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Young Entrepreneur Looking to enter the Snow Plowing Business...help please?

Discussion in 'Introduce Yourself to the Community' started by Shepard at FPC, Dec 8, 2014.

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  1. Shepard at FPC

    Shepard at FPC Member
    Messages: 39

    Hi guys.

    So I'm sure you get all kinds of young dudes on here who like the idea of going into plowing but really have no clue what they're getting themselves into, and I'm sure I'm that way a little bit, but I do know what hard work is, and believe me, I know snow plowing is not by any means easy.

    That said, I need a LOT of advice on how to get started, etc. So I'm going to post some questions in this thread, and if you have direct answers, that'd be great, or if you have other thread links from this site feel free to direct those my way also.

    First off, I'm only 15 yrs old this year. So obviously not going into the snow plowing business this winter, and obviously it'd be just a LITTLE late to get into it. ;-)

    My biggest concern is of course, that I'll be going into next year snow plowing, as a 16 yr old. That alone is bad because who is going to want a 16 yr old doing their parking lots/driveways? But the real problem is insurance. I don't know who to talk to, but I have a feeling that until I'm 18 it's going to be very difficult if not impossible to find an insurance company who will cover me. And if I can it will probably cost a fortune. My parents are (kind of) supporters of my business so if necessary, or if I could save money so doing, I could MAYBE run the whole thing as if it's my Dad's deal even though I'm doing the work. If anybody has any idea where to even start with that I'd really appreciate it.

    Also any tips on a good first truck/plow? I'm thinking that I need at least a 3/4 ton or 1 ton, although we do already have a 1/2 ton F-150. In our area I've noticed that there are a lot of Ford Excursions that are nice, leather seats, etc. 4x4, with under 150,000 miles for around $4000-$5000. That's with the 6.8L gas motor. I'd personally like the 7.3L diesel, as that's a great motor and I'm a diesel fan...but not sure if it's really worth the premium I'd pay for it. Any thoughts on the Ford Excursions? I'm just as happy with an F-250 or F-350 (yeah I'm a Ford guy...but I'm open to Chevy, not Dodge though) but what I've found is that they are more expensive, and normally more banged up. People buy trucks for work, whereas SUVs are often the family vehicle. And other than softer front suspension for a better ride, an Excursion is the same thing as an F-250. And I could put the extra seats to good use...but I think the pickup bed in a truck would also be handy so either way.

    I know that I've already triggered a bunch of opinions in asking about what kind of truck to buy...so maybe don't worry about the brand advice so much as what really matters? I'm leaning towards Ford simply because I think they're a good brand for their trucks, and around here they are cheaper than Chevy. And since I know more about them I figure I'd be just as well off with one.
    Any tips on what to look for in a plow? I'm thinking maybe an 8-9' plow...brand advice is all over the place I know but I'd still be open to advice on it. :)

    I can probably figure out the equipment related stuff myself, what I really need help with is the business itself. Ideally I'd have maybe $8000-10,000 into my truck/plow setup, so I'd have that much in upfront, and then insurance, gas, repairs, etc. are all going to be major expenses during the winter season. So if I'm lucky I'm going to have spent, say $15000 by the end of the season? Does that sound about right, or am I making it easier on myself than it is? So ideally I'd really like to pay that off during the first season, because I'd really be needing the money back. That will be literally almost all of my money, or all of it really, so although I do have Grandparents and my parents who would likely be happy to loan me money to get started, I'd like to avoid that if at all possible...and if I did borrow money I'd have to be really sure that I'd be able to pay it off quickly. How much is a realistic figure on the amount of money I could make on my first season?

    I'm not afraid of hard work, I know what it is to go for a long time without sleep, and believe me, it's NOT fun. But overall it'd be worth it to me. And of course I'll have school. A big plus as far as what accounts I could responsibly take on is that I'm home schooled. My teacher (my mom :) ) is very nice about letting me flex school around other things so long as I actually do it. ;-) So during a storm I can be out any time of day or night working when necessary.

