The Greenwood Group has found success in creating a 12-month service model for its customers in Missouri – adding snow services for landscape clients, and vice versa.
Pete Schepis Jr., director of operations, says the full-service landscaping company based in Wentzville about 40 miles west of St. Louis services mostly commercial customers, and stresses the benefits of dealing with just one contractor year round than trying to manage several vendors.
“If we do the maintenance, we’re conscious of where we’re pushing the snow, how we’re treating the plants around the snow, so that we’re taking care of our property as a whole,” he says.
In return, landscape maintenance contracts usually run three to five years and the snow removal contract is signed new each year because salt prices vary from year to year.
“We very rarely will take on a snow client that’s not a landscape maintenance client,” he says.
Commercial at the core.
On the snow removal side, 100 percent of clients of the Greenwood Group are commercial. These clients include HOAs, some office buildings and large apartment complexes. Total revenue in 2014 was at $3.3 million. Of that amount about $580,000 came from the company’s snow removal service.
Tips for finding and managing extra hands
When a single client has more than 500 driveways that need plowing, it’s all hands on deck. But where are those extra hands found?
Full-time employees at The Greenwood Group are asked to spread the need via word of mouth. The company has also posted ads in and around town to find extra help. “Hand laborers” shovel snow for the company on a seasonal basis and are paid as independent contractors. Many of these people come back year after year, Schepis says.
“We don’t try to drive them to the ground. We try to give them some breaks and we try to pay them pretty quickly because most of the people that are coming and doing it for us, it’s either supplemental income or it’s because they don’t have work in the winter,” he says.
These workers are called in per incident via a phone tree. Making those calls early is key, often two days before a storm is predicted to hit, Schepis says. If the forecast doesn’t pan out the phone tree is enacted again to call the workers off.
“It very rarely hinders them from wanting to come to the next one,” he says. “I understand that people need to work, and people need to pay their bills so we just try to treat them as nice as we can, and hopefully they’ll be back to us for the next storm.”
While these contract workers are not typically given background checks, Schepis says it hasn’t been an issue thus far. Schepis says his company uses E-Verify to verify employment eligibility.
A bigger issue, perhaps, has been the occasional individuals that come in ready to work and don’t realize how labor-intensive hand shoveling is.
“They might make it one or two hours, and then they’re asking to go home, and then those guys don’t get asked back the next time,” he says.
Snow removal service started with a few office clients. As more clients began to ask for the service, it increased. Today it’s rare for The Greenwood Group to take on a new client without having them agree to service for both the green and white seasons.
“We wanted to try to have something to do in the winter,” he says. “Then as the company got bigger, it’s become more of a necessity for us to continue to do the snow removal.”
Weather in St. Louis is a little finicky. Some seasons The Greenwood Group is still providing leaf removal through November and December. Snow removal may not really pick up until January or February, but it does help even out revenue year-round, Schepis says. Snow removal usually continues through the beginning of March.
The Greenwood Group employs about 20 full-time employees. Those individuals are cross-trained to work both the landscape and snow removal routes. With the addition of seasonal workers, that number jumps to slightly more than 60. For the company’s largest job site, a condominium apartment complex with more than 500 driveways, about 20 laborers are needed for hand shoveling alone. “Those hand labors come just for snow removal, only work in the snow, and that’s it,” he says. “It is a lot of stuff to do. It’s mostly sidewalks and stuff. I mean we can get through it with one plow truck, and maybe a little bit of help from the Bobcat in some of the parking lots, but it’s mostly sidewalks.”
Planning for the season.
Prep for the snow removal season typically begins the first of August, Schepis says.
“We used to wait until mid to late September, and we just started finding out that’s too late. It’s always easier for us to get access to salt, the earlier that we start getting into it, figuring out our clients, and getting our stuff ready,” he says.
“Once we get into September we’ll start to get some of the equipment out and start to service it and things like that, so that we’re not in a pinch just in case we ever get a rare November storm.” In addition to ordering salt and getting equipment ready, Schepis says his team will be in contact with clients to negotiate those winter contracts.
“For the snow we start to get the contracts ready and start to talk about it in August, which is hard because it’s usually the hottest month, here in St. Louis, is August, and people don’t really want to talk about snow, but that’s what we found is the best way to work it for us,” he says.
Once contracts are in place, it helps The Greenwood Group better plan for how many of those hand laborers they will need. Snow removal routes are scheduled based on proximity of clients to one another.
Because The Greenwood Group’s office is 20 minutes from some of their snow removal jobs, trucks may be prepped and depart from different locations so they can start on routes faster and so employees have a shorter drive in, Schepis says.
Set the scene.
This staging may occur the day before inclement weather is predicted. Managers and staff will deliver equipment to the staged location in advance of the storm. If a compact tractor or skid-steer is going to be used at a job site, it may also be brought to the client’s location prior to the start of snowfall.
“Just trying to be as ahead of the game as we can is always helpful to us,” Schepis says.
“We load all of the plow trucks, we load all of the salters, we load everything before anybody can go home and get rest. We try to do that 24 hours before the storm. That’s our biggest benefit.”
If one plow driver finishes earlier than expected, that driver will finish up with another crew until all the work is complete.
Normally crews consist of three to five people: one plow driver, and the rest working by hand shoveling walks and driveways, or removing snow using a skid-steer. Two salting trucks operate separate from these crews and drivers start their routes approximately three hours after the plows.
“We want those salt trucks running from job to job to job constantly,” he says. “If something needs retreated, or depending on temperature, we get some refreeze, or something like that.”
Holly Hammersmith is a freelancer based in Cleveland.