Quality Work Pushes Out Competitors

When Robert Lipinski decided to focus on the snow-removal aspect of his landscape-contracting business, the firm became the leader in its area.

Athough Robert Lipinski has been in the snow-removal business for more than 20 years, he only recently decided to break this profit center off from his main company and make it into its own firm.

Until 6 years ago, Lipinski Snow Services Inc. was part of Lipinski Landscape & Irrigation Contractors Inc., a landscape design/build firm that offered irrigation and lawn-maintenance services, in addition to the snow- and ice-management services. Today, Lipinski Snow Services Inc. is the largest snow-removal contractor in Southern New Jersey.

Robert Lipinski, president of both firms, says his Snow Services firm prides itself in offering the highest level of quality service. To maintain that level, his firm focuses on servicing commercial and retail accounts. Michael Sullivan, the company’s sales manager, manages the accounts with a fleet of 80 to 85 plow trucks—Ford Super Duty dump trucks and Super Duty utility trucks with stake bodies, Western plows and Swenson spreaders—and 21 sanders, in addition to Cat and Kawasaki wheel loaders and Case backhoes, all of which the business owns. Sullivan also uses 50 to 70 subcontractors each winter season. The company also employs an in-house “sidewalk” crew to complete the firm’s services.

Where plowing is a necessity

Based in Mt. Laurel, N.J., the firm encounters an average of 26 inches of snow per season. To keep ahead of the 7 to 10 snow events, Lipinski Snow Services subscribes to two different weather services: Data Transmission Network (DTN) (Lincoln, Neb.) and Weather Services Inc. (Bedford, Mass.) DTN provides the firm with timely information via graphics and text, while Weather Services Inc. allows Lipinski to talk directly with weather forecasters.

To ensure that customers can always reach the company, Lipinski employs several dispatchers to take customers’ calls and send trucks out around the clock during snow events. The dispatchers carefully record each incoming call, making note of the time, the caller’s name, the nature of the call and the time they dispatched each truck. In addition, all of the firm’s top management personnel carry beepers and are accessible 24 hours a day.

Figuring costs—to the inch

To determine what to charge his customers, Lipinski uses a formula to analyze each call’s costs (such as insurance, material storage and time) and divides that by the square footage of the job. This allows him to price each job on a per-inch basis. Lipinski says this method has made the billing process much smoother. In fact, it is not unusual for the business to have each customer’s billing finished, stamped and ready to deliver before the end of a storm.

Due to the unpredictability of the winter season, Lipinski Snow Services Inc. uses the previous year’s revenues to budget for the upcoming season. After the winter season, Lipinski takes a look at what the company experienced during the season, what worked and what didn’t, and what supplies or equipment he’ll need before the next winter season begins again. He discusses needs and pricing with his employees and looks for any ways of improving the team’s performance. By June or July, the firm is ready to make its purchasing decisions, though it won’t take delivery on any of the equipment until October or November.

Finding the profitable “edge”

Over the past few years, Sullivan has seen many of his customers warm up to the concept of pre-salting, which he regularly suggests. Some customers agree in their contracts to having the firm pre-salt their properties when a storm is expected. For those that don’t, Sullivan still calls and asks for approval to pre-salt before each event. One of the main advantages to pre-salting, which Sullivan tries to explain, is that it decreases the potential for litigation from slips and falls.

Though Lipinski uses a variety of equipment, he gives credit for his most recent successes to a line of snow plows: Pro Tech Snow Pushers (Rochester, N.Y.). “We were the first to bring [the plows] to South Jersey 3 years ago. They make us extremely productive, price-competitive, and they clear a site quickly.” Lipinski explains that by attaching these plows to the company’s wheel loaders, they increase productivity five-fold.

Tammy Higham is executive director of the Snow & Ice Management Association Inc. (SIMA).

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