    As far as backup plow trucks go...I'd have to talk to some people to work something out, but I have quite a few friends in the business, or with a plow truck, so I would imagine I could work out a deal with them where we cover each other, or something of that type.

    So I'm sure I'm forgetting some details, but I just want to know from people who have experience in this, whether going into the business would be a realistic thing to do, and whether I could actually get accounts enough to pay off my insurance and equipment costs.

    I live in SW Michigan. There are a lot of plow guys around here, but most of them are uninsured unreliable rednecks who have no idea what they're doing. If I could pick up enough accounts to get by for the first couple of years while creating a good name for myself, that could go a long ways. I have a 19 yr old friend who is going into plowing this year and he has about half a dozen commercial accounts already and about the same number of driveways. So obviously it's possible for a young person to pick up accounts, but I'm even younger so who knows.

    As far as experience goes...I don't have much experience plowing. I have done snow blowing (about 15 driveways around the neighborhood) for two years, this is my third, so I mean I know a little but that is nothing like plowing. I don't have insurance, pay taxes, nor do I have a contract with even one of those customers. So definitely not professional, but whatever. It's about all a 15 yr old can do. You can do a lot more once you turn 16, and even more once you're 18. But it's difficult and I haven't gotten too serious about it as I really haven't had to. But college is coming up and I have to pay for owning a vehicle, and all the costs that come with that, etc. so I need to either start working for somebody or get serious about business if I want to make any money. Maybe working for somebody is the best way to go at this age, far less risk and work etc. but I'm the type who likes to be the big guy, not the employee, so if at all possible I want to do it on my own. Like I said, I'm not afraid of hard work. I'm also mechanically "inclined" so I'll be doing almost all of (well, hopefully all of) my repairs, and obviously maintenance. I've got friends who have heated barns, tools, and lifts, so I'm lucky in that sense. And I have friends who would help me get things fixed if I were in a jam, so that does definitely help me with my expenses.

    So yeah...thanks in advance for any help!!

  2. Shepard at FPC

    Shepard at FPC Member
    Messages: 39

    One more thing that I meant to mention...(not that you'll believe me...)

    I'm pretty competent when it comes to equipment operation. I've always been told that I'm abnormally natural at operating equipment, and I've been operating all kinds of stuff ever since I was strong enough to move the controls, and tall enough to reach them. ;-) So obviously time will make me better at plowing, but I don't think it will take me long to get into the rhythm of plowing. Not saying mistakes don't happen, but that's what insurance is for, right? :) But I'll be pretty darned mad at myself if something happens, because you all know what that does to insurance premiums, ESPECIALLY at this young of an age.
  3. thelettuceman

    thelettuceman PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,218

    You seem to have your head screwed on straight for being 15 years old. You are correct about the insurance also. Do not be discouraged by what I am about to post. You should stick with the snow blower for a few more years. Sometimes le$$ is more $$$. You will be putting out a lot more money but you won't make it back because of insurance.
    I would ride shotgun with the 19 year old buddy. Take your snow blower with you. You can get to the snow that his plow can't.

    Good luck to you / Rick
  4. MK97

    MK97 PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,057

    Agree with lettuceman.

    Also most states, you have to be 18 to legally have a business and insurance for said business. Ride with your buddy, and get some seat time the next few years with him.

    Don't take this the wrong way, no business in their right mind will hire a kid to keep their lots open. It's just too much risk compared to an adult run business. Get some plow experience next 2/3 years and you will be able to offset some of that youth with experience to help put a business at ease of hiring you.
  5. Shepard at FPC

    Shepard at FPC Member
    Messages: 39

    Thanks for the replies guys. I think you're probably right. You are telling me that it is not worth it for the same reasons I've been concerned, getting accounts at this age and getting insurance at this age are both very difficult and expensive things to do, probably making the business not worth it for now. I already have a good snow blower and John Deere 318 I'm fixing up that has a 46" snow blower (actually right now I have a John Deere 214 with a 36" snow blower but I only am keeping it temporarily until I have the 318 working) so between those two, maybe I should just stick to somewhat local driveways, save up some money (don't know if I mentioned that I also do mowing, leaves etc. during the non winter months) and then go into real snow removal once I'm 18. I sure would like to get started sooner than that, but it may be a bunch of money and work down the drain, where I could be getting ahead for a good start a couple of years later.

