Winter in the Midwest can be brutal. However, when snow removal is a significant part of your business model, a long winter isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but it can present many challenges. Eventually, the weather warms and spring returns, and that’s the perfect time to take stock, regroup and make any necessary changes. Just ask David Gasaway, owner and president of Gasaway Maintenance Company in Romeoville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
“After winter ends, we always have a meeting with our office people and equipment operators,” Gasaway says. “New ideas and methods come up during the busy winter months that we’re not able to address immediately. Everyone has a different opinion, and our end-of-season meeting offers a chance to speak up and be heard. Then, we meet again in a few weeks to discuss any changes we’re implementing for the following year. We’ve been in business a long time, and this works well for us.”
Persistency and consistency
Gasaway has been in the pavement maintenance and snow removal businesses for quite a while – over three decades, in fact. Gasaway started the company a few years after finishing high school in 1974. “I started seal-coating driveways part time when I was in school,” Gasaway recalls. “I decided to go into business for myself in 1978. It was a great time to be in the paving business because it was during this time that more fast-food restaurants started adding drive-up windows and we did all of that construction. Since then, we’ve undergone some name changes and directional changes. In 1992, we incorporated the name Gasaway Maintenance Company.”
Nowadays, Gasaway and his team repair storm drains and concrete curbs, patch parking lots and then seal and stripe for a complete turnkey solution. They also remove snow, primarily in Chicago’s western suburbs. The company employs around 20 full-time staff members, hiring seasonal workers as needed. As owner and president, Gasaway oversees all the employees: sales, operations and mechanics. While he doesn’t operate equipment as much as he once did, Gasaway does still go out into the field to ensure jobs are being handled properly. “I’m a very hands-on person when it comes to running this business,” he explains. “It has my name on it, and I take everything we do very seriously. I think the keys to running a successful business are persistency and consistency, and we constantly strive for both.”
Gasaway’s business has grown over the past few decades, thanks not just to the advent of the fast food industry, but also because of the big box warehouse complexes that have sprung up along Chicago’s I-55 corridor. According to Gasaway, more than 92 million square feet of warehouse space has been developed there over the past 20 years, giving his business a variety of pavement and snow removal jobs throughout the year. “If you have a good relationship, the property manager may assign you to maintain anywhere from five to 10 properties,” Gasaway says. “I plowed snow for some properties in 1979 that I’m still plowing today. It comes down to price and quality service.”
Strength and versatility
The equipment Gasaway uses also makes a big impact on his company’s pricing, service and overall productivity. For snow removal, “we currently own four JCB 426 wheel loaders and two JCB 436 wheel loaders,” Gasaway says. “We typically lease most of our equipment during snow season. At the end of the lease period, we have the option to buy, if the numbers work out. We either exercise that option or we turn the machines back in and lease them again the following year. On an annual basis, we lease two or three 426 wheel loaders, two or three 436 wheel loaders, six to nine JCB 260 skid-steers and two to four JCB 300 skid-steers.”
Gasaway likes these machines because their heavier weights offer more snow-pushing ability, and they can be outfitted with numerous snow removal attachments. The company plows heavier snow using a snow box attachment. Then, when blowing and drifting begin, operators attach the snow blade to clear blocked areas. For transporting snow out of a parking lot, they equip the machine with a bucket and dump the snow into trucks so it can be removed.
Efficiency and productivity
When you’re running multiple machines at various sites, fuel efficiency can be a big deal. And, when operating machines in punishing, cold and windy conditions, no one wants to leave the comfort of a heated cab to fill an empty fuel tank. Gasaway looks for machines that can run for eight hours without being refueled.
Parts availability is also essential because, obviously, accidents happen and machines can break down. Gasaway Maintenance Company prefers to fix any issues as soon as possible.
Whether operating, repairing or maintaining a machine, safety is paramount. No one wants workers to risk injury while performing their jobs. For that reason, Gasaway says that the side-entry door on skid-steers is a concept whose time has come. “Now and then, we end up having to repair parts on our attachments in the field due to the extreme wear and tear we put them through during the winter months,” he explains. “With side-entry doors, we can rotate the bucket or blade, step out, repair the part and step right back into the machine. You can’t do that with other skid-steers. With other skid-steers, raising the attachment will block the door, so the operator can’t get out to make the repair. So, you have to have two guys – one to raise the attachment, the other to fix whatever’s wrong – definitely not an ideal situation.”
In the 35-plus years that his company has been in business, Gasaway has survived three major recessions. The combination of trying to stay competitive while still showing a profit has been a challenge, but thanks to planning and foresight, it’s one the company has been able to handle.
“It’s amazing how many companies around us 10 years ago are no longer here,” Gasaway says. “Every time a recession takes place, banks change their rules, and you have to re-learn everything. That’s why I’m so hands-on. You stand back, take an objective look around you, figure out what needs to be fixed, and you fix it. That’s what we do, from the way we buy our equipment to how we maintain it to how we service our customers. You offer quality service with quality people and quality equipment – that’s the key to our longevity. We’re not going anywhere.”
COVER PHOTO: JCB