I would stay with lots that are not necessarily small, but will not need to be serviced on a constant basis throughout the day. You might want to try and pickup lots that are not open to the general public. I would also say start small. One or two medium size lots is probably plenty. You might also want to sub contract yourself out for the first year(s) if your just starting out, it will give you a good idea as to what you can and can't handle and let you see whats involved with plowing commercialy. Remember your going to want (need) commercial insurance and sometimes that isn't cheap depending on your age and area. Just some stuff to keep in mind.
The only advice I can give is...just be careful,
not to take on more than you can can service.
Make sure you will be able to handle the times of service needed.
condo's, or someone's office-- early am
restuarant's, bars---late am, early pm
FordMan: I'm guessing you're talking about next season since it's a little late to be getting new customers now. It not the number of contracts to be considered, it's the number of hours the route will take. As well, as others mentioned the opening times of the businesses will be important too.
Assuming you're plowing some accounts this winter, you can use their size/degree of difficulty as a benchmark to compare quoted lots for next season.
The most important thing I would say is to err on the side of caution. I.E. don't take on more than you can chew. Personally, I think the the cardinal rule of commercial plowing is "don't overbook".
I get new accounts almost everyday. I do 45 residentials, and get the accounts the guys with 60 driveways can't keep up with. Stay small, do a good job, charge a little extra. I had 12 accounts 2 weeks ago. Ride with someone experienced if you're just getting going, theres a bunch of little tricks to learn. I do it part-time, but work for myself (flexibility issue) too.
I learned the first night, at the first lot I plowed, the answer to your question is *none* as soon as something breaks (and believe me there are lots of somethings that can). That first night I had a plow I'd owned for a couple years and finally adapted to my truck. 10 minutes into my plowing career I hit something and tripped the blade for the first time. Imagine my surprise when my plow markers came back into veiw, just kind of bobbing up and down and back and forth. The hinge pins were just totally rusted and frozen and instead of the blade tripping, they just snapped. The whole blade was hanging by the springs. Fortunately I was subbing for someone who had a couple of more trucks on the road, so the work got done, and he was pretty understanding anyway. It taught me a lesson about being a solo operation though...
I agree with the idea of maybe getting some experience under your belt.
This is my first year 'solo' and I am a sub for another contractor. I've learned very quickly the difference between plowing runways and condo complexes, even though I had some previous experience with commercial work before.
Not that you can't figure it out your first year, but the chances of getting over your head are much greater without that experience under your belt. Sometimes the basics are not so basic when its 3 in the morning and 3 inches of snow have fallen in what seems 3 minutes!
IMO, there are too many variables to say that a truck can handle xxx amount of parking lots or driveways, Our company runs 5 Trucks and a loader with a 12' pusher on it and we only have 19 customers total, but they are all very demanding accounts and some are very large, I have friends that have two trucks and plow over 75 customers but they are done before me so it all goes with how much the customers expect and what you feel that you can handle and that only comes with time and expericence. Just my two cents
We have 3 trucks and and 12 commercial accounts. I think 4 commercial accounts per truck is a pretty good gauge. We do some residential after the commercials are done, but they are very low priority, and most are done for free.
With one truck, it is probably in your best interest to find a reputable contractor to sub for.
We as the contractor are ultimately responsible for the site, and if need be provide our plows or salt trucks to assist the sub. We also are going to support the sub because we have an interest in all our sites as they will provide us with a landscape maintenance contract the following season. If we screw up snow, we ultimately lose money.
You can also make some pretty good money and with our company we provide the bulk materials, bagged materials, etc.
So your money isn't tied up in materials you may or may not use.
If you work alone, costs are high, and reliability could be questionable if your truck went down.