Switching to blowing service

Discussion in 'Heavy Equipment' started by PTSolutions, Nov 25, 2010.

  1. PTSolutions

    PTSolutions PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,543

    Note: Please don't comment or make suggestions if you have not read this original post. I will explain our situation and goal as best I can. Too many times people post something that wasn't asked for or the option was not even on the table to begin with.

    Ok, well I have been researching this option for about 2 years now and would like to implement this in my area. I have read, searched and watched videos and ran some numbers to see if this service would be not only feasable but profitable as well. Looking at Neige, BlackIrish, Blowerman as examples I applied their business model to our operations and looked at the overlaps.

    Our current situation:

    -This year we are operating 4 of our own plow trucks, 1 sub and 1 ASV RC100 with 85"blower

    -We service approximately 200 residential customers, about 75% of which are located within a 1.5mile radius of our base of operations. ~110 of those customers have a 10hr. service window. (senior citizen program, discounted rate and longer service window)

    -We service a 62 unit HOA with driveways that avg. 1 car length by 2 car widths. This account will be done with the ASV with Blower and 1 of the trucks will do the roadway (6/10ths of a mile)

    -We service 4 other commercial lots the largest of which is approx. 1 acre. 2 of those lots are done regularly, the other is a church and activity center that need to be done only for certain days, unless they get 3" or more.

    -We strive for and achieve a 6hr route completion time (under normal circumstances)

    Opportunity for more clients:

    -there are approximately 1000-2000 senior citizens that participate in the program and about 6 contractors. We have taken over quite a few clients b/c of word of mouth. Oftentimes we have done a driveway twice during a heavier storm when the other contractors havent even gotten out once. During renewals in October we are often requested to take over service because we finish so much faster and do a more professional job than the other contractors. My plan is with a blower service I can take over the entire program through the inherent benefits, faster, no piles, cleaner edges etc...

    -The neighboring city also offers a senior program but is done only by maintence workers, after the municipal route is completed. There was an article in the paper about how this program is costing them too much money, as it is free. They have been exploring the option of letting private contractors take this over and I want to meet with the council members and offer them a similar set up to what our city has set up. They currently service 850 clients, but with a more structured program with better service I estimate an additional 300 clients to sign on to this program.

    What I need help with:

    -Deciding which equipment best suits my needs

    -The vast majority of our clients can be accessed via side roads that all connect with each other so there is minimal driving on main roads.

    -Tractors with inversed pto driven blowers

    -Toolcats with either pto or front mount hydraulic driven blowers

    18mph road speed
    17gpm standard or 27.5gpm hi flow aux hydraulics
    1500lb lift capacity FEL
    25hp pto rating
    1775lb lift capactiy 3pt
    5500-6000lb op weight
    used prices 4-600hrs: 27-35K

    60-75hp class (kubota m6040 & m7040)
    up to 25mph road speed?
    11gpm, no hi flow
    up to 4000lb lift capacity 3pt
    used prices 100-600hrs: 20-32K

    now, obviously the specs favor tractors for blower situations, but from those who have used toolcats, is there anything i missed? I mean, anything that would make me take a closer look at using them vs. blowers?

    specifically BlackIrish, what do you like about your toolcats?

    About 90% of these machines use will be residential driveways, but if we get more commercial accounts I may also utilize them there, but this isnt a deal breaker, if we get a large lot or lots, then that will dictate what equipment i need onsite.

    I really wont have a need for either in the off-season since our uses mainly require mtl or other skid steer and excavators.

    Sorry for such a long winded post, but i wanted to provide as much info as possible so that you guys may provide the most accurate points of view.
  2. blowerman

    blowerman PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,273

    As I'm pressed for time, the post today will be short.
    Glad to see some thinking outside the norm. While I do love the PXPL blower, the downside of this type of unit is the tractor. The New Holland Bi-directionals are good solid tractors, but they are not cheap, hard to find a fill in replacement unit during a snow, not many guys have a spare one sitting around, and expensive to maintain. Tires (radial non-directionals) are in the $1200+ range, (I replaced 2 this year) hydraulic fluid, oil and filter changes run over $1000 per year, and the loader while solid is not as beefy as a wheel loader. The blower on the other hand is unreal. Like you, I watched videos, googled, researched and in the end I had to buy the unit blindly as no one around seems to own them.
    As far as price, it was $18K with delivery, hoses & cutting edges. Does it live up to the reputation? Yep, and more. Sucks water off asphalt and then plows through 2 ft. of snow with ease.

