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Back Injury, 100% blowers...what to do...?

Discussion in 'Commercial Snow Removal' started by Exact Services, Oct 2, 2011.

  1. Exact Services

    Exact Services Senior Member
    Messages: 198

    I do lawn maintenance during the growing season and some of my growing season customers are also snow customers.

    I did 35 driveways with blowers [fastest single stage and 2 stage blowers available] solo last winter on each storm. Some of those where twice per day due to contract - most are limited to one event per day. Ran on about 15 events last winter. Prior winter was barely 5 events. A heavy year would be 20+ events. Most of my customers are on flat rate seasonal and the remainder are on a 10 event prepay retainer type contract [no refund for light winter] and are billed out on any event beyond that. I know most here will chuckle at the concept of 35 accounts exclusively with blowers of any kind but for these driveways...trust me blowers do a much much better job of snow placement... but yes I'm stuck out in the elements and it is physically intense even if you dress correctly for the job etc. None of these customers would be happy with the work done with a plow and truck.

    I showed a prospective employee my snow route last winter and told him he would be expected to do this solo if he was hired. His eyes bugged out and he got very stressed. He is very fit and athletic and half my age.

    Trying to find a helper to do what I do is next to impossible IMO very fast paced. I would never work like this for anybody else so based on this and my back injury [herniated disc] I can't really expect to find anybody to run my route solo....so I'm left with hiring someone who will be reliably be on standby 24/7 plus holidays and will be ready to work early on snow mornings. I would be the driver and be on light duty. The employee would do the lifting of over 40/50 pounds. I've seen other snow blower operators out and about over the years and very few know how to dress properly. I'd probably end up having to provide proper attire and instructions on how to wear them so they don't end up quitting after the first day or after just 15 driveways.

    My concern is NOT having the person not show up, X-mass, girl friends B Day, I don't feel good today etc. then I'm stuck running the route myself solo taking chances with my back when it should be healing up over the winter. Frankly a good fall on my rear could put me under the knife ASAP. Even if I go into the next growing season in the same shape I am now would be a disaster. I can barely keep up with the physical demands of running solo the remainder of the growing season. My back has improved and is stronger but with the continued work I keep pushing up against the ceiling of recovery. I'm having to forfeit growing season work now and have throttled back the remainder of the season so I don't have to hire anybody. I also have another business that provides by base income but without the snow income it is pretty lean over the winter. This business frankly conflicts with both snow and lawns and I end up sleep deprived and this was a major contributing factor in my back injury last Spring.

    Ideally what I need to be doing over the winter is continued intense PT exercises to strengthen my back, swimming, rest and let my body heal up properly with out the aggravation and risks involved with snow blowing.

    Input appreciated...maybe I'm over looking something?
  2. grandview

    grandview PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 14,609

    To bad you didn't have Alflack insurance! Could of put in a claim for the winter.Once your mess your back up your done. Take the season off and rest ,driveways are a dime a dozen.
  3. Exact Services

    Exact Services Senior Member
    Messages: 198

    Very true re: disability and/or injury insurance. Earlier this spring I was pondering,..." really need to get insurance for this".

    Herniated discs do heal up on their own but recovery is slowish. I'm doing everything I can to heal up as fast as possible: inversion, supplements, targeted PT excercises, diet etc.
  4. Herm Witte

    Herm Witte Senior Member
    Messages: 595

    "Input appreciated...maybe I'm over looking something?"

    Your personal physical condition should be steering you towards a different business model to provide winter snow service and doing thirty five residentials with small snow blowers is not it. You should be considering an investment in or renting a truck with a plow, a tractor with an inverted blower, a skid steer with what ever attachments, or sub contract the work to a qualified snow removal contractor making sure you have a no compete contract for your summer work. Your business model should allow for those expenditures otherwise why be in business.
  5. Camden

    Camden PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,604

    I'm not sure why you convinced yourself that you can't find a suitable employee. That's the route I would go. Good people are out there, you just have to find them.
  6. Mr.Markus

    Mr.Markus PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,779

    You don't say how big the route is..... if it's tight enough, a nice tractor with heated cab and blower will do wonders. I could never imagine doing 35 drives with walk behind blowers, un/loading time alone is inefficient. Financing has never been cheaper and there will be alot more value left in it when you're done with it than a walk behind blower .JMO.
  7. Joe D

    Joe D Senior Member
    Messages: 605

    How long is the route, what are you paying? That is a lot of work for 1 guy and I would think it's an 8hr plus route.
  8. JCPM

    JCPM Senior Member
    from CT
    Messages: 323

    That's my first thought. Either drive around with a skidsteer or a utility vehicle with a snow blower attachment or sub-contract it out to someone who's hungry for the work. That's what I do. I don't do residentials but I have a dozen or so parking lots where most need several hundred feet of sidewalks and stairs done. I found that depending on winter help can sometimes leave you falling behind and doing allot of shoveling yourself. If I stay in the truck, and usually have another guy in one of my other trucks, we can knock out all of the plowing more efficiently without having to worry about the sidewalks. I sub out all of the sidewalks to another guy who only does a handful of residentails and loves being able to make an extra $500 or so every time he runs through my stuff. If we have a blizzard or ice storm I'll go out at night with my Bobcat and clear what I can and he does the rest hourly.
  9. WIPensFan

    WIPensFan PlowSite Veteran
    Messages: 3,594

    This sounds negative because it is. It's realistic though

    Forget about insuring your back condition now because you won't be able to - at least with reguards to supplemental insurance.

