Jerry Schill hit on the best way to grow his snow removal business without investing in a boatload of capital. He is president/CEO of Cleveland, Ohio-based Schill Grounds Management, one of the top commercial snow contractors in the nation. Schill specializes in contracting with large retail facilities, or what are called supercenters, as well as HOAs managing condominium complexes.
Schill uses one of the more common methods of growing a snow removal business — that of hiring subcontractors to perform the work. But, he is also well aware of the risks involved and the necessity of putting significant oversight in place when using this method.
“We call all of our subcontractors ‘partners.’ These people are a direct reflection on our organization whether they wear our uniform or not,” Schiller says.
Schill goes through an extreme vetting process in finding his subcontractors representing a variety of business disciplines depending on the type of contract he set up with a variety of his clients. Because Schill’s clients are diverse in their service needs, he finds it extremely important to find partners that are a good fit for performing these services.
“For example, when we are looking to staff a large retail or industrial facility, we typically look for subcontractors who specialize in construction services that have large equipment and highly-skilled operators,” he says.
When staffing small commercial facilities, condominiums or apartment complexes, he will look for subcontractors such as plumbers, masons and other trades who own and operate their own smaller skid loaders or pickup trucks.
Schill finds the process of finding the right subcontractors for his properties like a dating ritual. “Once we find our subcontractors, we qualify them over the phone and review their social media and internet history (which could include customer review sites like Yelp or Angie’s List). We then go out and meet them, conduct site observations and hold discussions and interviews.”
At these personal meetings, Schill ensures that his prospective subcontractors have a solid business background and they share his company’s values and understands the relationship. He also inspects and reviews all of the subcontractors’ equipment, even taking pictures for documentation.
Ed LaFlamme advises his snow removal clients who hire subcontractors to meet them at the site to go over every piece of the work. LaFlamme is currently a landscape business consultant for the Harvest Group and formerly owned several landscape companies with snow removal services.
Like Schill, he stresses the importance of regular one-on-ones with subcontractors beyond the initial interview and hiring process. “It’s good to provide on-site supervision whenever you can,” he says. When LaFlamme operated his own snow management company, he always had one of his company’s vehicles on the job or close to the job where subcontractors were used. This way he could keep a constant eye on them. “Work right along with them to ensure the quality remains high,” he says. “Conduct in-progress meetings and stop in on them often. Keep asking them how it’s going.”
LaFlamme also advocates for taking the pulse of the customer when the job is complete. “Get in the habit of calling your customers,” he says. “Ask them about how they perceived the job to be by the subcontractor and how it could be improved. Not only will this impress the customer, but it’s also a good check and balance on the subcontractor.”
Once Schill’s subcontractors have been on the job for a while, he uses a list of criteria that must be followed. Reasons for dismissing subcontractors may include: two-times no-call, no-show; violation of his company’s core values; excessive property damage; failure to provide the proper insurance; and not turning in the necessary paperwork immediately after a storm incident.
“We don’t expect our partners to be perfect, but we do expect them to honor our commitment to deliver an extraordinary experience to the client,” he says. “That means every issue is logged, tracked and addressed, within 24 hours.”
LaFlamme advises that final progress payment should be tied to the quality of the work performed. “Make sure your subs understand the importance of quality and what’s expected of them at all times,” he says.