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Tractor/Blower Set Up

Discussion in 'Commercial Snow Removal' started by hansenslawncare, Dec 12, 2014.

  1. hansenslawncare

    hansenslawncare Senior Member
    Messages: 300

    I've been reading the "switching to snowblowing thread" for a couple years now. I love the idea and my plan is to implement this service next year.

    My service area has a lot of homes/subdivisions that this plan would "seemingly" work well in.

    My purpose for this thread is to identify the reasons why a "tractor/blower set up" would "not" work.

    From reading the thread above, I feel like this would work well. But I do not want to be narrow-sided. If you feel that this idea would not work, please post in this thread as I did not want to hi-jack the other thread.

    Thank you very much.
  2. seville009

    seville009 Senior Member
    from CNY
    Messages: 694

    Depends on what you end up buying; just has to be capable, reliable, and warm. Think they cost big bucks, so there's a big commitment.
  3. WIPensFan

    WIPensFan PlowSite Veteran
    Messages: 3,468

    One of the problems I see is that in order to be profitable, you must have quite a few customers at a very low rate. The only piece of equipment that can handle that volume of drives in a timely manner is the tractor/blower, so if the tractor, or blower goes down or the person that runs it goes down, you now have a big problem. Maybe the dealer that sells you the tractor would give you a loaner if yours breaks for some reason? Or maybe you can fix these types of equipment? Whatever the case, that would be one of my biggest worries.
  4. merrimacmill

    merrimacmill PlowSite.com Addict
    from MA
    Messages: 1,822

    Well your spot on with this. If your using a tractor/blower set up, then you are inherently selling 'against' the idea of using a plow. You need to convince your customers that 'plowing' a driveway is a horrible idea. My entire marketing plan was based against the plow guys. With all that said, if you only have one tractor and it breaks down, then you cannot show up and plow the driveways. Doing that would decimate the entire business model and ruin your proof of concept for the customers.

    I had an extra tractor, just as good/new as all the others, sitting there ready to go 100% of the time as a back up for the specific reason. Yea its expensive, but if your going to be serious about creating a brand and a customer experience, then its a necessity. I also would not operate one myself, so that incase an operator called out I would be able to fill his role quickly. Its one thing to find a friend/acquaintance who knows how to plow and throw them in a truck on a lot to get by for a storm. Running these tractors is a WHOLE different game and takes a decent amount of skill. Its not something you can find a back up for 12 hours before the snow flies...

    Another tough hurdle you will need to expect to encounter is gaining the density needed to achieve profitability. The issue with the tractors are ground speed. Driving a mile away in a truck to the next driveway isn't that big of a deal, but with a tractor it is a huge issue...

    Think of it this way, since your selling a seasonal service to these driveway customers, you need to give them specific parameters/expectations so they know what they are buying. By this I mean that they need to know how long between services during a storm. When do you start? Will I be cleared by 7am? etc.. If you give a route cycle of 4 hours, and plan on doing lets say 150 driveways, then you only have 1.6 minutes per driveway, with NO drive time. If there is ONE single screw up, break down, slow operator, more adverse than usual conditions, etc then every minute of time lost due to lack of efficiency tightens that service time per driveway significantly. I mean if you had a breakdown that took an hour to resolve, plus say 1 minute drive time between your average customer (at least in the first couple years) then your already down to 30 seconds or less of service time for each driveway.

    The scheduling and routing planning can become so detailed with this, when its brought to scale, that you even need to consider that homes on busy streets will take significantly more time. It was to the point where I would refuse homes on busy streets. Sitting at the end of the driveway waiting for cars to drive-by so you can finish it can easily eat up a half hour during a typical route cycle.. This is just another example of things you need to consider in your planning.

    I'm just throwing numbers at the wall here, really just to illustrate how easily a reasonable route on paper can become a logistical nightmare in the real world.

    I'm not saying the tractor/blower residential concept is bad, in fact I think its great, however its not as easy as I see a lot of people on here assume. That is if you want to do it perfectly and cover all your bases with solid planning and execution.

