Are you interested in breaking into the Commercial Snow Removal market? It is not easy, but as a team that stays on the cutting edge of Snow and Ice Management, we have a few thoughts to share. There are no real “secrets” to becoming a contractor to commercial clients (that’s why we don’t mind sharing), but it will take a significant investment in time and money to specialize in the commercial snow removal market.
You can get away with a F-150 and a straight blade on a four-stall parking lot, but that is not really what we have in mind here. When we talk about “Commercial Snow Removal,” we are looking at the bigger jobs. Parking lots with hundreds or thousands of stalls, factories or warehouses with lots of bays, properties with a mile of sidewalks, and other big projects.
Here is what you will need to be a Commercial Snow Removal Company
First off, you need to change your state of mind. Moving snow is your secondary concern. Your primary concern is to minimize risk and to keep people happy.
You need to minimize risk of slip-and-falls, minimize risk of damage to property, and minimize risk of lawsuits to your direct client. It changes the way you do your job because now, you can’t settle for “good enough.” People have to be safe and the client that hires you needs to be safe from lawsuits. So that little patch of ice that might melt in 3 days might be okay on a residential driveway, but it is absolutely unacceptable on a commercial property.
What about keeping people happy? In order for your clients to keep their clients, people need to not only be safe, but they need to feel like the lot is welcoming after a big storm. Piles of snow that reduce visibility, slush in the gutters, and even excess salt that ends up on people’s dress shoes can all lead to bad client experiences that will ultimately lead to your client not happy with your service.
Ensure you keep this bigger picture in mind to provide what commercial clients need during winter snow and ice management. It will help you to focus on the right things to drive real value for clients and therefore real profits for you.
With commercial clients, you cannot afford to be mediocre. There is just too much at risk. With our litigious society, your clients cannot risk mediocre service that leads to lawsuits. With fickle shoppers, your clients cannot risk an off-putting parking lot. With a job worth six or seven figures a year, you cannot afford to mess this up.
We’ll be honest, if you are not driven do everything with excellence, you are not going to keep your commercial clients. You can play a good game for a while, but sooner or later things will happen that will cause you to lose clients. Even when you are driven to excellence, things go wrong, but a lot of things go wrong when you settle for mediocre.
If you want the big contracts, but you are hoping to be just “good enough,” do yourself a favor and make different plans. If you disappoint the wrong clients, you could find yourself out of business completely.
It does not take a lot of planning to move snow off of a single car driveway. Keeping a hospital safe and running during any weather or clearing the snow off of a square mile of parking lot is another story. A good commercial snow removal company starts its planning in the summer time for how to tackle storms.
The plans include where to move snow, what areas need to be treated as “zero tolerance” areas where the areas are kept safe and slip free every second during the entire winter, how you are going to keep different zones safe, what hazards are in the lot and on the sidewalks, what landscaping to protect, and the list goes on and on.
One plan is not enough. You need contingency or backup plans. What happens if you have to work with an understaffed crew? What happens when you get freezing rain and then the temperature drops so the ice doesn’t melt? What happens when there is so much snow you don’t have room to pile it up anymore? What happens when a piece of equipment goes down? All of these things need to be planned for ahead of time because a hospital won’t accept “my plow broke, so I will be back tomorrow some time.”
Commercial jobs demand more efficient equipment. Often that means bigger equipment because an end loader with a large box plow moves a whole lot more snow in one pass than anything that would fit on a half-ton truck. You would never finish putting salt down if all you used was a tailgate spreader.
It is not always bigger, though. Sometimes smaller, specialty equipment is what you need. If you are doing sidewalks with lots of pedestrian traffic, the right piece of small equipment is going to be more efficient than a big piece of equipment that sits and waits for all the people to get out of the way. In order to handle a commercial job timely, efficiently, and profitably, you will need to invest in the right pieces of equipment for each job.
Now that you have your plans and your equipment, your team needs to be able to effectively use both. You can’t just throw the plan at an employee, point them toward a piece of equipment, and say “go.” In order to provide that “excellence” we talked about earlier, even the newest team member needs to look like a tenured pro their first day of clearing snow for your old and new clients alike.
That means you need to have a training plan and that training needs to happen in the early fall…long before you expect snow to fly. We even recommend that you send employees through Snow Fighters Institute training as well as Snow and Ice Management training, so your employees are equipped to handle any situation.
Due to the increase in lawsuits as well as increasing demands by commercial clients to prove you did what you said you were going to do, documentation has become an essential, non-negotiable part of commercial snow removal. Newer apps linked with cloud platforms make this easier.
Now you can quickly and easily create your plans, show your employees how to execute those plans, and document what exactly happened to ensure the safety of the commercial property almost instantaneously…including capturing before and after pictures! Everything from time on site, to work done, to what equipment was used can be captured easily.
Related to documentation, you need to be proactive in your client communications. It is not good enough that you have “done your job.” Now-a-days, clients expect instant updates, and you need to be able to provide those updates without making your employees spend half their day notifying clients regarding what is going on.
The same apps that document your work can allow clients to get real time views of current work with notifications when the work is complete.
It is typical for snow removal contractor insurance that covers four months to be SEVERAL TIMES MORE than what you paid for insurance for the landscaping side of your business for eight months. Since there is more risk with commercial jobs, don’t be surprised if clients tell you a $1 million liability policy is too small. You may need to have a liability policy that covers several million dollars in liability exposure just to have the privilege to provide a quote to some commercial clients, so be ready!
Some commercial clients have their own lawyers, so make sure your contract is well written. The purpose of a contract is to provide clear communication of what is expected of each party both when things go to plan and when things don’t go to plan, whether one of the parties doesn’t live up to their end of the bargain or there is an “act of God” that was out of everyone’s control.
The contract really helps to keep a good relationship and to keep everyone on the same page if things don’t go perfectly. We recommend you be the one who originates the contract, but regardless who writes the contract, make sure you have a qualified lawyer review the contract and have them explain what it all means in plain English.
Let’s face it, snow removal can be hard. Here in western Michigan, we can see three straight days of getting called out to remove snow day and night. The long hours fighting snow in the cold is not an easy job, and the last thing you need is constantly losing employees during the season and between seasons.
When you can keep 80%, 90%, or more of your employees from season to season, you reduce hiring and training costs, you are assured consistent high quality work, and you can look in the mirror guilt free because you know you are treating people like they would like to be treated since they keep coming back.
How much you pay can attract people to your company in the first place, but it is how you treat them that keeps them coming back. If they love what they do, they love the team they work with, and they love their employer, they don’t even think about doing anything different at the end of the season and you can turn around and get them to sign up for another year of protecting people against old man winter.
While the beginning of a commercial relationship may center on the quote and how well you present yourself, keeping the client means that you do what you can to maintain a great relationship with the key people who work for the commercial client.
This means you go beyond just clearing the snow. Do you see a problem on the property that has nothing to do with you? Your team should mention it because you are “partners in this together.” When your client wins, you win.
Did something go wrong, and it is not clear whether or not it was your fault? You are going to make it right anyway, because it shows you are invested in the relationship. Maybe it was obvious it WASN’T your fault, you may decide to be the one who fixes it to delight your client.
While on paper it is a company that contracted you, in reality, it is still human beings that chose you and signed the contract. Remember that relationship to keep these folks coming back to you year after year for your excellent service.
We have given you just a taste of what it will take to become a true commercial snow removal company, and even then, reading about it is a lot easier than living it. We have taken years to grow into a commercial snow removal company of excellence. If you are interested in going after those big commercial jobs, plan on making a long term investment, and take one step at a time to grow into the commercial snow removal company of excellence you desired your company to be.