    I do run skids and blowers with much love, I'll share more after the weekend.

    As far as inverted blowers, obviously Paul(neige) is the best one for this area. From everything I've read and watched, looks like one of the next big purchases for me next year. (other than dozers & trucks) I have a friend in Michigan that just added a tractor and inverted blower. (he's on here as Herm Witte) My understanding is that Paul gave him advice and help with blower selection (shoule brand) I can't wait to see how the blower is working out for Herm this year.

    I forgot who posted it, but you know the line: "faster with a blower"! How true....
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  3. bike5200

    bike5200 Senior Member
    from Ky
    Messages: 419

    I would go with tractors because I feel the service life will be longer and if taken care of will have a better trade in. Tractors are bigger and can be seen better. I think Neige got a severe winter kit for the cabs which keep all the glass clear. Back in, pull, blow and go seems to easy.
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  4. DaySpring Services

    DaySpring Services PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,064

    I also went the tractor route this year with much help from Neige. I will be using it for commercial lots which consist mainly of long drives. Next season I plan on going 100% residential. They both have their ups and downs, but I think I can make more money doing residential.I dont have to deal with salt which I hate. The amount of hp a tractor puts out at the pto will out work a skid/toolcat any day. I remember when I first looked into tractors I was shocked to find out a skidsteer is only putting out around 35hp to the blower. I am looking forward to see how the tractor works out!
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  5. BlackIrish

    BlackIrish Senior Member
    Messages: 909

    I think for what you're doing, resi's in the 'burbs with lots of space, tractor/inverted blower
    is the way to go.
    My toolcats replaced skidsteers, they are used in downtown core where tractors and p/u's would not fit, higher road speed compared to a 2 spd skiddy was very important for me.
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  6. leon

    leon Senior Member
    Messages: 872

    snow blower etc.

    Even investing in a used large high power row crop hydrostatic drive tractor will allow you to use the PXPL model easily as you will have plenty of rear glass and mirrors and a flat operators station.

    Using a wired Cab Cam system with several cameras will aid in the backing issue with some practice and the unit has a measurement grid for distance which can be programed in the screen view.

    Some row crop tractors have seating the swivels to allow easier operation as well.

    Regarding the above it is entirely possible to mount a PXPL on the front of a high horse power row crop tractor using a front mount kit P.T.O., for a 3 point hitch system which takes power from the engines flywheel delivered through a reverse gear box.

    There are number of front hitch builders that do this for many tractors here in the United States and several in Canada.

    Adding the Cab Cam for the front mount is a win win as you have room to mount a wireless camera on the corners of the blower frame and one on the front of the tractor hood if desired to aid in attaching the blower and parking without the blower.

    Lighting is key as you will want to keep the lights on while working to be sure of your actual location and to keep track of the blowers corners of the PXPL or other blower as well as adding bicycle flags to the ones already on the PXPL foir example.

    There is a member of plowsite that farms on Prince Edward Island and uses a rear mounted Pronovost snow blower to remove snow from residences there and the tractor he uses is a very tall John Deere Row Crop Tractor to do it every year backing in and blowing the snow out of the driveways.
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  7. WIPensFan

    WIPensFan PlowSite Veteran
    Messages: 3,975

    ProTouch, IMO for what it's worth, you are only seeing $$$. This venture you are wanting to undertake is very risky. I'm not saying your vision won't work, but keep in mind it might not. Things on the internet are not always as they seem.

    "Looking at Neige, BlackIrish, Blowerman as examples I applied their business model to our operations and looked at the overlaps." I find this impossible for you to have done accurately. There is no way for you to have looked at their business models without seeing into their costs, expenses, marketing, payroll records, insurance, snowfall averages for there areas over 10-15 years compared to your area...etc. Just some of the things I could think of quickly, I'm sure I left out a lot. One more thought is , if you can get these customers, so could someone else doing things the same way as you but charging less in 2 years. Then what? You lower your price to keep the work, and then all the problems that go along with that.