    I have spent a lot of time figuring out the calculations and various metrics of the driveway biz, and now I'm not longer in the snow game, so I'm pretty loose lipped when it comes to this stuff now. Feel free to ask anything.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2014
  5. newhere

    newhere PlowSite.com Addict
    from Fenton
    Messages: 1,288

    I think the tractor blower topic on plowsite is equal to the ctl/forestry head topic on lawnsite. For some reason people just want to jump on the band wagon and do it to.
    A tractor and blower will cost you 60k easy. Go buy a new truck with leather seats.
  6. dcamp824

    dcamp824 Member
    Messages: 77

    I would agree with last post it would have to be a powerful and good size setup that cost's a lot. we went with skid/blower setups in a couple subdivision's we do this year and although it is Def better then trucks are for drives, we just got a wet heavy snowfall and the skid blowers just were not working to great.
  7. hansenslawncare

    hansenslawncare Senior Member
    Messages: 300

    Pricing isn't a deterrent for me...i'm not mechanically sound with tractors; but there are quite a few dealers in my area. 24/7? No...but you have said some things that will make me go back to my dealers and ask questions. Thanks, this is exactly what I need.
  8. hansenslawncare

    hansenslawncare Senior Member
    Messages: 300

    My initial thought wasn't to sell customers on a blower/over a truck. I see the selling benefits of that; but what you alluded to i.e. equipment failure, is exactly why I wouldn't use that sales approach. Is that a bad idea on my part???

    my streets are pretty low key, not much traffic at all; plenty of room to blow snow,etc. but again, I don't want to be narrow-minded here which is why this post exists.

    i'm not worried about the scheduling/routing; I'm confident in this aspect but something great that you pointed out.

    Route density is the only thing i'm concerned...but not heavily. I am confident I can acquire a dense route with what we have now to plow; plus next year's marketing strategy. what i'm concerned about is the best price to attain a large than usual response with our traditional prices...

    Thanks for the thought buddy...please keep it coming.
  9. hansenslawncare

    hansenslawncare Senior Member
    Messages: 300

    we use 3 trucks right now for residentials...the reason I"m thinking tractors is to increase efficiency while reducing risk, i.e., less trucks/equipment out, less labor, etc...

    I don't want "another" truck. I purchased this fall what I hope is the last "brand new" truck for "plowing." but we'll see...
  10. djagusch

    djagusch 2000 Club Member
    from mn
    Messages: 2,068

    Took over a biz about 30 mins from you that tried this idea. He went belly up for taking on too much debt, etc.

    Anyways some conversations I had with his customers about the negative side of it. Complaints about the noise of it dropping on the concrete skirt, scraps on the seal coat (I know it's bs), and the big one is end of the driveways (the tractor couldn't get then end clear due to the angle of the driveway to the street, I heard this the most).

    He was using a matoba (spelling) and a Erskine inverted blower.

    They want blowing in this town. I went with a s205 skid and a 78 inch erksine blower. Doing 130 driveways in 4 hrs or so. It use it to blow back piles also. Skid is used during the summer.

    If you have a use for a tractor during the summer it's one thing. If you don't then...
  11. Triple L

    Triple L PlowSite Fanatic
    from Canada
    Messages: 5,973

    How do you blow the snow pile by the driveway door and not leave any piles with the skidsteer blower pulling in vs dragging out?
  12. snoworks1

    snoworks1 Senior Member
    Messages: 111

    A little information about my company in an effort to give you some sound advice.

    Been in the business for 23 years. Started out doing driveways and added commercial after a couple of years. I choose to use 100% seasonal snowplowing contracts for residential work. I have a full time job, so the snowplowing business equipment is used solely for snowplowing.

    On the high end I have had over 350 homes in a season, utilizing 6 trucks(all in-house equipment) with both front and rear plows. I used to be in the construction business, but seven years ago I started working as a consultant, so I ramped down my plowing operations to concentrate more on consulting work. I got rid of all my trucks and plows with the exception of one and plowed 45 to 60 driveways from 2008-2011. I kept the truck and snowplowing business for my oldest son, in case he wanted to take over the work, once he was old enough.

    In 2011 we got hit with a massive blizzard so I bought a front and rear plow for my work truck, as a back-up, just in case. In 2012 I had a slow 4 months of consulting work and decided to try and rebuild my snowplowing business. After much debate and research I decided to purchase a AG tractor and blower to help boost my business. In the summer of 2012 my consulting work tripled and I worked pretty much 300 hours a month through the month of December, most of the work was out of state, so I never go a chance to utilize the Tractor/blower combination in the 2012/2013 season.

