Progress is often spurred by new technology. It’s easy to see in other industries. Fracking has helped the United States become more energy independent. Traffic deaths have fallen steadily since the introduction of airbags (until this year) and throughout the world, new equipment and technological processes have created layers of efficiency and innovation in manufacturing, fulfillment and service industries.
On the surface, it doesn’t look like snow and ice management relies on the same layers of technology that have helped other industries innovate, but new equipment and information about best practices continue to make contractors more efficient and effective in their battle with the weather.
A snow pusher/skid steer combination is more than twice as efficient as a truck/blade setup. Route tracking and crew management software saves time and redirects valuable labor resources to the job sites that need them most urgently. Sidewalk equipment can eliminate the need for hard-to-find and oftentimes unreliable shovelers. Documentation systems ensure that workers are managing a site to the customer’s expectations. A properly calibrated salt spreader can save hundreds of dollars an hour in deicing product. Even GPS sprayers are becoming more popular for liquid applications. Though adoption is low right now, there are some studies out there that say the units can pay for themselves in one season.
In addition to equipment and software, best practices are becoming better established for contractors. These innovations give contractors guidelines for operations and some shield from frivolous lawsuits.
These innovations and dozens of others add up to a robust amount of technology for a seemingly simple industry. The question is: How much are you learning about these tools that will allow you to be more profitable?
Continuing education and tradeshows are an important part of this industry as new equipment and ideas provide avenues to be more efficient, effective and profitable snow and ice management businesses.
The Alaska Snow Symposium helped to highlight many of these technologies in Anchorage in October. The fourth-annual event welcomed about 100 attendees and exhibitors to discuss new equipment, trends and solutions in an important market.
Here’s a few tidbits:
- Liquid deicer is being used more than you might think. Departments of Transportation, progressive commercial contractors, and others are finding reasons to use more liquid, especially as a pre-treatment. Sure, it’s easier to coat a property in a layer of salt. You’ve been doing it for years and the results are good. But you are leaving a pile of money in those parking lots. Liquid deicers are less expensive, more profitable, and just as effective as crystals under the right conditions.
- If you haven’t bought sidewalk equipment this year, you are probably too late. The inability to find labor amid the lowest unemployment since the 1970s is driving many companies to upgrade their sidewalk equipment. It looks to be more profitable, too, depending on whether you can use that equipment for something else in the summer. Even if you can’t find a purpose-built machine, you can still consider an ATV/blade setup.
- Diversified pricing systems are the best way to insulate your business from inevitable fluctuations. Flat-rate, per-push, per-event and hourly contracts complement each other so that profitability will be less volatile despite an unseasonably heavy or light precipitation year.
The Alaska Snow Symposium allowed attendees to explore these concepts to create a better business model. Profit is a culmination of personnel, training, preparation, equipment, experience, and increasingly the adoption of best practices and new technology. There is no better way to learn about new equipment and operating models than through the peer experience of an industry gathering.