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Question for the Snow Gods

Discussion in 'Introduce Yourself to the Community' started by Tommy Boy, Aug 7, 2006.

  1. Tommy Boy

    Tommy Boy Junior Member
    Messages: 5

    I live in the south (Atlanta) I have several large (very large) commercial landscaping accounts. The Property Manger wants to go to a one call for everything, now I’m in the snow business. I pushed snow as a kid in Virginia so I know a little, but not the business side. Here’s what I plan to do

    1. Equip all trucks (4) with plows
    2. Purchase 2 sanders
    3. Purchase (2) UTV’s with plows and mini sanders on the back for sidewalks.

    I think I can get away without hauling the snow off, just pile it in central spots through out the parking lots. The snow won’t last long here.

    I understand contracts are not used a lot, more based on snow fall and accumulation. I’m thinking of having a quote for average snow fall here 1-4 inches about 2 – 3 times a year.


    Do I need more or different equipment?
    Based on 3 inches, how much snow can a 350 push / pile in a parking lot? Average Guys, I know things very based on islands, traffic etc.
    Time is critical but keep in mind, most of the roads will not be cleared while I’m pushing in the lots.

    Is this practical for a 1 million + sf retail establishment. Keep in mind, they closed school and allow folks to miss work one year based on the prediction of snow. Everyone was off and no snow, big case of the southern dumb ass.

    Please feel free to rip my plan apart. I really need help on this end of business. How much per hour is billed for a truck. How much per hour for a sander / salt truck. Are sidewalks more time consuming? Thanks for you ideas and input.
  2. grandview

    grandview PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 14,609

    I'll start off with a few wise azz comments.
    You may have some experience with plowing but what of the others?
    How many seasons for the contract ,for one year your buying a lot.
    I might go heavier with the salting with snowplowing your correct down there they stay home at the thought of snow.
    For me at 2-3" i roll over in bed and get more sleep.:nod:
  3. grandview

    grandview PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 14,609

    Can you do Google earth of it?
  4. TTA89

    TTA89 Member
    Messages: 36

    Snow in Atlanta? Really?

    Shesh, I wonder if its worth it for 2-3 storms a year. Its probably cheaper for you to just sub contract out the snow stuff to someone else and just charge it back plus some to the lazy property manager. :)
  5. basher

    basher PlowSite Fanatic
    from 19707
    Messages: 8,993

    Until the Gods respond I'll throw out a few random thoughts

    You need to justify 30 to 40K on equipment for a single customer, Does the income potential allow you to make a profit on the required outlay?
    wouldn't you be better pricing this as a seasonal charge rather then by hour or by push, would guarantee income regardless of snowfall. you should be able to research the average snowfalls and base your cost on those numbers.
    In your clime I would think heavy salt would burn a lot of the snow up as it came down. do you have skid steers to add in to the snow removal fleet? Are there any snow removal contractors in your area? The problem with subing it out is whether you can deal with a no show contractor. What about plow dealers, do you have any equipment support or are you on your own? Can you lease heavy equipment if the need arose?

    I'd want a multi year contract, with guarantees. With the start up expenses, material requirements and labor you'd need to see maybe 100K over say 3 years just to make it profitable.

    Sidewalks take more time and have a greater liability potential, also would require hand shoveling in places. Much more labor intense.

    be interested in hearing more as your plan evolves.
  6. Mark Oomkes

    Mark Oomkes PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,256

    Some of the correct questions have already been asked. From what I understand, you are correct, seasonal contracts don't go well in the south. But, you need a way to cover your capital outlay and also for being ready for any snow you might get. If you can't get a seasonal contract, go for a retainer for several years.

    This gets into pricing as well. You need to determine your own hourly rate. Hourly rates vary greatly by region, from $25\hour to $200\hour for a truck with a plow. Based on that, nobody here unless they're plowing in Atlanta, can even give you a ballpark figure. Just remember, plowing and salting is an emergency service, price accordingly. Price accordingly for the extra wear and tear on your trucks from plowing--brakes, front ends, transmissions, frames, salt. In other words, your plowing rate should be way higher than your landscaping rate, assuming the market will bear that price. For salting, don't forget to add in materials plus markup.

