Soliciting New Business
While it may seem like everyone is plowing snow, the fact is you are in the minority. You provide a necessary service that requires specialized equipment, special talents and tremendous dedication. Sell these benefits to potential customers.
One of the major questions of plowing contractors is, “How do I get new customers, what with all the cutthroat one-truck operators out there giving away their time?”
Maybe this is the wrong attitude. Wouldn’t it be better if we (as the contractor providing services) were in such a position that we could interview customers who we wanted to have instead of quoting work hit-or-miss? Target marketing is key to success in any business. Why should it be any different with the snowplowing business?
If you service a shopping plaza during winter months, it would be in your best interest to have additional business close to that location. While you provide service to your own customer, pay attention to what is happening across the street. If the lot across the street is not plowed on time, make a mental note of this. In spring, send a letter to the person in charge of that site, requesting an opportunity to speak with them about their plowing. Do this in the spring so that the problems of the past winter are still fresh in their minds. You may not get an opportunity to secure that business in the spring, but by staying in touch with that potential customer, you are in the running to quote that business when the time comes.
You might also consider targeting all potential customers in the immediate vicinity of your current satisfied customer. Ask your customer for a letter of recommendation that you can use when discussing the possibility of securing new customers around the site that you are already servicing. If you are charging “per push,” having new customers in the immediate vicinity will cut down on travel time between jobs. If you are charging “per truck,” a minimum travel-time charge between customers will increase revenue per truck. Additionally, it is easier to incorporate a new customer into the schedule if they are close to an existing site that you currently service. It just makes good sense to cluster your accounts strategically.
Avoid taking on customers who have gravel parking lots unless you can charge for the increased time it takes to plow them. Otherwise, include a disclaimer that allows you to charge the customer to redistribute the gravel in the lots at the beginning of the spring.
When a potential customer calls you to get a price for plowing services, you probably want to know why that customer is considering changing vendors. It is a fair question. If the customer is unsatisfied with the service provided by the previous contractor, ask why. Ask what they expect from a contractor and evaluate whether you could satisfy this customer.
You might find that the previous contractor was undercharging for his services and having to “shortcut” the job to make a viable profit. In these cases, you need to be frank with the customer and tell them that they were not paying enough for the service. Tell them that you are going to have to charge more, and explain that the quality of work will be better. A potential customer who wants you to provide better service at the same price is not looking for quality and dependability. They are looking for the cheap price.
If the customer is just looking to check prices, then you may want to avoid getting involved with such tactics, unless you need practice quoting work without getting anything in return. Price shoppers will change vendors next year or—worse yet—mid-season just to get a cheaper price. In this industry, the cheap price usually ends up being unjustified by the second significant snowfall when the service just isn’t there.
When talking with potential customers, extol the virtues of dealing with your company. If you are a large contractor with a large fleet of equipment, you might point out that there is no excuse for not showing up on time (if enough snow falls soon enough to allow you to complete the plowing in the allotted timeframe). If you have a mechanic on staff (or readily available) to fix breakdowns quickly, stress this point and tell the customer that this benefits them because equipment is back up and running in short order. You also may have a full-time dispatch team to ensure that special requests can be addressed in a timely fashion. This is another huge benefit for your customer.
If you have a small contracting business, sell the fact that you don’t have a large number of customers, so every customer gets personalized service. You don’t have to keep track of a large contingent of trucks, so you always know where everybody is working. Personalized service means that you will care about this customer’s needs, almost exclusively.
Don’t hide the fact that you are making a profit at providing this service.
While it may seem like everyone is plowing snow, the fact is you are in the minority. You provide a necessary service that requires specialized equipment, special talents and tremendous dedication to your customers. Make sure customers know that you are there, ready and willing to provide services under terrible and often unsafe conditions. Sell these benefits of dealing with your company no matter what size fleet you run.
Ask for business
Most importantly, keep in mind that you are in the snow- and ice-management business year round. While most of our customers only think of snow just before the season, we should be thinking about snow all year long. When you are asking about the landscape-maintenance business, ask about the snow business, too. When you do a landscape installation (or irrigation installation, paver installation, etc.) ask who does the snow removal. Is the customer happy with the service they are receiving? If they say yes, tell them that they are lucky to have a good contractor, but if they become unsatisfied in the future, you would appreciate an opportunity to secure their business. Also, if they are happy with their current contractor, ask what they are being charged. Ask for no other reason than to see what the competition is charging. And should you ever get a call to quote the work, you will have some idea of where the numbers are for this particular customer.
For contractors in the plowing business to make a profit, it is a high-profit center that gets considerable attention throughout the year. You probably don’t have a problem quoting new landscape business in January. You shouldn’t have a problem quoting snow business in June and July either.
John Allin is president of Allin Companies in Erie, Pa. and a consultant to the snow industry. He is a founding charter member and the board president of the Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA). He can be reached at (814) 455-1752 or by email at email@example.com.
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