Collin Corso at 16 started by plowing residential driveways and a small family-owned parking lot. Now 25, Corso's Terra Snow is a recognized leader in its Massachusetts market.
IMAGES COURTESY OF COLLIN CORSO.
Collin Corso freely admits it: he's obsessed with snow and has been since he was a child. In first grade, while other kids were out playing in snow, he was out clearing it with the single-stage snowblower his mom gave him for Christmas.
"I remember as a kid being filled with excitement, waiting for the city plow trucks to drive by. Some parents criticized her for giving me such a tool; little did anyone know what it would lead to," says Corso, who launched Terra Snow in 2006.
"When it would snow she would supervise me as I would make my best attempt to push the tiny snowblower through the snow to clear the driveway. I can't explain the thrill this gave me!"
Corso, now 25, and his Newyburyport, Mass., business has grown up and he is fast becoming a shining star in the snow and ice management industry. He started with residential driveways and a small family-owned parking lot.
"My route was horrible - each driveway was separated by a 15- to 30-minute drive - but I had to get my foot in the door so I could build relationships and references for my jump into the commercial markets."
Two blizzards tested Collin Corso's mettle this past winter. As a younger snow professional, he had not experienced anything like February 2013, but he rose to the challenge.
In his second year, he added small commercial lots; and in his third year, at age 19, he signed his first major account. Despite being immersed in snow, Corso says landing his first big client was an eye-opener. "During the first storm, I was nervous seeing that much pavement covered in snow. I put everything into that parking lot. For five months, my entire life revolved around it. We really started to take off from there and we have been building ever since."
As he started to gain a foothold in a notoriously competitive market, Corso caught the eye of Pro-Tech Manufacturing, who was casting companies for "Project SnoFighter," a documentary of life in the snow and ice management industry. Pro-Tech debuted the documentary at the Snow & Ice Management Association's Snow & Ice Symposium in 2011 and it changed Corso's life.
When Collin Corso and his team aren't battling snow and ice, they're installing beautiful landscapes in a market area stretching from Boston to southern Maine.
"It definitely jump-started my industry presence. Before that, I knew a handful of people, but the whole experience opened the door for me. I have met so many great people that I have been able to learn from. It is much harder to reach success in this industry on your own, and I am happy that I've been able to give back some of that knowledge to others who have sought me out."
Snow removal in the Northeast can be a relentless business. Corso's attitude of helping others extends beyond phone calls and networking, even if it means bailing out a competitor. For instance, during a snow event, a competitor had a major equipment breakdown that crippled his ability to provide service. Corso says he had two choices: let the man fail and try to take the client or lend a hand to enable him to be successful.
"He would not have failed due to negligence, it was out of his control. I couldn't imagine using someone's bad luck for my own personal gain, so I helped him. I got criticized for passing up the opportunity, but I think it served a good lesson to those people on how to differentiate competition and healthy competition. When we are in the thick of the storm, we need to put the games aside."
Terra Lawn features ICPI (Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute) certified installers on staff, and offers a full palette of hardscape construction services.
When two blizzards tested the mettle of the Northeast this past winter, Corso was all business. As a younger snow professional, he had not experienced anything like February 2013, but he rose to the challenge and has become better for it, he says.
"Others may call it pessimism, but I call it realism. I learned early on that to be successful I needed to look at each possibility of something going wrong, accounting for it and having a plan to overcome it, just in case," Corso explains. He needed all those backup plans to help his employees, his equipment and his customers weather the storm.
"I was able to see the worst, understand how to better plan for it and develop better systems to deal with such an event in the future. Many contractors found it too much to bear and simply quit. That thought never crossed my mind."
Building a Better Business
Collin Corso has learned a lot in his time in the snow industry. Following are some of his suggestions for building a better snow business:
What sets you apart? Have a great answer when a potential client asks, "Why should I hire you?" Touting that you are reliable and do good work isn't the answer. "There is a difference between a professional snow contractor and a company who plows snow to keep the lights on. Getting your customer to understand-and more importantly to care about the difference-is difficult." Corso says his company's attention to detail in preparation, planning and service delivery is his difference maker. "All snow contractors put the same steel and salt to the pavement to get the job done. My differentiation comes from the knowledge, systems and procedures I bring to the table to solve my customers' issues."
Educate your customers. Part of that attention to detail starts at the initial bid meeting, where he walks the site and uses his expertise to point out problem and priority areas, and to sometimes suggest changes in scope of work that will not only elevate their service level but do so at a lower cost. Before, during and after events, Corso's customers know what to expect because of the proactive communication plan he has in place.
Never underestimate the importance of a detailed, realistic scope of work. A clear scope of work that outlines, in detail, what will-and will not-be done helps align customer expectations by giving them a clear picture of what they can expect and what they're paying for, he says.
Know your limitations. While Corso's company performs most of its landscaping and snow services in house, he subcontracts as needed. "Services like snow hauling, sidewalk clearing, hydroseeding and mulch blowing require significant equipment investments or licensing yet yield a minimal profit margin in my market. There are certain services that just make more fiscal sense to subcontract."
Find your niche. When the weather turns, Corso also offers full-service grounds maintenance and landscape enhancements. He started his landscape division in the residential market early in his career to help finance his snow operations. The business evolved and shifted more to the commercial market for both snow and landscaping. He has since shifted his landscaping focus back to residential. "I am able to develop much more personal relationships that mean more to the customer and work on offering unique services to them." On the commercial side, his portfolio consists heavily of large-scale retail, medical/office buildings and condominium complexes.
Cheryl Higley is a freelance writer and editorial director of Snow Business magazine, the official publication of the Snow & Ice Management Association.
Corso shared his February blizzard perspective as part
of a special cover report in Snow Business magazine.
Read his and others' stories at www.goplow.com