    Last winter I purchased a Normand blower for the tractor and used it 24 times in total for the 2013/2014 season. As of now, I have 1 M110 Tractor/blower set-up, 1 Jeep Wrangler with front and rear plows and 1 Chevy Silverado with front and rear plows.

    Here is some of my insight regarding my experience with trucks vs AG tractors.

    1.) A plow truck is limited to 40 to 60 driveways(4 to 6 hour turn around times). The deeper the snow the longer it takes to complete your route. This is a very important fact when you get the 6 to 12" storms, if you can't complete your route, in your allotted time frame, you will loose customers. Keep in mind my routes are anywhere from 28 miles down to 16 miles as of the 2014/2015 season. The Jeep serviced 42 driveways in a 16 mile radius in about 4 to 5 hours, depending on the storm. If the snow was deeper that 6" the route jumped up to 5 to 6 hours and or more. Regardless of the density of my route, within reason, the plow truck is maxed out at 60 driveways, this is due to the fact that you have to plan for heavier snows. If you don't plan for heavier snows and overbook your routes, you will fail and loose customers.

    2.) A new plow truck(Jeep) set-up costs $30k for the truck and another $8K to set it up for snow, i.e. plows, lights, etc.

    3.) My tractor/blower set up last year serviced 64 driveways in just over 3 hours and 20 minutes, the very first time I used it. I got it down to 2 hours and 30 minutes or so, for the rest of the events. This is the 28 mile route so almost half the time in the route is driving time, not blowing time. Keeping on the theme that every year your route density should decrease, the tractor/blower set-up should easily be capable of servicing 150 driveways in a four hour span, regardless of the depth of snow. So you effectively can increase your customer base by over 200% by using a Tractor/Blower set-up.

    4.) M110 Kubota Tractor was $70k, the blower was $13k, plus 2k for hoses and 2k for front weights.

    5.) I believe that the Jeep Wrangler/front and rear plow set-up is the best for residential driveway plowing. The Tractor/Blower combo, blows the Jeep combo away. It took me about 30 minutes, that's how long it took me to realize the tractor combo was the right choice for me.

    6.) I would rather spend $87k on one tractor to potentially generate $440*150= $66,000 vs. 3 Jeep Wrangler set-ups costing $114,000 to potentially generate $440*135=$59,400. Keep in mind the Tractor and Jeep both have the potential to do more driveways, but the Tractor driveway ratio will win over trucks, with increased density. All that means is that the Tractor/combo will make you more money in the long run vs. a truck.

    7.) The tractor/blower combo scrapes better that any plow I have ever used in my lifetime. I have the composite edges and shoes on my Normand. The Normand also has the rear hydraulic arm.

    8.) The tractor/blower combo is way more agile that my Jeep. I can maneuver this tractor into almost any area, with ease and with great visibility. Keep in mind my tractor is huge and it is still easier to maneuver than my Jeep.

    9.) The Tractor/blower combo will save you dollars on both ends of the spectrum, i.e. using less equipment and labor, while increasing your revenue.

    10.) The Tractor/blower set-up will out last any plow truck combo period. At the time of re-sale the tractor blower will sell for half what I paid for it with only 1500-2500 hours on it, while the three trucks that I had to buy to match the tractor will be worth far less and beat to ****!

    Some other small comments I have on my tractor/blower set-up.

    -I seem to snow blow my route faster with deeper storms. Why I don't know exactly, but maybe I try to be to neat and tidy with light 1 1/2 to 3" storms.

    -You need to be careful with the blower shute stream! The snow force can damage property if not carful(i.e. mail boxes, light poles, etc.).

    -If I had my way I would like a tractor one step down from the M110 if the said piece of equipment had push button shifting!!

    -The tractor eats less fuel than my trucks do in a given event.

    -If you are a one truck show and don't want to grow that much, then the AG tractor/blower combo may not be for you. But if your looking to make serious money in the residential plowing business and your market conditions are right, you would be crazy not to think about purchasing a AG tractor/blower combo.

    Sorry for the long reply, hope this helps.