    Keep the thoughts coming, if I can make it work I still do want to go into plowing next year, but not badly enough that I'm going to go off and make an unwise business maneuver in a mad attempt to succeed, when I could just keep it low key until I'm able to actually succeed. I probably just need to talk to some insurance companies, get some numbers I can run and figure out what my costs are going to be, and then maybe find out from some other young (under 18) people if they're having any luck getting accounts...and if the numbers work out reasonably than I'll maybe give it a shot...but I'd say it's kind of an unlikely thing to have work out, based on my own common sense and what you've said so far.

  6. Shepard at FPC

    Shepard at FPC Member
    Messages: 39

    The other reason I was into the idea of getting started right away (well, next winter I mean) was because I would kind of like to get a good name, and a LOT of accounts, and then buy more trucks and plows and hire people. But I think that takes more time than I'm going to be able to put in until I'm through with school (college, etc.) and it'd be a little abnormal to have that going for me by the time I'm 20 while still doing school. It'd be NICE to be in college while my guys are out working, so I'm making money to pay for college without even working aside from managing the business...but I think that just isn't realistic at this point. You can only expand so quickly, and being this age makes it almost impossible to even get started on your own, let alone start hiring people.
  7. MK97

    MK97 PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,057

    Again double check to make sure you can even operate as a business under 18. It's something you have know, and not your customer. If a commercial account mistakenly hires someone too young and there's a slip and fall. It will all be on your parents, since you're a minor.

    If I were you, I'd bust ass to get as many driveways as you can, do them well and when you're old enough flip them over to plowing accounts. You'll have a stronger customer base than a lot of us who started out. Then do some sub work to get introduced to commercial work when you're old enough.
  8. MK97

    MK97 PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,057

    You're WAY jumping the gun on that. You have a 1% chance of the plan getting close to ever happening. Reason I say that is a lot of who are far more experienced have issues trying to find one decent worker let alone a whole crew. Then you will have guys who wont show up and leave you high and dry. You cannot even entertain the idea of a crew unless you're there to babysit them in case they bail on you.
  9. Boyerlandscape

    Boyerlandscape Member
    Messages: 31

    Hey man, welcome aboard! You sound like you got the right idea, and don't let your age hold you back. I know a few outfits that were started young. My advice as far as that goes is save save and buy your own equipment. I remember seeing kids have their parents buying them shiny new iron for their "business" and when they finally were 18 and making $ was the new goal, they struggled or failed all together. Get something reliable, but you don't need a 2015 whatever.

    My advice as far as getting into the industry:
    Right now, and I mean before the next storm. Call up a local Landscaping company and get a job shoveling. Quite frankly it sucks, it's cold, and you'll be beat by the end of it. Through this however, you'll gain experience (even the biggest accounts have sidewalks) and you'll have started from the bottom. Work hard, and ask questions. Listen to everyone, the owner and the guys out their shoveling with you. Offer to help fix things post storm, bum around the shop. Save save save , at 15 the $ you'll make shoveling snow at 3 am is great for your age.

