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Hey JD Dave and CET is this guy talking about you two?

Discussion in 'Commercial Snow Removal' started by grandview, Mar 13, 2008.

  1. grandview

    grandview PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 14,609

    E-Mail This Story Save This Story

    Jeff's Lawn Care


    PRESIDENT: Jeff Ronhaar

    KEY PERSONNEL: Paul Dumaresq, vice president/general manager

    HEADQUARTERS: Caledonia, Ontario, about a half-hour southeast of Toronto.

    PERSONNEL: 16 full-time employees and four seasonal subcontractors.

    WEATHER: On average, the region receives between 12 to 15 snowfalls and 25 to 30 salt application events per season.

    EQUIPMENT: Seven 3/4-ton 4x4s and two 1-ton trucks are equipped with six 8-foot plows and two 9-foot plows, six salters, three skid-steer loaders and seven blowers.

    MARKET CONDITIONS: Competitive, although Ronhaar is the largest snow removal contractor in his hometown of Caledonia, and in the Top 5 in his service region of Hamilton. Cut-rate competition comes from uninsured farmers who will plow with their tractors for cash or a couple cases of beer every month. JD AND CET IS HE TALKING ABOUT YOU TWO?

    0 Commercial
    10% Residential
    60% Commercial Residential 20% Government/Municipal

    2007-08 $375,000 (projected) 2006/07 $325,500
    2005/06 $282,150
    2004/05 $222,300

    Jeff Ronhaar hates loose ends.

    Wondering whether his snow removal crews have completed all of the detail work keeps the 34-year-old awake late at night.

    "If we get everything right 90 percent of the time that means 10 percent of the time we’re wrong," says the owner of Jeff’s Lawn Care, based in Caledonia, Ontario. "I don’t want to operate like that. To me, that’s unacceptable."

    To circumvent this problem, Ronhaar developed a system two years ago that not only ensures on-site perfection, but also improves client relations, decreases slip-and-fall liability and serves as an effective marketing tool to retain clients and generate new business.

    Best of all, it costs his clients a fee of only $2 a day.

    "And who’d turn down increased service for $2 a day?" Ronhaar asks.

    Worn ragged with frustration, Ronhaar was determined to fix his problem. He knew Greater Toronto’s larger commercial complexes, such as airports, campuses and hospitals, all had 24-hour, full-time staff to monitor and tend their facilities. This support staff deals immediately with any snow or ice issues that develop on site during the winter.

    Ronhaar then considered his client base: primarily restaurants, gas stations, conveniences stores, condo associations and small- to mid-sized retail properties. Without a doubt, these clients would like the full-time attention, but they couldn’t afford the cost of a support staff and 24-hour service.

    "I knew it wasn’t realistic for a Wal-Mart or a condo association to have someone on site 24 hours a day," he says. "But this type of client wants more service when it comes to snow removal. He doesn’t want to call his snow contractor about all the things that aren’t done. He just wants it done."

    So how could Ronhaar provide this caliber of program for his commercial clients? While he knew customers couldn’t justify the cost for a full-time service, often they are willing to pay a premium for peace-of-mind. What if Ronhaar could provide peace-of-mind and still make that level of service affordable – really affordable.

    Two years ago Ronhaar debuted his Winter Monitoring Program. At its core, the add-on service inspects a client’s site every 12 hours – at 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. – from Nov. 15 though April 15, regardless of the weather conditions, for $2 a day. So on a sunny 50-degree day in February a site monitor checks the property and logs its conditions, just like he would do on an overcast, 5-degree day.

    When Ronhaar’s monitor arrives on site he first examines the condition of the property’s high-traffic areas, followed by a close inspection of the other areas serviced by the regular snow and ice maintenance crew.

    The site monitor notes any concerns in his log and corrects the situation immediately. The site monitoring truck – a Ford Ranger – is equipped with 10 bags of rock salt, a snow blower and snow shovels for clean-up work.

    In addition to the general site conditions, the monitor records the outside temperature and sky conditions, as well as the pavement temperature and the time the inspection took place. The completed reports are e-mailed in spreadsheet format to each client monthly for their records.

    "These reports protect us as a contractor but also protect our customers from slip-and-fall claims," Ronhaar says. "They also help us justify our monthly invoices. The customer can very easily see why salt was applied on a day when the temperature was 1 degree above freezing, due to the fact the monitor had recorded a freeze-and-thaw runoff from one of the drifts. This answers a lot of their questions before calls are made."

