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Specializing in Sidewalks?

Discussion in 'Commercial Snow Removal' started by big acres, Sep 18, 2009.

  1. big acres

    big acres Senior Member
    Messages: 653

    this is just a thought. one thing I and others always b*tch about is the lack of reliable sidewalk/shovel labor. Yes, the work ain't fun, but I see a nich market for someone and other than the work kind of sucking, I wonder why there out more people starting out this way.

    Most companies here are billing out $35-50 per hour for a shoveler... who is paid $20 an hour tops. The overhead? a shovel, plus wage, and worker's comp unless your using rent-a-bums. Ok, here me out because I know that you personally do not want to operate a shovel.

    Let's say you invest in a good, gently used out-front mower with quick-attach options for a blower/blade/brush... Maybe even an enclosed cab. We just bought one for $4k. You hire a few laborers, buy a trailer and snowblower or two, and start calling bigger snow contractors. Go after commercial. I know that if we had a rock-solid and reliable sidewalk sub, we would probably retain little margin as we could take on more plowing if the sidewalk issue was handled.

    This would allow you to kill two birds with a modest investment. I would guess that your truck is your daily driver, and it would only be towing a trailer. You'd be running your machine, making money off your laborers (and dealing with their headaches), and studying how the plowing is done and how long things take.

    again, just a thought, but why aren't contractors getting calls from English-speaking guys who will provide a crew with some actual equipment besides shovels?
  2. TCLA

    TCLA 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,707

    Good question.

    Typical white boy syndrome.........many see this as beneath them.

    Sidewalk workers are the real snow fighters.
  3. Peterbilt

    Peterbilt Senior Member
    from IA.
    Messages: 745

    My sidewalk sub only does sidewalks. He uses his truck, trailer, blowers and he supplies his own laborer. The 2 of them use my ATV and I supply the Icemelt.

    They have been with us for a year now, and I have no complaints what-so-ever. They will clear in front of garage doors, they clear the cub lines between the side walks and the lot. They will plow the hard to do lots for me, (tight or lots of cars)

  4. RLM

    RLM PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,270

    I wish could find some subs as you said. It makes sence to me. An ideal set up would be a cube van (think super lawn trucks), where the guys have all there stuff enclosed, ATV, blowers etc. Sidewalk shovelers/ crew are the single biggest obstical to growth/headach for me. I treat them well & pay well, don't push them to rush, pay 4 hour minimums, generally pay at the end of day even (would rather pay every week or two). The commercial guys have a cargo van (mine) with blower, spreader, shovels tell them leave running so its warm between sites. The guys doing HOA work, shovel (3' x15' walks avearge), just alot of them, we bring in blowers if theres a heavy snow though. Most guys from my exp. would rather sit home on unenjoyment than work shoveling. I would be in heaven if I could find 1 or 2 subs with a setup like I mentioned above, if I was sure I could find the crew persons I'll buy the setups. Yanmar is making a beutiful little tractor with cab, heater, blower & blade. We picked up some schools it would be perfect fit, I know I will have a had time finding someone to run, we'll end up plowing the walks (7' wide) with trucks.
  5. Brian Young

    Brian Young PlowSite Veteran
    Messages: 3,394

    I think I am the king of hiring at good pay and finding nothing but bums that work for a few storms then go MIA never to hear from them again. In the past 3 years I bet I hired and fired well over 30 guys! Knowing what I know now, if I could go back and star over I would have bought a used plow truck and put a guy in it to plow small stuff and invested in quality sidewalk equipment and just did that! We were hammered with snow last year, (just over 150 inches) and some guys were making 4-6k a month! It all makes sense tho- sidewalk guys go out more, use a fraction of the fuel a truck uses, the equipment doesn't take the beating a truck does etc. and the pay is almost as good as a truck. Around here a guy on a atv can make $30.00/hr and the average 3/4 ton, even with a v blade makes $40-45/hr. This year I have 3 actual employee's who will be doing sidewalk so we'll see what the out come is in a couple months.
  6. Jay brown

