Snow may or may not have swept into your region yet this winter. Even so, you’re prepared. Your trucks and loaders are primed for action. Salt is spilling out of the bins at your facility. Your subs are champing at the bit to make money, and you’ve got enough shovel guys to clear clients’ sidewalks and entranceways. To make it all work, you’ve developed systems to launch your team into coordinated action as soon as the first flakes fall.

But what can you do to elevate your company from your competitors? Are you familiar with ISO 9001 certification?

You should be because chances are one of your competitors is weighing the advantages of obtaining it.

ISO is an international nongovernmental organization that brings together experts to develop voluntary, consensus-based International Standards. ISO, founded in 1946 during a meeting of civil engineers in London, has published more than 21,000 International Standards, covering almost every industry. A relatively recent standard is SN9001, Industry Standards for Snow and Ice Management.

Achieving the SN9001 standard is no slam-dunk, I learned at a recent facility tour at Schill Grounds Management in North Ridgeville, Ohio. More than 150 landscape company owners and managers took advantage of the Ohio Landscape Association event.

Bill Malen, vice president of operations, shared his company’s months-long journey to attain ISO 9001 certification. Schill Grounds Management, a growing $8 million, full-season service provider, is the second company in Ohio to achieve this certification. Reportedly, about 20 other companies in the U.S. and Canada have also earned ISO 9001 for snow.

Malen said ISO develops standards, but is not involved in their actual certification. External certification bodies approve and issue the certificates. Achieving ISO 9001 required a third party to audit Schill’s processes and procedures to ensure that the company adheres to the business and quality management standards for professional snow and ice management, Malen explained. Schill used Smithers Quality Assessments to guide it through the process.

Everything the company did had to be documented. The entire Schill management team was involved in the process that took months, said Malen.

“We’re committed to continually improving our processes, be more efficient and to deliver the highest quality services to our clients. We’re confident this will help achieve that,” said Malen about why the company sought certification. He said certification is valid for just three years, after which the company must go through most of the process again.

Malen added that, apart from being a strong sales and marketing tool in that it assures clients you’re committed to providing the highest quality services available, ISO 9001 aids risk management. The certification shows you have adopted ANSI/ASCA Industry Standards, some of which help protect you from baseless slip-and-fall lawsuits. This may reduce his company’s insurance costs, he said.

It’s difficult at this point to speculate how big or positive an impact achieving ISO 9001 will have on Schill Grounds Management or any other company that has committed the time and resources to take this extra step.

What is certain, however, is that companies achieving and embracing ISO 9001 will elevate the industry.

Use These 5 Steps for ISO Certification

Achieving ISO 9001 certification requires an outside consultant or certification service. Selecting a registrar close to your company may help reduce your costs. Here are five more steps needed to obtain ISO certification, according to

Step 1: Preparation. Appoint a senior manager at your company to research and gain an understanding of ISO 9001. This individual should get training and full support from management and employees to implement the quality management system.

Step 2: Documentation. ISO 9001 requires manuals, procedures, policies, objectives, flowcharts and instructions specific to each company.

Step 3: Implementation. Introduce step-by-step new requirements that affect employees and help them to adjust.

Step 4: Internal Audits. Evaluate your company to see if all ISO 9001 requirements are being followed. Periodically conduct internal audits after achieving certification and use an employee or subcontractor who has been trained in ISO 9001 audits. The goal is to verify your company meets the certification requirements as described in your quality manual and procedures.

Step 5: Certification. In order to achieve ISO 9001 certification, have an independent ISO 9001 auditor visit your company and perform the certification audit soon after you have completed your internal audit.