    Forget about finding this perfect employee to do all the work while you watch - they don't exist.

    Forget about fixing your back with PT or swimming or rest, if you continue in this line of work it never fully heals.

    Forget about the skid steer, they make your back worse.

    Buy a truck with a plow and someone to ride with you to shovel or blow.

    Try to manage the pain best you can. Good luck and sorry this happen to you.

    THEGOLDPRO PlowSite Veteran
    Messages: 3,136

  11. buckwheat_la

    buckwheat_la 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,254

    I am with Camden, look for a employee, I realize that good employees are hard to come by, but 35 places is not too bad to do by ones self, and if you find the right person they may be happy to have the work. You may also look into some students, I know some people are going to shake their heads at this, but realistically a fit person can do 4-5 places by themselves in a hour or so, so if you find 7-8 students you should be alright, pay them cash even and claim the wages on your own. For 35 places you could even afford to pay them a monthly retainer, guarantee them $100 a month minimum for work. I am assuming a couple things of course (like you are getting approximately $80-100/month/contract for the snow season, but I think you could make this work. I have 12 individuals that go out in groups of 2 and each group averages 40-50 places a day. I would also respectfully suggest that you could still work on a crew, you just can't do any heavy lifting, get a young employee, and have him help with the loading/unloading of the blower. Also look into a couple of other options with the blower, like a hidden hitch rack, with a ramp. Good luck
  12. forbidden

    forbidden Senior Member
    Messages: 392

    Injure your back and no plan in place = losing business. I would hire on the young guys to do the work for you. Invest in a fold down spring loaded ramp for the back of the truck (replaces tailgate). Makes getting anything from a Walker mower to a walk behind sweeper into the back of the truck way easier and way safer. Our reg cab f250 is equipped this way and in winter has 2 guys, 4 shovels, 3 ice chippers, bags of ice melt, 2 single stage snow blowers, 2 backpack blowers, mixed fuel and sometimes a walk behind sweeper. It is very easy for this crew to get from site to site and knock stuff off rather quickly.
  13. JTVLandscaping

    JTVLandscaping Senior Member
    Messages: 862

    I don't know how it works in other states, but in NY you don't need comp insurance if you work alone, but once you hire an employee, you need it. And that gets expensive.
  14. northernsweeper

    northernsweeper Senior Member
    Messages: 397

    I don't know how old you are, but the disc problems, especially in the lower back are pretty common. I have had three back surguries for blown discs (twice for the same disc). If your disc hasn't blown out, you should be O.K. if you take care of it. Wear a lower back support, and like everyone else says, find an easier way to do it, or let it go.
  15. Exact Services

    Exact Services Senior Member
    Messages: 198

    Thanks everyone – your input much appreciated. Here is the run down.

    My back:

    The herniated disc in lower back was confirmed by an MRI. After PT it has improved significantly and about a week ago I was off Ibuprofen completely. However any lifting over 40-50 pounds I pay for it. I had significant radicular nerve pain into my lower leg from either leaking fluid from the disc or direct nerve impingement. I still have this nerve pain and it basically tells me when I’m over doing it. Other disc in my back are bulged and my disc and back joints are classified as moderate disc degeneration. Exercise does help and my back is significantly stronger however I tend to go right back at it and over all it has been 3 steps forward and 1.5 steps backwards. I don’t have medical insurance so paying out of pocket for that would be a major hardship. Had hernia surgery last October and I negotiated a total discounted cash price for the whole deal down to $3,500 and that is a bargain. Back surgery would be far more than that I would suspect. I need to avoid this like the plague. The doctor I saw flat out leveled with me to change how I work or even quit ANY manual labor altogether a.s.a.p.. Said even if I quit I still may need surgery down the road. He said a slip and fall straight on my butt could send me right into surgery. Preexisting condition out of pocket very expensive. I’m not as pessimistic as the doctor since my Physical Therapist is dramatically more optimistic. Chiropractor is middle of the road.

    My snow route:

    Ground zero is a retirement community and the dominant provider for snow removal in the park charges $300 flat rate [also done with blowers but runs a crew of 2 or 3] for the season mid November to March 10th. I charged $260 and cover right up to late March basically Spring break. These are one event per day plans. Was planning on charging $295 for the 2 event plan but only offer it in this retirement community. 6 driveways per hour is about right in powder snow up to about 6-8” with Toro single stage blowers. I had about 17 accounts in that community and that was with a late mailer last year. My plan [prior to back injury] was to drop most of my accounts outside this area since running in such a small area is so much faster and profitable and push it towards 45+. I would also drop all flat rate seasonal outside the retirement community and keep only the ones that are lawn clients out side of retirement community.