    Jay brown PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,783

    just do what the roofing contractors do and go to your local Home Depot and have your pick of one of the guys waiting around for work.....
  7. snocrete

    snocrete Banned
    Messages: 2,862

    There is alot of truth to this, unfortunately......I feel i have 3 of the best shovelers/walk guys in my area. They are white/mid - late 20's/ & 2 of them are single with no kids while the other and probably the best of the 3 is married with 2 kids......these guys have been with me for almost 4 yrs. But last year I needed a couple more guys and I struggled the whole winter with hiring someone and after 1 or 2 times out they would quit or just flat out disappear. I am in the same boat right now. I am really struggling to find a couple guys I can really trust.

    What the OP posted, is basically how I got my start in snow removal. I was hired by a larger contractor in the area to use my bobcat, myself, & my 2 employees at the time to take care of all of his sidewalk stuff & a couple small parking lots along with the couple small jobs I had of my own. I try to tell the guys that work for me that we wouldn't have what we have if it wasn't for the sidewalk stuff.
  8. Peterbilt

    Peterbilt Senior Member
    from IA.
    Messages: 745

    My guy, Owns his own lawncare business. He doesn't want to put a plow on his truck, doesn't have much going on in the winter.

    He looks at it as advertising. He pulls into one of my lots, thats either been plowed or we are there doing it. He unloads does the walks and leaves. What a customer or even a passer by sees, is his truck, with his name on it, lots of tools to clear a walk correctly no matter what the situation, a completely cleared side walk, and 2 guys that aren't screwing around. They are there to get it done.

    Because of his work ethic and the visibility of my accounts, he doubled his lawncare accounts this past year.

    I also pay them well, and every 2 weeks no matter what. Because of this, I can trust them to do the job that I need them to do, with out complaints, trouble, or retrobution. These guys also have the ability to call back our plows for any reason. I guess you could say they are my quality control guys. It doens't happen all that often, but it has and my plow operators don't mind one bit.

    Even though my sidewalk guys drive a truck with a different name on it, they are an extremely valuable part of my snow and Ice management team.

  9. Grisi24

    Grisi24 Senior Member
    Messages: 166

    Years past I always had someone riding with me doing all the shoveling and I'll tell you they work twice as hard as me. With only one truck I cant have them go off on there own to go ahead of me until this year. Now I someone with there own small pickup with I am going to send him off with my 38 inch snow blower and shovel ahead at every one of my accounts in the am until the route is over then he will ride with me.
  10. Landgreen

    Landgreen Member
    Messages: 92

    I've found sidewalk work to be very profitable. Not many contractors offer it and it is very tough work. My two man crew is responsible for just one site. With very little overhead it is good revenue but like has been mentioned before I went through many shovelers. Some would stick around a month or two while some don't even show up. I have gotten used to the no shows and always keep backup labor and backup labor to that backup labor. I've worked on the crew myself and know for a fact it was some of toughest work I have ever done. Some days are cake when its only 1" of fluff. The heavy wet storms with 12"-16" accumulations are hard on the guys but at least all they need is some rest rather than a plow truck that might need a rebuilt trans. In the past I would shy away from sidewalk work but now I look for it knowing that there is $ to be made.
  11. nwinbranson

    nwinbranson Junior Member
    Messages: 4

    It's very hard to find good sidewalk people.I've found 2 good ones 20.00 hour.Oh well they get the job done with no complaints.
  12. big acres

    big acres Senior Member
    Messages: 653

    And there you have it... I guess most people you would consider "shovel material" don't have the brains to figure out that they are a vital and will be usually treated extremly well if they prove one thing... dependability. As Jay Brown said, white boy syndrome... half our landscape applicants all want to start as foreman with no experience. Of the dependable ones, few see the opportunity to start a low-cost biz is right under their eyes.

