How does one balance quality with quantity?

Discussion in 'Commercial Snow Removal' started by Greenman2ooo, Oct 5, 2000.

  1. Greenman2ooo

    Greenman2ooo Banned
    Messages: 107

    I've seen it discussed in different ways before, but I'd like to rephrase the question.

    What would be a reasonable workload for a single 3/4 ton truck with a driver who has zero snow experience (myself). Keeping in mind, quality is important, balanced with the need to produce winter income. (We receive an average of 28 in. annually, but not lately. We may only get 3-5 plowable snows, so making hay when the sun shines is the name of the game.)

    How does one manage taking care of say 15-25 (mostly 25,000 sq ft or less, with one or two multi acre) small commercial accounts that all need to be serviced by, let's say 7 a.m. when the storm starts at midnight and the workload takes 20 hours minimum. Are there ways to balance a workload such as this that I'm overlooking?

    Or are my theoretical numbers skewed??? Any input would be appreciated. I'm sure there are as many approaches as their are individuals, but I'd love to hear how all of you approach your work.
  2. Lazer

    Lazer Senior Member
    Messages: 399

    I've found 85% of customer satifaction/complaints is TIMELY SERVICE.

    When it snows late, we're sloppy, but reliably there ON TIME.

    When it snows in the late afternoon/evening, we do meticulous work.
  3. OP

    Greenman2ooo Banned
    Messages: 107


    Thanks for the reply. In a "late snow" would you make a run through all accounts first to open up a main drive and a third of the parking spaces, then come back after you have done the same with the rest of your route to finish plowing and salting them all?

    Obviously, this wouldn't work at say WalMart where the spaces would be at more of a premium than a drug store that isn't quite as busy.

    I must agree, in the short time I have been in the lawn business, most of the time untimely snow removal has been a major reason I have won contracts, eventhough I didn't plow myself. Also, plow trucks doing damage to existing lawn and landscape seems high on the list.

    Also, you say "sloppy". Let me know what corners you would cut, because I may very well have to put this plan into effect.

  4. JCurtis

    JCurtis Banned
    Messages: 862

    I hate early morning storms (5:00 am) its too late to get everyone done properly. for a while i was hurrying around my routes, trying to get everyone done to get them to work(especially doctors, they are always first) and then going back after the storm and replowing them for free. did i learn fast ! now i put not only an ADDITIONAL VISIT DURING SAME STORM PERIOD clause, but I also give my clients two Plowing program choices in my contracts. Some people who don't need to get out of the house early opt for the 2nd Option, which means they get plowed when the storm stops( unless a blizzard is being forecast.

    IF i have to go back to the early opening customers (residential and small Businesses), I charge them half of the original plow charge on top of the original charge.

    this is especially important this year with rising fuel costs.

    You will have to balance it out in your mind and that of your customer. Whatever you do, be reliable or someone else will be doing your accounts.

  5. OP

    Greenman2ooo Banned
    Messages: 107



    Thanks for the insight. I was thinking of charging for replows, but not for the return visit after "opening up" a percentage of the lot. Your experience made me think.

    I would not have charged for the second visit at all, they would have gotten plowed for $100 if that was the price eventhough I made two trips. The way you do it, if I was to plow half the drive and come back and do it all once, I would get paid for exactly what work I did.

    I will state in writing that storm timing and conditions may make replowing necessary. Then there are no misunderstandings and I am able to make the decisions that dictate how to best serve my customers.
  6. Chuck Smith

    Chuck Smith 2000 Club Member
    from NJ
    Messages: 2,324

    More than One Visit

    Just curious JCurtis,

    When you plow an "early" one, what do you do after the town, county, or whomever plows the road, and leaves a 3' tall wall of snow across a driveway apron? It seems no matter where we plow, we finish many driveways and lots before the roads are opened full width. Personally, we go back and make sure all driveway and parking lot aprons are not blocked. We do not charge extra for it. A clear driveway does a customer no good if they can't get into it, or pull out of it. If a car gets stuck trying to go through it before we can get there, then they lose business. We keep on top of it. If we see the road plows doing a particular road, then we go open all the aprons we have on that road again.