    Production rates, do a search, there should be something on here. Industry average is a pickup with 8' plow can clear 1 acre per hour. I would guess that with the small amount of snow you receive, this would be a good starting point. I would also recommend estimating high because of your and your employees' lack of experience. If everything shuts down when you do receive snow, you may be able to handle large lots with only trucks because time will be on your side.

    Sidewalks are definitely more time consuming, it's similar to mowing (plowing) vs. trimming (sidewalks). Smaller equipment, smaller and tighter areas and sidewalks need to be cleared.

    I would have to think as well that with the warmer temps which will mean the ground temps are higher, you should be able to get rid of the first 2-3" with salt. But that is also dependent on the type of snow--wet, heavy vs light, fluffy.

  7. Mick

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

    I just researched the Atlanta area for snow. It shows that there is a 59-year history with an average of 2" per yr. It also shows that no one month averages even an inch of snow. Now, you need to make some assumptions. First, that there will be some years with more than 2" and some with less. You say some very large accounts, by which I assume you mean a large area that will need to be cleared. Then I assume that all accounts will need to be cleared before business hours.

    I think in your situation, I would not bother with plows at all. I would concentrate on two things - seasonal contracts (as a MUST to cover your expenses) and salt or ice melter to melt the snow (I easily melt 2" of snow with Magic Salt, which is your YEARLY average). Use the salt or melter as a pre-treatment. Then have one truck equiped with a front-mounted rotary brush or something with a front end loader as a backup/cleanup go around just before opening.

    Trying to price by the push or hourly will not work in your area. You will wind up putting out a lot of money upfront just to have it sit around unused and losing you money. If they insist on some "fee for service" method, remind them that they are paying for preparedness, otherwise they should find another snow contractor.
  8. Tommy Boy

    Tommy Boy Junior Member
    Messages: 5

    Thanks for your Input and Comments


    First of all, thank you for your interest and help on this question. I think I will go with the following:

    Equip (3) F-350 trucks with plows, (Suggestions on Plows Welcome) Needs to be something that will go on / off quickly.

    Place small tailgate sanders on them

    Equip (1) F-350 truck with plow a large bed sander.

    I have (2) Artic Cat Prowlers that we use for landscaping. I think I will purchase (2) of the Kubota’s RTV’s. I will equip them all with plows (Again I welcome your ideas) and smaller sanders for pushing / salting sidewalks and entry ways.

    This way I only need to purchase plows, sanders, and RTV’s keep overhead down and the RTV’s can be used on site for landscaping.

    I will go for a seasonal contract as an amendment to our landscaping contract. The location has 1.4 million SF of retail space with related parking. I will ask for a minimum price based on .12 per sf retail space with a sliding scale upward for unusual or severe winter weather. This way, I have some way to cover equipment purchases at a minimum. Labor rates are covered in the landscaping contract, no grass to mow, so strap on a plow Pedro!

    Thanks again for your help,

    Tommy Boy
  9. cet

    cet PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 7,257

    I do not know how many plow trucks you will require but 4 salters on trucks is way to many. I have 2 box salters chasing 14 plow trucks. Salting is quick and easy. Unless your supplier is miles away you should be fine with one salter or 2 at most.
  10. Midwest BuildIt Inc

    Midwest BuildIt Inc PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,280

    I also agree with the salters. You should be fine with one or two, unless all your trucks are going in different directions. But it sounds like your staying in one area.

    As far as plows go, stay with the same brand for all of them. Stocking parts for 4 diff kinds of plows can be costly. Same with the spreaders. I would suggest going with strait blades and maybe one V for cleaning up. I personally like BOSS plows but there are many choices out there. You could even go with a fleet of Blizzard plows, might be a little costly though. You will also have more parts to break with non experienced drivers. Let us know what trucks you have...
  11. Mick

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

    Tommy, bottom line is - do what you want to do. I don't mean that sarcastically, but is actually the last piece of advise I generally give. That said, I agree you are going way overboard on sanders and actually driving your overhead through the roof. Another suggestion is to rethink your pricing strategy. If I understand it right, pricing by the sf is the norm in the lawn care industry. With snow, take a broader view. Look over the whole job. How long do you estimate it will take to complete? A lot with islands and grocery carts everywhere will take longer than a large open parking lot. Does snow need to be stacked in a particular area? Are there stores that have areas between them to clear? What other obstacles or areas of concern? Will you need to make return visits for cleanup?