    Now next year when you get your license and a truck, rather then having to find work, you can sub for the same company...or maybe a different one you've met from being out in the field. It's all networking. Subbing is great for you because you can learn and have fun , all while making money. Insurance may or may not even be taken care if by your employer (prepare for lots if replies disputing this..it's all what your agreement is.) from here, you can learn how long stuff takes, how much to price, etc and maybe pickup some driveways on the side. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Don't let anyone hold you back, listen to everyone, and most of all just get out there. Most everyone started like you, and most if not all are willing to pass that on, especially to someone at your age who could be a employee/sub for years to come. Good luck!
    shawn_ likes this.
  10. snowplower1

    snowplower1 Senior Member
    Messages: 966

    You definitely have some great ideas for being 15 and seems like you'd do alright for yourself plowing and running the business but as other said, you should try talking to an insurance agent and just see (whats it gonna hurt) and look up your state how old you need to be to own a business.
    You still have a few options:
    Buy a real good snow blower that will make for fast production
    you could buy an atv with a plow and plow just driveways, it would be cold but i think youd still make good money
  11. Dogplow Dodge

    Dogplow Dodge PlowSite Veteran
    from NJ
    Messages: 3,699


    You write very well for a young-in....:D Your parents should be very proud of you at such a young age, to be as educated as you are, and eager to start your adventure into owning your own business. I wish that I had your spunk and drive at your age, vs how I went about it. I spent a couple decades working for others until I couldn't stand it any longer, and finally got off my arse and went to work for myself. Love ever difficult minute of it.... and wouldn't trade it for anything.

    Best advice is already being touched upon. Everyone so far is dead on, in the sense that you should "slowly" go about this, and don't let anyone stand in the way of your ambitions. Start off working for another snow / landscape contractor, and work your way up. Don't be so generous as to tell them from the start that you're looking to start your own gig, as you might scare them off a bit. Keep that to yourself for a while, keep your eyes and ears open, and let that sponge between your ears do it's thing.

    Keep logs, or journals of what you do, and how long it takes. Review those logs and see what makes things more efficient, or not. Working for someone else, you're going to gain that experience, and will be able to utilize it for your own benefit, while being paid to learn... and bust your butt as well, I'm sure.

    Save your pennies, and when you get a little older, pick up a nice 3/4 ton CLEAN truck that hasn't been previously used for snow plowing. You can pick up a used plow, or buy new, depending on how much money you've saved over the years. Personally, I'm a keep it simple type of guy, so I'd go with an old Isarmatic straight bladed western like I have on my ride. It's easy to fix, and thousands upon thousands have been made, and are around to buy. Parts are available and, again, easy to maintain. Buy or make a set of wings for it, and it's a great/ reliable / efficient piece.

    Read through the hundreds, if not thousands of threads here. There are decades of experience in this place (not me, by any means), and their advice is invaluable. You can gain significant knowledge by simply sticking around here and reading about the trials of others and how they went about dealing with it. Nothing better than learning from others mistakes.


    Don't buy a western plow, that's mated to a meyer frame, and welded full of patches and mixed up parts. You might think you're being environmentally conscious by saving parts from the scrap yard, but the reality is that choice will buy you nothing but heartaches, and ridicule by your peers...:rolleyes:...

    Looking forwards to reading about your new venture in the upcoming years.
  12. Shepard at FPC

    Shepard at FPC Member
    Messages: 39

    Thanks, that sounds like sound advice. I'll try to get through to some insurance companies to find out what the age requirements are for my state (Michigan) to see whether it's even possible for me to do plowing. Of course, even for snow blowing it'd be WISE to have insurance, because guess what, if I damage something (shoot a rock through the window, etc.) or anything else were to happen, and the people decide to sue me...well...that sucks for me, but being under 18 if that went through to my parents...BAD thing to have happen. So I guess I just need to look into that and see what my options are.

    That also sounds like good advice on getting as many driveways as I can currently handle before I have a truck with a plow. That way I can be making money, gaining some level of experience, and having accounts that I'll be able to keep when I get a plow. And of course when I buy a plow I'd be working hard to get as many good accounts as possible, but it's always good to already have some clients to fall back on if I find it more difficult getting accounts than I originally anticipated. And if I got enough snow blowing accounts, I could at least try to be making enough not to LOOSE anything when I flip them over to plowing.