    If the the property needs more extensive work, the site monitor calls headquarters for a plow crew to return and address the job.

    On average, the monitor is on site for less than 15 minutes and each route takes between 2 ½ to 6 hours to complete, depending on weather conditions, Ronhaar says. "Most of the time the guy gets on site and the parking lot has already been cleared by our snow removal crew," he says. "They’re there to pick up the details that may have been missed and to fix the things that they don’t feel seem right. They do that and off they go to the next site."

    When he first entered the snow removal business seven years ago, Ronhaar didn’t provide this level of due diligence. Instead, he describes himself as a "plow-and-go-home"contractor. "But all of this extra work keeps the customer happy," he says. "And it makes my job as owner a lot easier because I’m not spending all day putting out fires for incomplete service."

    The Winter Monitoring Program was an easy sell to clients, many of whom were enticed by the $2-per-day price.

    "We have a lot of Tim Hortons (a baked goods and coffee retail outlet) up here in Canada and they’re very popular," Ronhaar says. "On an average day 120 cars an hour will pass through the drive-thru. In the winter that high amount of traffic means a higher amount of liability."

    So Ronhaar approached the site manager with the idea of a service that monitors the Tim Hortons every 12 hours and addresses any snow and ice problems.

    "I asked him if he thought the service was worth $2 a day," he says. "He told me it was worth $25 a day." It would prove to be a familiar response among Ronhaar’s snow removal clients.

    By itself, the Winter Monitoring Program is not a profit center for Ronhaar. In fact, the program, on average, costs between $22,000 and $25,000 to operate over five months. And at roughly $300 a day ($2 per an average from 150 properties) the program just about pays for itself, he says.

    The reward for Ronhaar comes from increased client satisfaction and client retention. For example, the monitoring system has cut client complaints in half. Prior to implementing the system Ronhaar would receive as many as 40 calls from clients during a snow event. Now, a storm yields only 20 calls, he says.

    "Customers don’t call now when they see a problem on their property because they know it will be taken care of," he says "They know the monitor will catch it and that they don’t have to babysit their snow contactor. Not a lot of property owners can say that."

    Ronhaar only loses a handful of clients each year, and those are due to management changes and low-ball snow contractors.

    The Winter Monitoring Program not only strenthens client relations, it also improves employee retention. The program allows Ronhaar to give more of his guys guaranteed hours during the winter months. He assigns a driver to each shift and breaks that up into three-day blocks to include more workers. It’s proven vital to employees during no-snow periods.

    "If I can give one of my guys a 20-hour work week during a no-snow period in the winter then that’s a valuable employee I’m not going to lose," he says. "Like I said, it’s not a profit center for us, but it’s extra income for the drivers."


    Jeff Ronhaar operates best as a mid-size firm catering to apartment complexes and condo associations, restaurants, gas stations and small strip malls.

    "Ideally, we tend very few properties that require more than one crew on site," he says. Ronhaar’s annual growth for snow removal is between 10 to 15 percent, which is where he wants it. However, the temptation to throw growth into high gear is ever present, though not always the wisest decision.

    "I’ve seen a couple of guys go big and a couple of years later they go home," he says. It’s important to know when to say when.

    For example, a large shopping mall recently courted Ronhaar to submit a bid for snow removal work, a project larger in size and scope than any of his current clients. The business prospect was financially intriguing, Ronhaar admits, but he turned it down.

    "That’s not the kind of snow removal work our company does," he says. "I don’t own the large-size equipment, so I would have had to purchase a skid-steer or a loader and then learn how to correctly and efficiently do a job on that scale. There’s a lot of room for error."

    Often the costs outweigh the benefits. "If you add that much in sales too quickly your company will really grow but so will your headaches because you’ll spend so much time putting out fires," he says.

    "When that happens your name really takes a beating in the marketplace because clients begin saying ‘They used to do a really good job at snow removal until they took on those big projects.’"


    One of the seemingly obvious drawbacks to Ronhaar’s Winter Monitoring Program is providing such a consistent site monitoring service in the wake of escalating fuel costs.

    "Fuel hasn’t been the issue that it could have been because of the way all of our clients’ properties are located," he says

    Solid routing maximizes fuel efficiency, Ronhaar says. The 150 to 160 properties a site monitor will cover during his shift are spaced close together, he says, and no site is farther than 10 minutes from the last or next site.

