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New opertator looking for information

Discussion in 'Commercial Snow Removal' started by kojak, Mar 27, 2003.

  1. kojak

    kojak Member
    Messages: 32

    I hope I don't offend anyone, but I've never used one of these forums before.

    I'm a heavy equipment operator, and usually spend my summer's building roads, and my winter's either building oilfield leases or cut lines. but the last few winters have been bad, leaving me on poggy.

    I'm looking to keep busy, and I noticed that the only people doing snow clearing are kids with shovels.

    I live in a small town in northern Alberta, Canada.

    After looking at some of the other advice for people looking to break in, I still have some questions.

    - How to market to a virgin area (pop 2700 in town + 2200 in county)
    - How to figure prices.
    - Is this feasible if I'm working full time when I should be trying to sign contracts.

    Any useful advice is welcome.

  2. Jerre Heyer

    Jerre Heyer Senior Member
    Messages: 948

    Welcome to plowsite


    Welcome. Hope you find lots of help here.

    If you don't have many plow operators there you are in position to market without alot of competition.

    Sell service and be sure to remember to figure time required to clean in light and heavy snows.

    Contracts can take as little as a few minutes and as long as years to put together. Take it one at a time while you have time off or in the evenings and weekends.

    Be sure to decide when you need to take time off to plow snow and have it available or hire operators to do it for you.

    Pricing is tough in a new market. Try to find out what it will bear in your area and be sure it will cover your equipment, operations and still leave you with a profit.

    Lots of help here online. You may want to check into the Sima.org site and get a copy of John Allin's book Managing Snow and Ice. There is a complete guide to snow and ice removal between the covers. It's a good read.

    Hope this was of some help.
  3. kojak

    kojak Member
    Messages: 32

    Thanks for you're advice, my main problem is that when I'm working, I'm away from home, 12 to 18 hour days, 7 days a week. My wife is willing to help, but her understanding of what is needed is limited.

    A couple more questions as my marketing knowledge is next to nothing.

    - are newspaper adds effective? (we have a weekly paper with 90% adult redership)
    - inserts in a newspaper?
    - mailouts (everyone hates junkmail)

    Thanks, Kojak
  4. Mick

    Mick PlowSite.com Veteran
    from Maine
    Messages: 5,546

    You're away from home 12-18 hrs/day, 7 days/wk? You're kidding, right? Kojak, I just don't see how you are possibly going to be available when people need you. Maybe you could get some work on one-shot deals, but as far as setting up a route...

    As far as advertising, local shopper type newspapers seem to work best. Forget inserts and mailings, not worth the money at this point.

    I made a posting on starting a plowing business a few days ago with a few pointers. I forget which forum it was in, but two main points was to consider if you have the time to devote to plowing and can you be available when needed.
  5. kojak

    kojak Member
    Messages: 32

    I spend the summer on road construction, which finishes up when snow starts to fly, and by then it will be a bit late to get customers. I do get days off with bad weather, and between jobs, but they can be few and far between, I've had periods where I worked for over 60 days straight.

    Would ending in mid September make sense?
  6. kojak

    kojak Member
    Messages: 32

    Is there a way to search for this, a posting made by a particular member?
  7. Chuck Smith

    Chuck Smith 2000 Club Member
    from NJ
    Messages: 2,317

  8. kojak

    kojak Member
    Messages: 32

    Thanks for the information, it'll take me awhile to figure my way around on this machine.

    I noticed that most of what i've been thinking about is the business side, but run on the assumption that as a cat skinner, running a plow will be no problem. I'm sure it wont be quite that easy.

    I've got a question that is more for the Canadian's out there. I've read quite a bit about wear and damage on equipment here, but how do our harsher winters -30 to -50 degree weather affect things? Will poly blades hold up to stiking a stump at minus 50?


  9. digger242j

    digger242j Senior Member
    Messages: 672

    To share some of the wisdom of an eighty-something year old friend of mine who has done more work in construction and mining than most of us will ever do: "Never put a dozer operator in a plow truck--they forget what they're driving." :)

    On your original topic, why do you suppose nobody else is doing it? Is it because the population is so accustomed to having snow that they aren't willing to pay to have it moved? Or are you just the first guy in town to see the possibilities?

    Best of luck, and welcome to PlowSite. :drinkup:
  10. kojak

    kojak Member
    Messages: 32

    Every time I turn around there seems to be another obstacle to doing this. I had seen people plowing out east when I was a kid, and realized no one was doing much for snow removal out here. Since I got the idea the response I've got is very positive, but I have yet to go into money with people.

    The only snow removal being done out this way is one guy with a loader. He charges an arm and a leg, and does not work well for his customers (comes when he feels like it). I've already spoken with a few of his small to medium size customers (i'm targeting places that will not need carting or staking snow except with exceptional snowfalls) and a couple of them are quite ready to change, if I'm able to provide better service. I would also be able to do it quite a bit cheaper.

    Another problem that came up is our local snow bylaw, which states - No person shall operate a snow clearing device powered by an engine of any type in an area designated as a residential district between the hours of ten o'clock in the evening and seven o'clock of the next day. Now the town has told me that they don't care unless someone complains, but has anyone found a way around bylaws like this.