    I'm playing devil's advocate here, and giving you something to think about( you're probably calling me names right now). I hope you prove me wrong and in 5 years you're on here talking about how your operation trippled in size and WIPensFan is a dumb a$$ for not believing in you!:drinkup:
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  8. EdNewman

    EdNewman Senior Member
    Messages: 254

    I love it, someone thinking outside of the box. What you really need is a uni-mog with a blower or something similiar. It would get you 30+ mph road speed with an 8' blower path. Might be able to find something used or one of the other similiar machines used at airports and out west. Guess my question would be how to handle the walks and porches plus de-icing. Those would be critical items for seniors.
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  9. RAZOR

    RAZOR Senior Member
    Messages: 357

    I agree with WIPensFan to a degree. People see video of a tractor/blower in action and think it is some kind of miracle machine. In Montreal, Ottawa and my area they work great. I was thinking about my old route in Toronto and was better off with a plow truck. For a tractor/blower to be worthwhile you have to have get a large amount of snowfall (preferably dry snow) . There has to be a limited places to put the snow and route must be tight. IMO if your area does not have all of these a tractor/blower is not a wise choice. They are calling for 6-9 inches of snow over the next 24 hours here and my guess it will be wet snow, I'm not looking forward to trying to unclog the chute on my blower after every 2nd driveway that I clear but this is what happens to blowers when the snow is wet. The tractor/blower system is good but not perfect in all cases.
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  10. BlackIrish

    BlackIrish Senior Member
    Messages: 909

    There are pros and cons to everything.
    It's easier to stay within the norm.
    Years ago I had hundreds of resi's in my snowplowing footprint.
    I laughed at how slow tractor blowers seemed to be, sure enough year after year I lost my resi's
    to the tractor blower guys.
    During a near record accumulation year I was using backhoes and a payloader to push back the piles on lawns to make room for more snow, tractor blower guys would just blow vast amounts of snow onto the lawns with little effort.
    Up here tractors have become the norm, those that were smart enough to get on the bandwagon years ago have built large resi operations. Literally thousands of resi's per company. I'm playing catch up.
    First year using tractors I tripled in size.
    Route density is key.
    HadiCoop and AdvancedDiesel like this.
  11. MDSP

    MDSP Member
    Messages: 91

    I got out of the residental maket with trucks. However after seeing the good luck of others with blowers I'm thinking I might be missing something big. Might be time to jump on the bandwagon.

    It's nice to see the industry moving in a new direction thinking outside of the box!! I jumped on the Ebling 16' band wagon last year and bought 8 blades, 2 of them on 100+hp tractors.

    It's scary being one of the first to try anything new, however the payoff might just be worth it. There are leaders and followers. Leaders often fall before they rise. But they always get back up and try again. Good luck with what ever your new venture may bring you. Don't ever let anyone slow you down!
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  12. OP

    PTSolutions PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,543

    WiP - you are totally correct in pointing out the downfalls of this venture. "People buy emotionally and defend rationally" Many of your post seem "negative" upon first glance but really contain valuable information and I appreciate it. I have been running cost figures (i specialized in cost accounting) based upon my business figures with scenarios that i have seen and read from Neige, BlackIrish etc... I didnt mean that I used specific figures from their business model. I used them as a template for how to operate (physical operatons not financial) and applied it to our routes, costs, etc...

    Being first to market is a key and 90% of our work is gained b/c we do a better job than the other contractors around here. There isnt a large, experienced company going after residentials here, they all do commercial. residential contractors are small 1 or 2 truck operations and I feel that if we get into this market now, we gain the upper hand.

    we are rarely asked to do any walkway shoveling, those that do get charged an additional fee and we just use the shovel or a single stage if need be. and none of the drives are ever salted, not sure if anyone does around here.

    last season we had our entire yearly snowfall in Jan & Feb with more than half of the total coming in Feb. halfway through Jan the piles were starting to get too big and we got calls to come and knock them back b/c of restricing view of the road. our usual snowfall is 2-4 inches but we had a surprising number of large accumulation stores where we finished the route and started right back over. these scenarios i feel will be key points for the blower service. My concern is as you pointed out, how well does the blower work in the 2" accum?
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  13. leon

    leon Senior Member
    Messages: 872

    snow etc.

    Any snowblower will work fine for a 2 inch accumulation as long as you
    do not move to fast and start hopping with it.

    The nice thing about the PXPL and the inverted is the Tivar Blade
    which aids in cleaning.

