Ice Breakers

The first annual Ice Breakers sessions brought expert advice about the snow-removal industry to attendees at the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Expo.

The weather outside may have been hot and sticky, but inside, everyone was talking about the upcoming snowstorm. Itís never too early to prepare for it, and that was the prevailing message brought to attendees at this yearís International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Expo in Louisville, Ky.

For the first time, the Expo included a Snow & Ice Pavilion, where manufacturers displayed equipment for snow and ice removal. As a special feature to the new Snow & Ice Pavilion, Expo coordinators teamed up with Snow & Ice Manager magazine to host a series of educational sessions focusing on topics that are important to the snow and ice industry.

Two of the featured speakers were Sean Kilcarr and Mike Eby. Kilcarr is senior editor for Fleet Owner magazine. He shared information about new technology and how it will relate to the snow and ice business, and offered some practical business advice as well. Eby, a snowplow distributor representing The BOSS Snowplows, told attendees how they could make more money plowing snow. Here is a synopsis of what each speaker had to say.

Sean Kilcarr: Business and technology

First, Iíd encourage every one of you to check out the Association of Public Works Administrators (APWA). They have a special Winter Maintenance Subcommittee that deals with tons of snow-related issues, and a lot of the information I am presenting to you today comes from the chairman of that committee, Larry Frevert.

You can visit the organization online at

Operating training is something else that you should consider. Are your drivers trained to handle plowing in snow conditions? Public works agencies hold snowplow rodeos every year to train drivers and boost morale, yet contractors have never been included. You may want to think about looking at some training options through your local public works agency, if available.

Working as a contractor to a local government is a hot topic today. Many residents are demanding bare pavement snow clearance equal to the job performed on main artery streets. This has been a growing demand over the last three years, according to the APWA. Public works agencies canít perform that level of work themselves without extra equipment, workers and resources. Thatís why they are looking to hire more contractors in the near future.

However, you should talk with your local municipality to see what the requirements are. Will they require you to salt as well as plow? Will you have to be out 24 hours a day during a three-day blizzard?

Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL), or vehicle ďtrackingĒ is a huge issue. municipalities and states are looking to AVL as a way to check on whether their contractors are doing they job. The state of Virginia is requiring all contractors to install AVL, which will provide the state with the vehicleís location as well as whether or not the plow is up or down. Though Virginia is helping with the cost of these installations, other states may not.

There are also things you should consider before deciding whether to put a plow on your truck or select a truck for snow and ice removal. Will the vehicle specifications you have hold up under the weight of a plow or spreader or full load of salt? For example, a 400-pound plow that sticks three feet out in front of a vehicle changes that vehicleís dimensions. The weight from the rear axle is transferred to the front axle. So that 400-pound plow may actually weigh 600 pounds on the front axle.

Also consider the truckís engine. A diesel engine is a better bet for you. It offers more torque and horsepower at lower speeds, and better low-speed performance is what you need for pushing piles of snow. You may want to look at fuel pre-heaters and engine pre-heaters if you will be operating in very cold temperatures. You may also want to switch from standard No. 2 diesel to a low No. 2 or No. 1 diesel fuel in winter. These have a lower cloud point and donít ďgelĒ up as much.

Keep in mind that diesel engines weigh a lot more than gasoline ones, so a diesel-equipped standard cab or crew cab pickup is not your best option for a snowplow. A standard cab is the best.

Changes to diesel engines are coming in 2002, 2004 and 2007. These changes apply to new diesel engines that power trucks with 8,500 pounds or more vehicle weight. It is predicted that these engines will reduce emissions by 90 percent compared to existing diesel engines. How will they handle the cold? We donít know. They may be great, yet may sacrifice fuel economy and performace. Itís too early to tell.

Though this new technology does not apply to engines now in use (there are no retrofit requirements), remember this: In 2006, low-sulfur diesel becomes the only diesel fuel choice. This is a drop from 500 to 15 parts per million sulfur content. How will this affect the performance of your current engines? We donít know yet.

Mike Eby: Snowplows

Are we ready for the snowstorm? Heavy snow, high winds, blizzard conditions. Itís coming. Itís going to hit us all. Are you ready? Iíll bet youíre not. Iíll be most of you are going to go to the grocery store and load up; youíre going to get the gasoline; then youíre going to go home, curl up around the fireplace and park it. Then there are the people who like a little challenge. The chosen ones. The ones who like the snowplows. The ones who go out and hit it. We look forward to it. Itís a challenge and itís a huge opportunity to make money.

Now, Iíve got a question for everybody here: What color is snow? White is the most logical answer, but itís not the one Iím looking for. Snow is green! Itís an opportunity to make a lot of money. Thatís why I like it so much. I sell snowplows; I make money. You push snow; you make money. Those are the opportunities and challenges that we are after.

Landscape companies, youíve got customers that youíre working for all spring, summer and fall. Youíre making money. But you could be making more. Remember, the easiest customer to get is the one that you can offer another service toóan additional service that they want to pay you for. So in the winter time, the most logical thing to do is to plow some lots. And you can do that in both commercial and residential. Itís really fairly easy money to make. Commerial clearing will make you a lot of money, but the same holds true for residential. You get into these big cities where theyíre building houses hand over fist. Somebodyís got to clear snow for them. The housing incomes have raised and residents are paying to get these drives plowed. We have to take advantage of this to make money.

There are things that you need to address with these customers, especially commercial customers, ahead of time. Determine where they want you to put it; how far youíve got to push it; and whether they expect you to get it off the lot. If youíre plowing 12 inches one day and in five more days your getting get 6 more inches of snow, where are you going to put that snow? You have to plow accordingly. If you donít do it, youíre going to get caught and youíre going to get in trouble.

Another thing to do ahead of time is think about obstructions. Some of my customers will go look at the lot in the summer. But you go in the winter and itís a little different picture, isnít it? When you get 8 inches of snow on the ground, it doesnít look anything like it does in the summer. I have customers who draw maps. I have customers who carry cones. I have customers who mark things and take pictures before they go plow those lots. Find what works best for you and use it, because there are liability issues involved. If you are doing residential plowing and you hit a house, do you have a problem? Yes, you have a problem. If youíre plowing a lot that has speed bumps and you take a plow and shave them off, youíve got to take care of it. Thatís why I would demand, if I had people leasing on to me to plow snow, that they carry insurance. And you canít afford not to. The cost of everything has gone upÖIf youíre doing residential plowing, youíre plowing around houses that cost anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million, and if you tear something up, itís going to cost you some bucks. And they will come after you, too. Itís easier to say ďYes, I have insurance. Iíll take care of that,Ē than it is to say, ďI donít have insurance, come and get me.Ē Thatís no fun.

And snowplows are expensive, especially when you stick them on a $35,000 pickup truck. Youíve got a lot of money invested. But you have to average it out. Itís a three- to five-year investment when you get into snowplows. If you think youíre going to go out and pay for it one year, youíre fooling yourself. Itís going to take you two or three years; it may take you five. You might pay for it in one year. But who knows when the snow comes? Who knows what youíre going to get and when youíre going to get it?

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