August 2, 2022
BY GRANT HARRISON
Question: Who willingly deals with erratic hours, high expectations from clients, unpredictable forecasts, horrible driving conditions, and missed family events?
Answer: Snow contractors!
Do you sometimes wonder why we do this to ourselves? If you’re like me, you do it because you love it.
I believe it is a great time to own a snow business. Yes, there are major challenges, including labour and equipment shortages, as well as rising insurance and operating costs. However, there are some really positive shifts happening in our profession.
In recent years, we have seen more and more money invested in snow management businesses, whether that be through private equity money or from larger players buying up smaller companies. Less than 10 years ago, snow and ice maintenance businesses were not considered especially valuable. But now, investors are looking for industries with recurring revenue, which works out great for the snow industry.
As one of my mentors once said, “Regardless of the economic climate, there will always be grass to cut and snow to plow.” That is attractive to investors and potential buyers.
So how can you capitalize on this and make your company even more attractive to potential buyers? Apart from the obvious things like making sure your business is profitable and well organized, another element that makes your business valuable is a great company culture. Unfortunately, creating a place where people want to work is a real challenge in snow removal, due to the difficulty of the work and the irregular hours.
To create a great culture, my first piece of advice to contractors is to ensure your staff get regular pay. Your winter staff team is basically on call 24 hours a day, seven days-a-week for five months of the year. They deserve to be compensated well for that.
Many contractors have started to offer stand-by pay or a paid premium. Some take advantage of the government Supplemental Unemployment Benefit (SUB) program. However, the issue with these programs is that it does not address the main concern of your staff: they want regular pay throughout the season. It’s been my experience that people will even accept a lower wage if it’s guaranteed to be consistent throughout the season.
I encourage you to talk to your team to find out what pay structure they would find most beneficial. There are lots of options available, but talking to your staff and addressing their concerns is a great way to create a strong company culture. We are so fortunate in the snow removal industry to have organizations willing to offer assistance. Organizations like the Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA) and Landscape Ontario have all sorts of resources available. Most contractors I know are more than willing to share their advice, solutions, successes and failures with others. You just need to reach out to them.
Grant Harrison operates Nextra Consulting with his wife Marla in Ingersoll, Ont. He has previously held management positions with Clintar, and Gelderman Landscape Services, and owned and operated Escapes Outdoor Living.