior Member
    Messages: 319

    Don't be afraid to charge him again for your time & rental fees. His hospital wouldn't hesitate to charge you an arm & a leg... Look at it this way, If he's lived there awhile, he knows what the winters are like & has probably had someone else taking care of the drive b-4 you. If he's not balking at the bills & you are doing a good job, which it sounds like you are, then bill him fairly but bill him... The last guy may have really been getting into his panties money wise so you may still be cheaper for him... Figure out if you can justify buying a small cab tractor with a blower on it or even a skidsteer. If his bills will pay for the tractor or skidder over a season then next summer or next winter you'll have the machine. A contract wouldn't hurt though before you get a piece of equipment for just him