  11. JCurtis

    JCurtis Banned
    Messages: 862

    some times laws or ordinances that were written a long time ago can be ammended. you need to discuss this with a few of your town politicians.

    any law, ordinance or by-law can be ammended.

    Not knowing your specific situation, its hard to give absolute definitive advice.

    I'm sure that there is some old "blue" law here in my next of the woods that says you can't do certain things on certain days or after certain hours, but times do change things...

    Do you have a hospital in your town? do they plow snow during the restricted hours? How does an emergency vehicle like an ambulance get into it at 3:00 am if it hasn't been plowed?

  12. Mick

    Mick PlowSite.com Veteran
    from Maine
    Messages: 5,546

    I would concentrate on getting the ordinance changed since I imagine the guy with the loader will complain :rolleyes: .

    I've got a better picture of your situation so maybe this will work for you. Even if they won't change the ordinance, it's just something you will have to work around. Nobody could expect that you'll be clearing snow in the early hours as is common around here. If you can get 3 or 4 customers set up now, it stands to reason you'll be able to get some more by the time it snows next. If you've got a 4x4, all you need to get started is a plow. Even if you decide it won't work out after you try it next winter, you can still use the plow for yourself or sell it.

    I'm still kind of lost wondering what they do up there when it snows. How much snow do you typically get at a time? One guy plows the whole area (roads, driveways and parking lots) with a loader? If he's doing all that and can't start any residentials until 7:00, it's no wonder the service seems poor and that he shows up whenever he wants.
  13. kojak

    kojak Member
    Messages: 32

    The town takes care of roads, but when I approached them to find out about business licensing, and by-laws, they asked me to bid on some work for them. I'm also hoping to get some work clearing for emergency services (I used to be with the county fire department, time for those contacts to pay off).

    The one guy with the loader handles commercial accounts when he gets around to them, he's been known to leave a customer waiting for three days while taking two hour coffee breaks, but being the only game in town he can do what he wants.

    The reason I wanted to get around the by-law was to get out before there was other traffic on the road.

    I found a good deal in the local paper for a six month run on quarter page adds. I was thinking of running from September to February, but would it make sense to start earlier or later.
  14. Mick

    Mick PlowSite.com Veteran
    from Maine
    Messages: 5,546

    I'd start earlier. You want to have your route in place a month or so before snow starts (Sept?) so you can look the places over, put out markers for obstacles and figure out the most efficient route. Maybe July - Dec? Or even Jun - Nov. As a general rule, the accounts you get BEFORE the season will be better than the ones you get after the first snow.
  15. JCurtis

    JCurtis Banned
    Messages: 862

    Can you afford to go head to head with the other guy?

    He seems to have everything locked up in town .... NOT !!!!!! He is just the only game in Town, so people have no other choice.

    IF possible, start getting customers now, and either lease the proper equipment ( ie Loaders as you need them)

    John Allin has a saying that he uses alot....

    "If you think you can or you think you can't.... You're right !"

    Just go after the work, you will get some and you won't get some... but right now you don't have any. So anything you get is a positive step forward.

    Good Luck:drinkup:
  16. digger242j

    digger242j Senior Member
    Messages: 672

    The law sounds like it was written to keep someone from using a blower outside the neighbor's bedroom window at 3 a.m.

    I'd argue that a plow is a snow clearing device, but it's mounted on a truck. The plow is run by an electric motor, not an engine.

    Engine: 1. a. A machine that converts energy into mechanical motion. b. Such a machine distinguished from an electric, spring-driven, or hydraulic motor by its consumption of fuel.

    (That's from the dictionary.)

    In other words, the truck, which has an engine, is not in and of itself, a snow clearing device. The plow is, but it has an electric motor, and that's permissible....

    Just tell the judge that's how *I* see it and if he doesn't agree he can come here to PlowSite and we'll duke it out. (Maybe they'll let you off with a just a stiff fine for the first offense....) :D
  17. kojak

    kojak Member
    Messages: 32

    thanks digger, I'd love to throw a judge your way, but it's hard for a bald man to split hairs.

    This by-law won't affect most of what I'm looking for which is commercial, but will mess with the residential. I was thinking originally of targeting residential for about 70% of my work, but after doing some more research, it sounds like if I can keep myself busy enough with commercial work, that residential can be more trouble than it's worth.

    This might be a subject for a new thread since I wouldn't mind hearing about the type of problems with customers, collecting and so on between commercial, residential, government.
  18. Chuck Smith

    Chuck Smith 2000 Club Member
    from NJ
    Messages: 2,317

    Try doing a search here. Residentials have been discussed in detail a few times this winter alone. Not to mention it comes up every year. The general concensus is you either love them, or hate them. There is also a bunch on here that can't wait to drop the few residentials they have.

  19. kojak

    kojak Member
    Messages: 32

    Thanks, after reading through things, I may avoid residential accounts like the plague, lots of cheap people out here.

    Has anyone had problems collecting from Canadian or Alberta Government contracts? A buddy just told me a nightmare story of collecting for a repave job at the post-office.