    In addition, it costs on average about $50 to fuel the Ford Ranger used for site monitoring, he says, and a full tank will last about three days.

    In addition, he doesn’t offer the service to his residential customers, which comprises about 10 percent of his total client base.


    Ronhaar spends very little to market his snow removal services. He budgets about $1,000 for basic sales handouts about his snow removal services and he shies away from mass mailings and newspaper advertisements. Instead, the Winter Monitoring Program plays a major role in getting the word out about his snow removal services.

    "We plaster our truck with all of our company information," he says. "And that truck is on clients’ sites twice a day, every 12 hours. It’s great advertising for the company."

    In the advent of the Winter Monitoring Program, world-of-mouth referalls increased snow removal business by about 10 percent, Ronhaar says. While he can not directly attribute that increase to the monitoring program, he is confident it was contributing factor.

    Near the end of the winter season, Ronhaar, who handles the bulk of the company’s snow removal sales, makes cold-call visits to prospects adjacent to existing clients and expresses his desire to sign them to a contract next season. His philosophy is that everyday for the past five months, the prospect has been exposed to his company and by now is curious about his service.

    "If you’re a property owner and every day at 3 p.m. you see our truck on site across the street you begin to wonder after a while who we are," he says. "As a property owner you start to wonder to yourself, ‘Why isn’t my snow contractor here everyday like that guy?’"

    Profit Sharing

    Jeff Ronhaar recognized early on as a snow removal contractor that miserable bosses repel quality workers. To achieve success, he’d have to create a work climate that attracted and retained only the best employees.

    "The best way to keep guys with your business is to develop a team spirit," says the president of Jeff’s Lawn Care in Caledonia, Ontario. To achieve this Ronhaar developed a "rise together, fall together" management philosophy.

    "To grow and increase profits my employees would need to have a sense of ownership in the business," he says.

    As a result, Ronhaar developed a profit sharing program for six members of his management team and a competitive bonus program for his laborers. As part of the profit sharing program, each manager receives 1 percent of the total profits every six months, roughly at the conclusion of the lawn and snow seasons.

    As a result, Ronhaar says it’s like having six owners watching over the business. "It has really saved me from having to watch every aspect of the business," he says. "These guys are really watching what’s going on in the field and in the shop because if things aren’t being executed efficiently than it’s cutting into their profits."

    For example, this attitude has resulted in a decrease in equipment repairs. Since Ronhaar implemented the profit sharing program, equipment repairs have declined from $26,000 to $14,000.

    "You have equipment repair costs decrease by $10,000 because you have six guys really watching how the equipment is being treated," he says. At this time, everyone on Ronhaar’s management team has been with him for at least five years, however, there is opportunity built into the program for workers to climb into that circle.

    "If you get in and work hard you can climb the ranks from labor into management," he says. And as part of the bonus program for laborers, Ronhaar evaluates how successful the company has been during the snow season and issues bonuses accordingly.
    For example, he may issue his laborers a 40-hour bonus at the end of a profitable season. As a result of these programs, Ronhaar says his employee turn over is very low.


    Ronhaar was eager to introduce the winter monitoring concept to his insurance provider. He hoped it would impact his rates. Ronhaar’s snow removal operation is insured through a company affiliated with Landscape Ontario. He pays about $9,500 annually for liability insurance.

    "The response we got from our insurance company and the broker handling the account was very positive," he says. "Unfortunately, because we are already receiving Landscape Ontario member rates, as well as a no-claims discount, they were not able to further discount our policy directly due to the monitoring program. But they are keeping it on file. I figure every good thing you can tell your insurance company the better."

    However, Ronhaar has noticed a direct impact on the number of slip-and-fall claim since instituting the Winter Monitoring Program.

    "Three years ago, we had three cases against us," he says. "I haven’t had a slip-and-fall claim since I’ve been doing the program."


    There is always room for improvement, Ronhaar says, and he’s still working some of the kinks out of his Winter Monitoring Program before he is completely satisfied.

    When asked about the prospects of increasing the site monitoring service to three times per day, Ronhaar says the concept is compelling, but he’d have to run the numbers to ensure the client and his snow removal operations both benefited from the increased service.