    Chuck B.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2014
  13. Enzo

    Enzo Senior Member
    Messages: 387

    Thanks for the reply Chuck, and thanks Rich for creating this thread. I am weighing in all pros and cons for my setup here, like you mentioned Rich I also have the availability to pick up so much residential work for snow removal it's insane. This season we received over 15-20 calls for more driveways but I am already booked up solid doing my 40 driveways plus 15 lots. If I go about the tractor/blower setup I just need to target specific neighborhoods with tight groupings. As of right now to go through 20 driveways which is half our residential route its 35 min drive time not including plowing or shoveling or regular traffic on the road. Its a toss up whether to go all commercial or continue doing both. I would love to do both, but I want to make all my residential work seasonal contracts and not by the push based on the snowfall totals. If I end up going tractor/blower I am looking at the Kubota M100 or possibly go all hydro with the Kubota L6060. I also been looking at a few John Deere and New Holland, but the Kubota dealer is the closet to me. What are your thoughts? Also my biggest concern is if the tractor does go down everyone is use to having it snow blown that when a truck shows up with a plow they may go crazy and argue with me over the fact we guarantee everything to be snow blown and they would want some type of refund. The only way around that is to have another tractor/blower laying around as backup which costs way to much or do it the traditional way and have a few guys with walk behind blowers go out and take care of the route which would take a stupid amount of time.
  14. snoworks1

    snoworks1 Senior Member
    Messages: 111

    Getting the tight groupings is key, but it won't happen overnight, at least it has not in my market place. I am content to get 7 to 10 driveways on a block, that formula will work well for my business plan. In my area, I will never be able to get every driveway on the block, like some of the guys do in Canada!

    I have not looked at the L6060 Kubota, but I have been thinking of going one or two steps smaller. I just like my auto, push button, shift option. Makes it real easy for the operator.

    Regarding the extra blower for back/up. Depending on the amount of driveways you have and the amount of trucks you should factor in on getting the back-up tractor/blower combo. Right now I am at the high end threshold for covering my residential accounts if the tractor does go down. This year a back-up blower combo is out of the question, so I ordered a new plow for my other Jeep Wrangler as back-up.

    Plan for next year is to get two new/newer Tractor/blower set-ups for approx. $40k each, be in at the same price as my first tractor and then just fill the routes up. In order not to over book the routes, fill them up 85% until you reach 4 or more tractor/blower units. At that time the three or more tractors, can take up the slack of the downed unit! Wow that sounds supper easy to do! lol


    Chuck B.
  15. hansenslawncare

    hansenslawncare Senior Member
    Messages: 300

    Would a plow which is lighter than a blower be any different? Or; the depth of the box is too long to dip into that area? What about running one pass adjacent to the driveway in that grooved/lower area?
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2014
  16. djagusch

    djagusch 2000 Club Member
    from mn
    Messages: 2,068

    Sideways by the garage door.
  17. hansenslawncare

    hansenslawncare Senior Member
    Messages: 300

    Snoworks; thanks for the great response. That was very thorough and informative and I appreciate the price breakdown vs. the truck or jeep combos.

    I have a back blade on one of our trucks; but to be honest it doesn't save enough to make a "wow" factor for me...maybe i'm too critical. But that's why the ag tractor/blower combo seems the best fit.

    Why question for you is; if you went to something smaller, say a 65hp fully hydrostatic/no clutching, would that lower horse power hurt you much on the larger storms; also consider a small blower would be needed???

    Most of our storms are the 1-4 ish inches. At best we typically have a larger storm in the 8 inch range give or take. of those 1-4 ish inch storms; most are pretty dry, light/fluffy snow. What I'm considering for next year (first year with tractor/blower) is something smaller with a hydrostatic so that there's no shifting...

    What are your thoughts?
  18. djagusch

    djagusch 2000 Club Member
    from mn
    Messages: 2,068

    They couldn't get that last 2 to 3 ft dip cleaned out good. That's all I can say as I didn't run it. But I heard it from multiple people or groups.
  19. hansenslawncare

    hansenslawncare Senior Member
    Messages: 300

    Roger that; thank you. I think running adjacent would work...but I could be wrong; I often am.
  20. Triple L

    Triple L PlowSite Fanatic
    from Canada
    Messages: 5,973

    Adding a back drag edge to the blower chain or hydraulic lift should solve that problem