    Sounds like you got someone who's figured it out... the heavy mechanics and costs of maintaining a plow truck don't mesh with your lawn guys biz plan -a perfect fit. You can probably both share leads too.

    Back in the early 90's, I did walks for $15 hr (a good rate back then). I was told it would be $20 if I used my blower (gas was also $1.50 then).... bought another single-stage new for $300 and hired a friend for $14 per hour and could see my pyramid forming. laborer paid for the blower and gas before the end of first season. I Had a K-5 Blazer with hitch slip-in cargo rack for the two blowers, eventually adding a trailer and another two-stage. I enjoyed being out in the storms when no one was on the road, and made some decent supplemental income.
  13. hunting white

    hunting white Junior Member
    Messages: 16

    Big Acres

    Two Reasons.

    1. If you are subbing. Your one truck produces 60 an hour for a 4-6 hour route. or 240-360
    If you are doing walks you need to have 2-3 guys with some sort of transportation, and basic equipment and you will make 40-50 an hour. for ass freezing work. So less money.

    2. I am in your town. I can find 100's of Guy willing to run a shovel at 14-20 an hour. A few years back we stopped using subs for walks as it was easier to do in house. I can hire a route supervisor with a truck or SUV or Car and pay him 20-25 an hour and will have a quality leader for the season. Then I get a list of 200 guys willing to push a shovel for 13-15. and start calling the day before the storm. Often my 'Supervisors' Keep the same 2-3 guys all seasons and stay on the guys. I can provide equipment (shovels and spreaders and my 'Supervisors' Keep up with it or pay for it at the end of the season. On Bigger properties I have guys who do have either very light Skids, or the machines you talk about, They end up not making that much more an hour than my shovel crews, however they produce more......

    The issue most people have is quality of the work. If you have one leader watching one or two crews it solves a lot of the problem. If you rely on roofing/siding/ Temp agencies you will fail.

    As to equipment. Often times the piece of equipment you describe is useful, however only on larger sites. Often it is easier for me to lease, buy, supply that equipment and make a little more money on the site, than pay the sub.

    We also Have a Clown Car (15 Passenger Van) That we run in bigger storms (5- ????? inches) We will run 12 guys and tools. If we get behind we will send out this crew and very quickly get caught up on even our biggest sites.

    Bottom line is most subs start having issues dealing with more than 8-10 pieces of equipment (not all just most) Generally it is not the equipment that is the problem, it is the staff. If you naturally have year round guys such as dry wall/painters, and such where they are getting a little extra it could be good, T

    To take on the staffing nightmare for what you will get will not be worth it.

    However if you goal is to move to not subing, and doing it your self it is a great first step.I know TCOS, Reliable, both handle Walks in house. I hear True north is trying to bring it in house this year due to all the issue they had in town last year.....

    Why they are making money on it. If they can you should as well.
  14. big acres

    big acres Senior Member
    Messages: 653

    hunting white -from the perspective of an operation that does the plowing too, you make good sense. We typically use 40-60 guys for storms over 3"... yeah there are some staffing headaches, but we get it done.

    I was looking at it from the perspective of a newbie contemplating his first plow purchase (on another thread) when it dawned on me "why isn't anyone breaking into the industry this way?"... since he did after all plan to start a lawn biz too and a multi use machine that wouldn't kill his only truck might be a good baby step.

    Even though we deal with the staffing issue alright, it would be good to have someone with their own machine to stick on a bigger commercial site or two, and keep our machines moving around and not under pressure.
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2009
  15. hunting white

    hunting white Junior Member
    Messages: 16

    I always tell potential subs with out plows to start on walks. That way you have a couple of hundreds into the new hobby rather than several Thousands.

    Plowing all night Often sounds VERY easy. Especially to a guy who does not think snow storms sometimes fall right on top of each other or last for 3-4 days when a low stalls.