    "That would mean having a struck and crew member on the road 15 to 17 hours a day, almost like a full-time facility service," he says. "I’ll have to get a better feel if this is something the client would want in their service."

    However, Ronhaar has a passion for snow removal and he says his Winter Monitoring Program has helped him better manage his snow removal operations and become a better business owner.

    "The monitoring system takes some of the unpredictability away and makes the winter service we provide a more normal routine for out customers as well as our staff," he says. "And that takes away some of the stress involved with managing winter events. Not all of the stress, but some."

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    Last edited: Mar 13, 2008
  2. Bowtytek

    Bowtytek Member
    from Maine
    Messages: 46

    This company may have just raised the bar in the snow removal business. I do residentals and once in a while will do a drive by, but to have it set up on every 12 hours everyday is something I have never thought of. I know it wouldn't be as important for residentals as the likes of Walmart and stripmalls, but its a good idea. And how he treats employees and and runs that side of the business makes this a win-win-win for the company. Thanks for sharing Grandview that there is a way to think out of the "truck" in snow removal. Maybe I will try to talk my summer boss into some of these ideas before he grows too much more and makes it harder to implement. I have no complaints for my boss or his company and we have a great working relationship, but I know he wants to add more employees and customers (don't we all) and wonders how to do quality control then. Right now it is only him and I and probably one other guy starting this summer. We all know that more cooks ruins the stew and I for one would hate to see a ruined stew, and I know he doesn't either as it is his stew.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2008
  3. AbsoluteH&L

    AbsoluteH&L Senior Member
    Messages: 573

    Holy crap! I think you just set a record for the longest post. :dizzy: It was a good read though. Sounds like this guy really has his stuff together. I'm surprised he would publicly trash others though. How does he know exactly how they run there books.
  4. grandview

    grandview PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 14,609

    I was just going to post the link but.....
  5. JD Dave

    JD Dave PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 11,194

    Good post, we do site monitoring 7 days a week, no matter what, for the last years but only in the morning and as needed in the after noon. I work for so much beer, that they actually use a semi to deliver it to me. :D If the guy was smart, he would have just subcontracted the farmers to plow the shopping mall for him, why work against them, when you can use them to your advantage.
  6. grandview

    grandview PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 14,609

    JD I have a 6 pack will you finish off the season for me?:drinkup:
  7. JD Dave

    JD Dave PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 11,194

    If it's American beer, make it a 12.:D
  8. BigLou80

    BigLou80 Senior Member
    Messages: 558

    wait! are you admitting to be an un insured guy who is out there undercutting the legitimate people ?
  9. iceyman

    iceyman 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,925

    u must not know JD.....he only works for beer and smokes:drinkup::waving:lol
  10. JD Dave

    JD Dave PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 11,194

    Yes, they call me Lowballer Dave around here, I'll do anything for a pack of smokes and a case of beer. Watchout the farmers are coming to steal all your contracts!!!!!!!!!!!!:D Wait, you have to have special insurance to plow snow?
  11. BigLou80

    BigLou80 Senior Member
    Messages: 558

    WOW good thing you are not around here I report guys like that to the IRS and other agencies. I am still hoping that you are just kidding with all of this
  12. iceyman

    iceyman 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,925

    u better be carful cuz we report retards like you to GRANDVIEW.......then who knows what happens
  13. toby4492

    toby4492 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,513

    OH NO.............................NOT THAT :eek:
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2008
  14. grandview

    grandview PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 14,609

    My boys are here to back up Those Farmers!

    <object width="425" height="355"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/LFZbKM5nQ3I&hl=en"></param><param name="wmode" value="transparent"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/LFZbKM5nQ3I&hl=en" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="transparent" width="425" height="355"></embed></object>
  15. cet

    cet PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 7,257

    I got ripped off. Jd wanted 36 beer the night he helped me, or 48 American beer. Now I'm pissed off, I didn't think an internet friend would take advantage of me.:gunsfiring:
  16. iceyman

    iceyman 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,925

    you got screwed:nod:
  17. cet

    cet PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 7,257

    And he is sleeping like a baby right now!!!!!!!!!!!
  18. xtreem3d

    xtreem3d PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,548

    uhhmmmm....150-160 properties, 9 trucks and 3 skids????????
  19. iceyman

    iceyman 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,925

    dont worryy.... he wesport
  20. xtreem3d

    xtreem3d PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,548

    and the article implies one of them is a walmart!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!