    For straight, open areas, figure one hour to plow one acre ( approx 43,000 sf). Make adjustments for any factors increasing this. Apply your hourly rate that you have figured out.

    The problem with sf pricing is that you get the same amount for any same-sized area, regardless of how long it takes.
  12. Big Dog D

    Big Dog D PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,134

    I'm going to through something in that is way off from everything else. Instead of buying plow setups to go on all of those trucks that will get used ever so little why dont you go look for some used snow pushers and use them on pieces of equipment such as bobcats, 4wd backhoes or even mid sized loaders. I would assume that there is a wealth of them available for hire in the area. Make arrangements with these people to come and use your boxes and it will help to keep your overhead down and may actually help your profit to be greater!

    The reality is that the plows that you buy will most likely long outlast the trucks and may not be transferable to newer models. The pushers will last forever and are easily interchangeable from unit to unit.
  13. Tommy Boy

    Tommy Boy Junior Member
    Messages: 5

    Need more data on your Idea

    Big Dog

    Interested in the equipment side based on your post, can you add a couple of pictures showing the set-up for a bobcat / loaders with pushers. Will give me a reason to go buy something that I’ve wanted and can use for many other jobs. I’m reluctant to outsource or “rent” equipment, I cannot have someone not show, the stuff has to be pushed, salted or whatever, the client will not real understanding if a sub fails to show. Also, most of the equipment rental here gets sucked up once snow is forecasted. I don’t want to get into the race for the Bobcat at Sunbelt. Thanks for the advice.
  14. Mark Oomkes

    Mark Oomkes PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,256

  15. Big Dog D

    Big Dog D PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,134

    Don't be afraid of the sub angle! Get the right guy(s) and treat him right and you will most likely make more$ thna if you go and try to do everything yourself.
  16. Tommy Boy

    Tommy Boy Junior Member
    Messages: 5

    Mark, great set up

    Mark, you have a great set up on the RTV, what is the liquid de-icing material on the back? I was thinking of a spreader and magic salt. The pusher is also a great idea.

  17. Mark Oomkes

    Mark Oomkes PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,256

    Tommy, it is a 100 gallon sprayer with a 50' hose reel and 2 rain drop nozzles on a boom. We use either Caliber M1000 or NC3000. For the type of snow\ice I am guessing you receive--heavy, wet snow or ice storms--your best bet will be to stick with the Magic salt. Liquids do not work very well on ice or wet snow, they tend to dilute too quickly to be effective so the application has to be very heavy to work well.

    Not sure right off hand, but there are a couple spreader manufacturers that make spreaders specifically for UTV's like the RTV. If I remember who they are, I'll let you know.
  18. Tommy Boy

    Tommy Boy Junior Member
    Messages: 5

    Thanks Again

    Mark, I plan on using Magic Salt in a spreader. I'm going to buyit in 50 lb bags, keep enough on hand to get me through 2 good ice storms. I hear the stuff works well, we'll see. Thanks for everything. You and this site has made me stop and think a little more in depth. Great set up on the RTV, bet that thing can do a job on sidewalks. I'm lucky, I have big sidewalks around the entranceway to individule stores. With the plow and the magic salt and an enclosed cab, should be fun.
  19. Mark Oomkes

    Mark Oomkes PlowSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,256

    I'm sure if you get anything to use it on you will be very happy with the results of Magic salt, we've used it in the past and it does work awesome. We're now using Extreme Melt which is basically the same, just rock salt coated with Caliber M2000 (very similar to M1000) because it has less odor, but we were still very happy with it.
  20. MOPIG74

    MOPIG74 Junior Member
    Messages: 6

    I think that the Magic salt is awesome stuff too! But I got alot of complaints of residue being tracked in to the buildings so I quit useing it.