  13. Shepard at FPC

    Shepard at FPC Member
    Messages: 39

    Yeah, you're right. I am getting a bit ahead of myself. :) As far as my life plan pertaining to jobs, if I were to go full time into snow removal/landscaping it'd have to be eventually as owner while I have guys working for me, because I'm not about to go working myself to death until I'm too old to do it anymore, and come out of it with hardly any money. It's one thing if I have to work super super hard for the first 10 years or so, but it would have to come around eventually for me to stay in the business. If I end up having a different job I do think I'll stay in snow plowing on the side though. But anyways, you're right that the chance of getting that going by my early twenties is pretty slim. ;-)
  14. Shepard at FPC

    Shepard at FPC Member
    Messages: 39

    Definitely agree on not buying a 2015 vehicle. :) First off, my parents would never buy me a new vehicle. They probably wouldn't even buy me 20 year old vehicle. :) They are supportive but if I want to go into business I'm going to have to figure out how to do it myself, they aren't about to do it for me. I was thinking of buying a truck between years 2000-2008. Eventually I'd like to have a diesel...what I'd really like is a 2006-early 2007 Duramax (Chevy Silverado 2500 4 door short bed) truck but I'm thinking I'm more likely to get a 7.3 diesel in one of the 1998-early 2003 trucks. Ideally a 2000 or newer...newer in that case is probably better, and 2000 is probably the best year of the 7.3 trucks. As stated in the original post, I could get a Ford Excursion sometime this week with around 140,000 miles, 4x4, heated leather seats and all the other options, with the 6.8 v10 gas engine, for around $4500, maybe less. That's the same thing as an F-250 after you beef up the suspension a tad, which I'd do anyways. The same thing in an F-250, like the same condition and options, would cost at least $6500 I'd say, so that's why I'm thinking that I may look into getting an Excursion. Either way, you can see what price range I'm looking at. If I found a nice pickup truck or SUV that had the 7.3 liter diesel in it, with somewhat low mileage, I'd probably pay $8000 for it and then I'd hang on to it for a while. But right now I'm thinking I'd start off with something cheaper like an Excursion, and than later on maybe upgrade to a 2006 Duramax or something. At that point the Excursion REALLY wouldn't be worth much, so I'd probably just keep it as a passenger vehicle and a backup truck, unless I decided it wasn't worth keeping. Just depends on it's condition at that point. But anyways, if I got a good $4500 truck, I could put in $3500 for a plow and have myself a pretty good $8000 plow setup, not bad if you ask me. But by no means am I looking to buy a 2015 or the likes. :)

    I think you are giving good advice on getting involved working for a local company, first shoveling, than maybe plowing for them for the two years after that, for experience and some extra money. I'm not sure if that's how I want to do it, but it's still good advice. I might try to get some experience in with my friends in the business, while still doing my own side gig, but I don't think I really want to get plugged in with another company I'm not friends with already. Maybe I'm wrong, but when it comes to going out on your own, I doubt that whatever business or individual I'm contracting with is really going to care who I've worked for before. Maybe when it comes to working for another plowing company, but for going out on your own...I doubt it. And I could honestly tell them that I had been doing snow removal for several years with smaller equipment, and if I rode with my friends sometimes I could say I'd worked with others in the plowing service before also. I just don't think I need to (or want to) go about it by getting a job with a company. I think that is definitely a way (a good way) to go about it, I just don't think that's the path I want to choose.

    Again, I think that as far as being as successful as possible working for different plow companies goes, you are giving great advice, I just don't think that's where I'm heading with this right now. Thanks!!

  15. MK97

    MK97 PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,057

    Definitely call some insurance providers and see what they say. If they can cover snow blowing (I would assume they would), it's a must have. It sucks having to pay insurance for even a snow blower, but all you need is something to happen once to make it worth the expense. You do have the advantage of being a kid so you get some more flexability. A broken window or chipped paint on a car won't be the end of the world. However in our sue happy world hitting something/someone in a plow truck, they will likely want a big payday like they see in the commercials.