    In fact, our residentail contract states:
    "Driveway Apron will be opened again after roads are plowed"

    I might be stupid for doing this free, but I have been doing it like this a long time (which I know doesn't make it "right"). I guess I am too meticulous. Nothing worse than getting home and finding messages saying "Can you come back? The road plow blocked my driveway".
    I'd rather do them before I go home to sleep.

    Nothing looks as shoddy as a clean driveway with a pile of snow across the entrance. Nothing is harder to move after it freezes than that same pile that has been driven over a few hundred times. Especially if it snows again before it melts.

    This level of service is what most customers want, and often gets us contracts. We have gotten more than one contract because the "guy that used to do it" charged extra for everything. Our initial price may be a little higher, but it has been working fine for the past 7 years.

    In fact, all our commercial accounts have a clause stating "Driveway will be kept open at all times during storms". Business owners need to know that customers can get in and out of their parking lot when it snows.

    Maybe the fact that all our accounts are concentrated in a small area makes it so easy for us to keep on top of them.

    I always remembered an old quote, don't remember who said it, but it sticks....
    "If a customer calls you, it's because there is a problem. Most customers don't call to say you did a good job."

    I also had a prospective customer tell me, "If you get these accounts (he had a bunch of properties) I never want to have to call you. If I have to call you, it's because there's a problem, and I don't like problems."
    Which to me translated into, give me something to complain about, and you'll lose all the accounts. No we didn't get them, but it was because our bids were too high.

    Like I always say, plow every account like it's YOUR driveway.

  7. JCurtis

    JCurtis Banned
    Messages: 862


    I too will touch up just the driveway apron for free after the city plows the road. When I spoke about replows or additional visits, I was specifically referring to those customers who expect or need to get out early during a storm (like doctors, nurses,emergency personnel, people who have to make early trains to NYC, etc.

    They can't seem to fathom 1-4 - 4-6 etc. inch payments. And i really don't want to stop to measure the snow. and the local paper measurements aren't reliable. My accounts want their driveway open so they can get to where they have to be. It is all based on storm timing. Obviously, if it starts snowing at 8pm I have plenty of time, verses a 5 am storm start.

    Besides, sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't happen. I would rather state the clause in the contract, and maybe charge the additional visit charge a couple of times to a few accounts than raise prices to cover everything and price my self out of business. There are way too many guys out there looking to make a fast buck
    (which I don't mind) as long as they aren't stealing my accounts.

    Besides, we all gotta charge the way we feel is best for us individually. I am not saying I am right, but it works for me. The main point here is to plow snow, keep your customer happy, and make a decent profit.

  8. JCurtis

    JCurtis Banned
    Messages: 862

    Hey Chuck,

    You actually plow your own driveway LOL

    I pay someone to do mine, I am too busy ... just kidding.
    I can't remeber too many storm here recently that caused the city to leave a 3 foot windrow at the end of my accounts driveways.

    Obviously, if the storm is that bad we are out.

    As i said in the previous post, I was specifically referring to those accounts that MUST get out early.

    I try to keep my contracts simple (less typing) would be interested in seeing the wording of yours if you care to share.

    Email me, I am always looking for a better way of doing things, just because my intials are JC , it don't mean I am perfect.
  9. GeoffD

    GeoffD Veteran
    Messages: 2,266

    More to maine. You can leave 6" of snow on a residential drive for 12 hours. Roads have 3+ inches of snow on them at all times during a storm.

    6" for 12 hours isn't the best thing, but it happens.

