New York knows a thing or two about what it feels like to be snowed in, iced over or in the middle of a blizzard.
The western region of the state gets hit with an arctic blast usually once or twice a year, with regular bouts of snow and freezing rain in between.
From as early as October to as late as May, depending on the year, residents, businesses and communities rely on snow and ice removal services to resume everyday life in spite of such frequent blustery, snowy and cold conditions.
R.M. Landscape Inc., based in Hilton, New York, provides snow-removal solutions to surrounding communities when flurries start. The family-owned company, operating since 1973, initially only offered standard landscape services, such as planting and mowing. In 1980, Rick Lemcke, R.M. Landscape’s owner, saw the opportunity to get into snow and ice removal services and grow his business.
Experience meets technology
Today, R.M Landscape employees 90 people. Approximately half have worked at R.M. Landscape for more than 20 years. Lemcke believes R.M. Landscape’s employees’ passion for managing snow adds to the company’s overall success. “Their dedication and long-term service really sets us apart as a company,” he explains. He also credits his customers for respecting the industry and realizing how hard it is to properly manage snow and ice.
According to Lemcke, another key for success is evolving with technology. Until 15 to 20 years ago, the snow industry was stuck on hydro-turn plows and conventional salt spreaders. While that equipment gets the job done, it isn’t as efficient as the newer, advanced snow pushers or plows. With traditional equipment, it might take extra passes to move snow or involve adding more salt to the area being cleared of snow and ice. Plus, traditional pushers or plows encounter more wear and require more maintenance than newer designs.
“One February, we were busy every day for the entire month,” Lemcke says. “When we have that many service days in a row, anytime we can get a piece of equipment that makes it easier or gets the job done faster with better results, we’d like to try it.”
With more than 35 years of snow removal experience, Lemcke tackles snow and ice management successfully by focusing on reducing salt usage and maximizing operator productivity. Cutting costs, especially related to salt, greatly impacts profits.
“The price of salt boils down to supply and demand: The more brutal the winter, the more expensive the salt will be,” Lemcke says. In R.M. Landscape’s coverage area, Lemcke has seen salt prices increase by $60 a ton over the past 10 years.
Lemcke calls working with salt “a balancing act.” Applying too much salt leads to environmental concerns and is expensive. Not enough raises the risk of a slip or fall, which could lead to injuries and even a lawsuit for the business owner or landscape company. And with the importance of conserving enough salt to last throughout the winter season, snow and ice removal service providers have quite the list of challenges when it comes to salt.
“Our market receives 120 to 130 inches of snow every year, so we’re used to it,” Lemcke says. “There are some areas that aren’t used to that much snow; their biggest concern is 10 to 15 inches of snow, and that’s the end of the world to them. That’s where the salt is being diverted and why our costs go up.”
When salt prices are so high, re-pushing or applying additional salt is costly and inefficient for snow removal businesses. Lemcke believes sectional snow pushers scrape better than conventional pushers or plows, helping to eliminate the need for extra passes and minimize the amount of salt that needs to be applied. Since R.M. Landscape picked up sectional pushers, the company reduced its salt usage — and related expenses — by 35 to 40 percent.
“One peculiar thing about our market is it just keeps on snowing, and we just have to keep on pushing. If you let the snow build up and get hard packed, that’s very detrimental and leads to slips and falls,” Lemcke says. “Using the sectional snow pushers, we can go out during the storm and scrape the surface clean, even after cars drive over it.”
The equipment advantage
Sectional snow pushers can handle hard packed snow differently than conventional pushers, which go right over the hard pack and don’t scrape to the surface. They cut down through the hard pack in one pass, instead of requiring three or four passes, Lemcke says.
“When we know it’s going to get cold, we usually melt the ice using salt and don’t normally push snow. But a majority of our snowfalls are 4 to 12 inches in accumulation, so we have to continually keep at it or let it build up,” he explains. “By having pushers that scrape well, we can go through once and then we’re done. We salt right away after scraping, which helps prevent snow from accumulating after we leave because there’s no remaining snow for it to cling to. With a conventional rubber-edged pusher, it leaves a little film behind that halts how the salt works because the salt cannot pull heat from the ground efficiently.”
Lemcke finds sectional snow pushers’ trip blades to be an advantage when removing snow. The blades run across the pavement and if a section of the pusher hits an obstacle in the road, such as a curb or pothole, it will lift up and out of the way to avoid damaging the blade or the obstacle itself.
He says the snow rolls over itself while the blade pushes it forward. “When you gather snow with a conventional pusher, it will just keep boxing up in the pusher until you get too much and can’t push it any farther,” Lemcke says. “With sectionals, because of the angle, the snow rolls in front of you and it keeps rolling over and over and allows more capacity to push piles farther, which means even fewer passes are needed to complete the lot.”
A new market means new opportunities
R.M. Landscape does a majority of its snow removal services for supermarkets, banks and large plazas. But R.M. Landscape recently added urban areas to the mix. This new market has added $150,000 to $200,000 to R.M. Landscape’s revenue stream.
“We mount 8-foot pushers onto skid-steer loaders to clear small parking areas very quickly and efficiently and we don’t have to follow it with a lot of salt,” he says. “Using a smaller pusher in really tight urban areas works great for navigating smaller spaces and plazas. And they work better than using a hydro-turn plow or straight pusher for removal.”
With smaller lots, sectionals offer a big advantage. “We go from a couple of churches in the city, where we do maybe 50- to 80-car parking lots, and then we go to a parking lot that holds 15 cars, and we’re able to use the same equipment. That’s a strategic advantage for us,” Lemcke says.
Although snow markets are diverse, Lemcke thinks snow industry professionals need to work together to provide the best possible service to customers, and one way is to share experiences with new technology. He believes the better snow removal service providers do as an industry, the more the profession will be respected.
“Anything we can do to raise our profession to the next level benefits us all. And that comes from everyone in the snow business doing the highest quality of work they can,” Lemcke says.
R.M. Landscape serves western New York with that attitude in mind. The company takes pride in evolving with technology and investing in the important things, such as their employees and the customers they serve. According to Lemcke, the right attitude and the right equipment will equal successful snow and ice removal services — no matter what type of winter weather blows in.