What’s key to profitability in the snow removal business? Experts will tell you it’s all in the effective delivery of routing and scheduling. And it’s not just how your crews service a property during a snow event, but also how it’s handled before and after.
“Generally speaking, our industry takes for granted the money, resources and time involved in delivering our services,” says Mike Rorie, CEO of Cincinnati-based GIS Dynamics and 30-year veteran in the commercial grounds and landscape industry. “If you aren’t routing your crews with profit in mind, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. And this doesn’t just apply to driving your routes. Sales and operations have a huge hand in routing a job so that it’s completed in the most efficient manner every time for the largest return on investment.”
And then there’s the significance of routing software systems. Raymond J. Hodnett, CEO of Allenhurst, New Jersey-based Geo3.0 snow and ice removal management software, believes the equipment, tools and technology available to snow professionals has never been more accessible and cost-effective than it is right now.
Today, a multitude of snow-specific software systems and apps are available. GPS technology is improving and scalable. Salt measurement and management technologies have become increasingly sophisticated and are likewise scalable.
Rorie believes that when selecting any software, rule No. 1 is that it needs to integrate with your current software. Other important elements include real-time tracking capabilities with quick data entry and user-friendly interface that allows road crews, and not just lead dispatchers highly trained in software input, to also input their data on route changes and equipment usage. The system should also be web-based, not just downloadable, and served in the cloud with real-time viewing available for on-demand client usage.
Tom Canete, president and CEO of Canete Snow Management in Wayne, New Jersey, uses a software system that formulates the exact amount of snow and ice melting chemicals dropped by each one of the hundreds of trucks used in major snow and ice events based on weather conditions, location and performance. His software system also formulates maintenance needs on each truck and generates a multitude of necessary reports.
Yet, Canete doesn’t rely solely on electronic management. There’s a few old-fashioned practices he still employs and would not change, including the implementation of war room magnetic white boarding mapping system at his ground-zero headquarters and dissemination of paper binders to each crew truck complete with printed, color-coded routes, an outline of procedures and safety tips.
Using subcontractors from the very start of your snow removal business in routing and scheduling is a good practice, emphasizes Rorie. “This increases your capacity and the footprint of your service areas dramatically,” he says. Once your army is in place, it’s a good practice to rehearse before the events occurs. Canete creates site maps and has a snow performance plan. All communication during the snow event is documented and recorded.
It’s also recommended that you take time to measure out routes prior to running them in real time. “Ninety-nine percent of contractors can’t tell you the miles or minutes of any of their routes, much less the averages,” says Rorie. “Time is money and everyone you’re dispatching is on your dime unless they’re out making sales calls or conducting marketing campaigns. Knowing the numbers is the essential part of the equation.”
“Generally speaking, our industry takes for granted the money, resources and time involved in delivering our services,” says Rorie. “Driving to a job is a huge indirect expense that contractors incur; however, they really don’t think about the costs involved because it’s routine and must be done.”
There are other considerations when it comes to profitability in routing and scheduling, too. For some snow and ice management companies, having a geographically dense route can be key. Building routes around existing ones reduces wasted time traveling and also significantly decreases the number of wasted trips back to the shop.
Read more: Landscape Leader: Tom Canete
Master sales up to route density
There is a lot of waste surrounding the most redundant but required tasks, according to the Snow and Ice Management Association. You want routines like beginning-of-day processes to be just that: routine. You don’t want your people to scramble and operate in dysfunction and chaos just to get out the door. Get your most routine tasks down into processes and prioritized checklists.
The biggest ongoing challenge faced when moving toward a goal of route density is that the marketing and sales approach must change dramatically.
SIMA offers three key elements to think about when focusing on routing density:
- The question is no longer how can I get several more accounts, but how can I get the property next to the other three I already service? This involves hyper-focused targeting of specific properties on a oneby- one basis.
- When looking at your routes, look at the hidden costs that can devalue an account.
- Routing density requires a sales and marketing approach that focuses less on area and more on prospects that fit into existing routes.