    My other business:

    I also work another business at home in the evenings and I was fighting sleep constantly during days I ran on snow. During the growing season I also fight sleep in the evenings and do sunflower seeds to stay awake and work 5 nights week. Even though the home business is more profitable with less over head it’s very tedious and I’d like to quit it at some point. One can make a strong case just do this business only over the winter and give my back a rest.

    Equipment choice:

    A plow on the truck would speed up city plow berm call backs but most of these driveways are fairly small and since the major competitor runs blowers I’m stuck with it for now. The hitch rack for single stage blowers is what I was planning on doing to reduce and minimize any lifting. I was thinking about rigging up a ramp to the hitch rack that would tolerate the single stage paddles. The 2 stage Honda HS1132 is only is off loaded, with aluminum folding ATV ramps [adds 3 min per driveway], when conditions deteriorate badly enough making the single stages slower. Roughly 15% of the time. The Honda HS1132 rarely ever clogs under any conditions. I think I have only used the augur/chute clear tool once or twice in 4 years. Very productive 2-stage blower, just wish the track drive was faster during transport mode. That’s why a wheel drive Honda HS928 may just be faster for the drives I do since the transport forward speed is significantly faster.

    My conclusion is if I run again on snow again I flat out need to have a helper and offer incentives for a bonus for perfect attendance for the season.

    Even if I took off the winter and just worked my other business I still may need to potentially hire a helper for the growing season if my back is not dramatically better by mid February.
  16. Brian Young

    Brian Young PlowSite Veteran
    Messages: 3,394

    Coming from someone with the same type injury, I'm telling you, you need to find a good employee! I hurt my back a couple years ago (torn L5 disc) but luckily we have employee's. Right then and there everything changed, our business model changed and once I was recovered I really started pursing more customer's to ensure I would be able to keep the guys busy and the income worth it. Yes trying to find good people any more is a pita but its nice to know (when you find one) your route is being taken care of. Just be ready for many, many let downs and headaches. I agree with trying to find another means of clearing driveways, ie.tractor w/an enclosure because the "wide eyed, holy crap" look is going to be common.
  17. juspayme

    juspayme Senior Member
    Messages: 116

    not to be rude but i usually am, buy a new or newer truck with a new or newer plow. snowblowers will just make you a tired man. you can find customers who want their driveway plowed.its way easier to find these customers than trying to find a good employee. truthfully your over thinking the idea.
  18. Ramairfreak98ss

    Ramairfreak98ss PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,931

    Exact, ive been there, ive done all that ! And although nothing wrong with what your doing, and i did make money doing exactly as you do with snow blowing only, finding a guy or even crew of say two men, will be nearly impossible to match your motivation :/

    I say this because ive done it solo, with a friend and with my brother that i work with and that was years back... Now in 2011, sending two guys out with two 32" two stage commercial blowers eats up MORE time from route start to stop than i took ALONE. Its so bad that i have to look over the time lists of in/out of each snow blowing account and then im pulling hairs wondering how an account that took me 35 minutes to clear out for $90 myself and 20 minutes with a helper "brother/friend etc", is taking my two "descent" employees over an hour to do and then twice as long getting to the next site or loading up.

    Let me know how you make out. Its very difficult just as lawn cutting is, and we all know how its profitable with a 48" mower solo cutting 10-30 lawns a week yet almost impossible to cut any profit with a truck, trailer, machines, 2-3 man crew no matter how nice the lawns are in this economy :(
  19. Exact Services

    Exact Services Senior Member
    Messages: 198

    This is so true. An unsupervised crew of 2 will be slower than myself solo at 100% physical condition. The other major competitor has a crew of 2 or 3 and frankly does not move along much faster than myself solo. Last winter I often thought there is no way I could retain an employee running like this.

    It boils down to this...if I DIDN'T have my other business to pay for my base core living expenses - I would send out mailers and contracts now and take my chances on finding a helper after the fact. It would be easier physically even if an employee was a no show since I would be getting better sleep and rest and not burning the midnight oil when I got home after a long day struggling with wet snow solo.

    Working the other business at night plus the risk of running heavy consecutive snow days solo or some days solo with an employee no shows and all the other wrangle factors is gambling with my health and jeopardizes my next growing season. I can not go into the next growing season in my current condition which has been a struggle. My back has improved but I know it will not heal up properly unless I quit lifting and spend more time on PT exercises and core strengthening better sleep and rest.

    I don't like the idea of forfeiting $9k to $11k's worth of flat rate seasonals but I'd rather go into next Spring in the best possible shape. There is no guarantee I will be 100% or even 90% next spring but If I don't do everything I can to heal up over the winter I thinking I will be kicking myself over it for a long time.

    I plan on telling my customers I will back the following winter. I'm still dragging my feet on this hoping there is another option.

    I'm going to consider a skid steer or Bobcat utility shown above with a front blower, truck with a back drag squeegee plow and use the lighter Toro Power lite 180 on the entry walks only. We have stander mowers on the market and I'm not sure why a stander blower has not been developed...? This would work the best for the drives I do. There was rumor Lawn Solutions was working on something like this last winter. Maybe Toro will run with the ball? :rolleyes: Topic for another thread.