    The PXPL can be used while driving forward with the scraper blade down
    as the blower will remove the snow as it accumulates in the housing as it is
    captured by the cross auger while it is rotating.

    Personally if it was me I would ask to have the spiked solid auger option installed on the PXPL to capture the snow with no spill over and in the process you will have a metered delivery for snow and avoid flooding and spilling snow out as the solid auger will convey it to the impeller at a better rate than with an open auger which tends to throw it outward when dealing with deep snows and it wil throw the ribbons volume of snow further rather than having surges of snow blown out at times as the chute becomes too flooded due to the open auger.

    Having the metered volume of snow being wet or powder entering the impeller housing ensures the snow volume is the same every time and the impeller can throw it much further as it is a metered amount of snow no matter the condition of it.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2010
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  14. WIPensFan

    WIPensFan PlowSite Veteran
    Messages: 3,975

    ProTouch, now that my skeptisicm has been addressed :salute:, let's talk about the fun stuff! If it was me laying out my money on this equipment, I would go for the tractor blower combo. The main reason is like Neige always says, They don't care how much snow there is. Route times would stay pretty consistent no matter the accumulation. Obviously they would also be more heavy duty than the Toolcat. Maybe you could try one of both and see which one works out better in your area. Maybe I should ask first, how many pieces of equipment will you need to start with?
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  15. OP

    PTSolutions PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,543

    WiP- I went to a local bobcat dealer to try out the toolcat and while they are nice and would have their use for snow, i dont believe the blowers would be their strong suit. They have nice turning radius and good visibility but with only 25pto hp and 27gpm, like you said, they wouldnt be as consistent time wise with different accumulations.

    With my current client base I would pick up 1 tractor and try it out that way, if my meeting with the other city's council members goes well and they decide to award me the contract, thats 850 drives with a 10hr service window, so what, maybe 2-3 more tractors just for that?

    here are some great deals on m7040's ive found:

    29,900 with 150hrs

    28,900 with 480hrs

    and they have a few more around 35K with 100-300hrs
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  16. WIPensFan

    WIPensFan PlowSite Veteran
    Messages: 3,975

    Those are good looking tractors IMO. Problem is, I know zip about tractors :D. I would think if you get the 850 drives 4 tractors would be more than enough. Having more than enough would be important because if and when something breaks, you could cover other routes within the time frame. Doing a great job the first year should be your goal, so no doubt creeps into peoples minds as to wether this is a good service. Seniors are hard to please no matter what you do and word amongst them spreads like wildfire.

    One other base I think you should cover is setting up a deal with someone who can fix whatever type of equipment you go with right away. That would mean parts are readily available. Also stick with the same equipment, setup the same way. That way, when problems develope, you will have seen it before and know exactly what needs to be done.

    Do you think you can find reliable operators, and how much $$$ will you pay them.
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  17. Neige

    Neige Sponsor
    Messages: 2,256

    Great post Black

    Those are some smoking good deals, but keep in mind that would be the very minimum size tractor you should be getting. I would suggest checking out these sizes also.
    Kubota M9540, M95X, and the M100X, yes they will be more expensive but you will never lack power. You can get the job done with the Kubota M7040, I think the PTO hp is around 65. Lastly Kubota s road speed is 20mph. You may want to look into New Holland and John Deere, both have higher road speed options of around 26 mph. Dont get me wrong I love my Kubotas. The price has always been the best, and maintenance costs were always very low. Road speed is not a factor in my service area.
    I applaud your thinking, you have seen a niche market and are working hard to get it. Remember if you do get those 800 drives, you will pick up other clients on these routes.
    Good luck :drinkup:
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  18. DaySpring Services

    DaySpring Services PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,064

    I was able to use the new Kubota this weekend. We go about 4-6" of Heavy, wet lake effect snow. I was more than impressed with the performance of the machine. It never bogged or clogged and threw snow 40 feet easily. I'm very happy with those results under such heavy snow conditions.
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  19. Neige

    Neige Sponsor
    Messages: 2,256

    Great advice Wipen

    Glad to hear it worked out so well. That heavy stuff usually takes some time to get used to. Sounds like you are well on your way.:drinkup:
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.
  20. cretebaby

    cretebaby PlowSite Veteran
    Messages: 4,147

    Is there such a thing?
    AdvancedDiesel likes this.