    Don't look at driveways as a temporary account until you can get a plow truck rolling. It might just be your niche. A lot of guys here make a good living only doing residential and no commercial. I'm the opposite and only do commercial, but that's because I'm not a people person and having 100 bosses for 100 accounts isn't appealing to me. :laughing:

    Every business should want to have employees, it's part of growing. However most businesses fail in the first 2-3 years. So focus on getting a strong customer base you can handle on your own. As college gets closer, see if your buddy who plows would take on your accounts as a sub. Or try to find a good landscape/snow company, get to know the owner and sub out to them. I would feel more comfortable subbing out my work to an established business and not rely on 1-2 employees if I was living far away. Plus it could wind up costing less, employees are expensive.
  16. Shepard at FPC

    Shepard at FPC Member
    Messages: 39

    Thanks for the advice! Agree about buying a clean truck that hasn't been used for plowing in the past. Plowing beats up on a truck pretty hard.

    I'm not sure whether I'll be a used or new plow...I'll probably look for a good deal on a used one, maybe the spring/summer before the winter I plan on plowing. If I don't find anything than maybe I'll buy something new...I've noticed that with plows, unlike cars, their value doesn't drop as much just because they're used. Maybe I'm wrong about that, just what it seems to be. :) So maybe new isn't such a bad idea, we'll see. I would LIKE a fancy V Blade or whatever, or something along the lines of a Western Wideout, but I'm thinking that I'll start out with a good straight blade, and than eventually I may decide to upgrade both truck and plow, keeping the old truck and plow as backup or for an employee to use maybe. Plows can be very expensive, so I'll probably start somewhat simple.

    Thanks very much for the reply, you offer good advice that I will be sure to use.

  17. MK97

    MK97 PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,057

    I wouldn't jump into an older V10 truck. They can be solid, BUT those years had issues and could become a headache. Had to help a friend swap V10's in his 2001 F250 a few years back. Can't remember the exact issue but it was somewhat common.

    Personally I would find a nice 95-97 F250 (5.8L or the 460). There's a reason why it is the most common truck used for plowing. It's reliable, cheap to fix, pretty easy to work on, and way better in small areas. Especially doing driveways, a smaller truck can clear faster. I have a 96 and a 04 F250, I have certain accounts I wouldn't even attempt with the 04.

    I put probably $1500 into the 96, but at 235,000 miles it's a beast and has yet to let me down. Planned on selling it many times for a lower mileage/ better condition one but can''t bring myself to it. I know all the issues with this one and have fixed just about every one. So I would be going backwards starting on a new potential headache.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2014
  18. Shepard at FPC

    Shepard at FPC Member
    Messages: 39

    Sounds like a good idea...I haven't had great experiences with ATV driven snow plowing, but I have a good walk behind snow blower and a John Deere 318 (garden tractor) that has a 46" snow blower, and a 54" plow. That things a snow removal beast, so if I had a good system of moving it around from one driveway to the next it'd do a nice job.
  19. Shepard at FPC

    Shepard at FPC Member
    Messages: 39

    I'll keep that in mind. I've heard varying things on those trucks/engines. I've seen one or two 7.3 diesel Excursions/Pickup Trucks that look decent for around $6000-$7000, so if I could find an especially good one for that price, somebody selling it who doesn't realize that diesel is worth more than gas or something, than maybe I'll jump on that. I know diesels have their ups and downs, but I have already decided I want one and I know the 7.3 has a good reputation. I don't like the idea of a 1995-97 F-250 as my daily driver...the first reason that comes to mind is gas mileage, but then I realize that it's probably not much or any worse than a v10! :) So I'll keep that in mind, maybe it'd be worth buying one of those and a little Honda Civic or something for running around in.
  20. Shepard at FPC

    Shepard at FPC Member
    Messages: 39

    I'll keep that all in mind, much appreciated, thanks!

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