  10. Chuck Smith

    Chuck Smith 2000 Club Member
    from NJ
    Messages: 2,324


    It's not so much residential driveways that end up with the 3' windrow. It's more the commercial accounts. They are on main roads. It all depends on which way the pack of tandem dumps run first.
    The road is 2 lanes in each direction, with about 1/2 lane extra going each way. When the first tandem makes it's run, it pretty much straddles the center line, angling the blade towards the curb. The tandem behind him overlaps his path doing the same. The tandem behind that one does the same as well. Then finally, there's one more, that grinds his plow up against the curb, pushing it all up onto the curb. The opposite side of the street, the curbline pile is shorter, because it's only a lane and a half of snow.

    Another road we have accounts on is 2 lanes each way, with room for cars to park curbside on each side too. When they plow that with the tandems the same way, one side has a much taller pile than the other. Behind the tandems, is a "chase" truck, a county vehicle, that opens up the side streets. This works well. Then the town comes out of the side streets with a mound in front of their blades, and lift them slowly to not leave a pile. When the tandems come by again, they pick up the extra snow, and it goes onto the curb. It sucks having accounts close to corners.

    I understand what you mean about plowing and getting paid for each visit. Personally, all of my accounts so far have been on "increments". I use more than most....
    I bill 1-8"

    I can make the price for 1 - 8" a little steep, because the customer feels "covered". We don't get many snows over 8". We do get more than 4" often though.
    I know on an 8" snowfall I'll do each account at least twice. I keep that in mind when setting a price for an account.

    A typical residential would be:
    1 - 8" = $40.00
    9 - 13" = $60.00
    14 - 20" = $90.00

    I hope I didn't just break a "sacred pact" by disclosing pricing info here, LOL. All over this forum no one wants to talk pricing, or they are very vague. Now commercial pricing I don't discuss ;)

  11. Chuck Smith

    Chuck Smith 2000 Club Member
    from NJ
    Messages: 2,324


    That's aggrivating, snow on the roads. It seems recently, the tandems take forever to start plowing. From what I understand, it's due to the county cutting back on the budget. They wait until the last minute to call them in. We finish plowing, then have to wait for the roads to be cleared, so we can open up driveways.

    That's another thing I noticed in recent years too. The county trucks only salt. All the plowing is done by contractors. So at the begining of a snowfall, they salt as long as they can, before calling in the contractors. Then after the roads are clear, they salt again. I guess they save A LOT on overtime. I've heard the "tandem boys" complaining about getting called in at the last minute. They stop for coffee at a diner we plow.
    I have some pictures of them lined up in the parking lot that Bryan (snow) would die for, LOL.

    They made the mistake of waiting to call them in during the blizzard of 96. That was tough for us getting around. The roads were passable, but only because of snow plowers like myself traveling from account to account. Everywhere we went we were plowing snow with the blade up all the way. It was that deep. They had a heck of a time clearing the roads after it was over. The side streets were even worse. I talked to a few friends during that storm, who couldn't even get to some of their accounts because the roads were so bad.

    I guess you're used to it being that way up there Geoff!

  12. GeoffD

    GeoffD Veteran
    Messages: 2,266

    Yea 3 or 4" before they plow is about the norm ( the interstates and major routes are around 1 or 2). The get called in earlier than that, because they sand with their blades on, after about 1 to 1.5" of accumulation. Just keep it in 4 Hi and your foot on the floor. My Private roads are most of the time better shape than public ones.

  13. JCurtis

    JCurtis Banned
    Messages: 862


    Thanks, Ididn't mean to put you in a spot. I wasn't asking for pricing just your contract language. I would be interested in seeing how you word your residential and commercial contracts (WITHOUT PRICING OF COURSE) Maybe some wording in your contract will make better sense than mine.

    Just wanna compare words not prices.

    Email me

    I will give you my snail mail address there, if you can't send the contracts through email.

    By the way, I am looking for a 1974 - 1988 K30 Chevy Dually
    Has to be in good shape and well optioned. Wanna build my self a Mobile office w/plow and I like that year range of Chevy. Thats all I drive. Any Help will be appreciated.