As the CEO of North Point Outdoors in Windham, New Hampshire, Dave Fairburn says there isn’t a lot of downtime available in his calendar. When he’s not busy managing snow and ice, he’s using winter to work on the “back end of the business.” Fairburn says he uses the landscaping off-season to refine the business by setting goals, creating budgets and finding solutions to issues they experienced during their landscaping season. Despite that, one of the most common questions he gets from friends and family is, “What do you do with your free time?”
“Their perception is that because the hustle and bustle of our landscape crews is stopped that we are on a four-month winter vacation,” he says.
But Fairburn admits he feels busier than ever. The snow business continues to grow, and Fairburn says the fleet is now made up of 22 plow trucks, 12 loaders, eight skid-steers, three SnowRators, five shovel vans and a fleet mechanic. This year, the company will earn approximately $2 million in snow sales over their 15-mile coverage radius from the headquarters. Though Fairburn admits he doesn’t have a ton of opportunities to unwind, we learned how he likes to chill out when he can find the time, as well as why he loves the challenges that the snow business can bring.
To chill out, I try to find a coffee shop in the morning to sit down and have a coffee with my business partner or someone else on the team. It gives us a chance to stay away from the hustle of the office and brainstorm our winter to-do’s as we like to call them.
For fun, I’ll leave early in the afternoon and go snowboarding. Next year, I want to get involved in snowmobiling. Doing a winter sport can help calm the nerves about stress that snow typically brings during the winter. I also try to get out to work on my airplane and take it flying if the weather is really nice.
I like the snow business because it’s a challenge. The amount of preplanning, organization, logistics of both equipment and labor and redundancy planning keeps us on our toes. It takes years of experience to understand the ins and outs of what makes and breaks you during a storm. We go off that mantra that proper planning prevents poor performance. We drill into every little detail to ensure the crews, equipment and staff have the tools they need to succeed in any storm condition.
But the challenges can be big. The biggest challenge with the snow business is the unpredictability. From a business finance, schedule and resource perspective, unpredictability is a word that no one likes. Our seasonal average is 65 inches, but over the past few years we’ve seen 35 inches to 120 inches. That is a serious swing when it comes to budgets, equipment and labor. To hedge ourselves we’ve found ways to write contracts where we are protected on all sides.
Keeping the fleet 100 percent operational is another challenge we must overcome. I have a snow operations manager, six area managers, crew leaders and snow fighters, as we like to call them. They handle the pre-storm prep, plowing operations and post-storm cleanups. It’s a lot of people to have ready to go. Between fixing and preparing equipment, to always be ready they have their hands full before, during and after storms.
Read more: I Am A Landscaper: Dave Fairburn