Frank Dedon will never forget his finest moment in snow removal. The night before Christmas Eve 2004, Northeastern Ohio got hit with 10 inches of snow. Then, at 3 a.m., it started to thunder and rain and continued on till 6 a.m., at which time another 11 inches of the white stuff exploded out of the sky. It was the worst blizzard he could remember, even worse than the one in 1977-’78, but it didn’t keep people from heading to the local megamall (his account) for last-minute Christmas presents.
“People will go to the mall like the walking dead no matter what happens,” says Dedon.
There was a seven-mile backup in either direction on the main interstate that leads to the mall, and Dedon’s crews had to rescue more than 100 cars that had become stuck. Dedon called for an “armada” of wheel loaders and front-end loaders, and when he watched them crest the hill on Route 82, he remarked that they looked like the Marines preparing for an assault.
“And we kept that mall open during the storm,” says Dedon. “It was the only mall open anywhere. My guys never went home. They stayed at the Days Inn and worked in shifts so they could go back to the job. When you talk about accomplishments, that ranks right up there.”
In essence, Dedon’s crews rescued the masses, and it’s for this reason that he views the service he offers as no less heroic or noble than the service police or fire departments offer.
“I don’t feel that people give our industry enough respect until they need us,” says Dedon. “They should give us the same respect that they give to emergency services, police or fire. It all runs together. I’ve looked at it that way ever since the first time I put down a blade to plow snow.”
Like each of our other leadership winners, snow is in franks blood,” says Kevin Gilbride, executive director of the Accredited Snow Contractors Association. “He will talk for hours about doing things right. People who know Frank know he doesn’t put up with a lot of bull.”
Never one to be taken advantage of by a frivolous slip-and-fall claim, Gilbride knows for a fact that Dedon has some of the best loss runs in the industry.
“He fights back... and won’t let this industry get taken over by the scammers,” he says. “Frank was one of our first members of ASCA and has been a sounding board for me – and the ASCA – as a member of our education committee. Frank cares about the future of this industry and is putting the time into driving that change.”
Dedon takes his job as a professional snow and ice manager very seriously. It’s not just a matter of following through on a commitment to a client or doing the best quality job – it’s about keeping the public safe.
“If you look at every dollar spent on snow removal, it all goes toward the direct safety of the public,” he says. “I’ve always been aware of that. I’ve always taken my job very seriously because everything I do has to do with the safety of my clients and the people I represent. We’re the first line of defense in the movement of traffic in times of need. And winter disasters can be devastating to the economy and people’s health.”
Dedon’s subcontractors’ health can be jeopardized too if they fail to perform the level of work he expects one too many times. He has a “three strikes and you’re out” policy that leads to the elimination of 15 to 20 percent of his subs, or “partners” as he prefers to call them, each year. The first time they make a mistake, he explains once again how the work should be done. The second time, he personally visits the site.
“The third time I have to go there, that’s it,” Dedon says. “I’ve explained myself three times. Me or my supervisor has shown them what we want. But there’s no calling or pink slip – I tell them face-to-face why I won’t use them anymore. One guy I remember couldn’t understand the concept of ‘don’t bury the trees, shrubs, curbs, etc.’”
Pass the Salt
Sharp businesspeople see the need for something before anyone else does, act on it quickly and create a solution that’s profitable to them and serves customers well. That’s exactly what Frank Dedon did in 1999 – and the advantage he had was looking at it from the customer perspective…because he was the customer!
As his company grew, Dedon saw his operation using more and more salt – from 7,000 to 10,000 tons per season. They had created three to four storage yards in different locations and were even dumping salt in lots and covering it with tarps. They were simply getting “spread out” too much, so Dedon bought a property where he could erect a salt storage building and keep his equipment. That’s when he realized there was potential to create a “business within a business.”
“I realized there was no place you could go at night to get loaded with salt,” he says. “There was no place you could call and say, ‘I need a load on Christmas day,’ or, “Hey, I ran out.’ You would have to wait for three to five days for delivery. So I designed the business to help people in my business.”
Dedon invested $1.5 million in a salt dome, and to this day he says it’s the only privately owned salt dome on the eastern seaboard. He also invested $80,000 in a state-certified scale so plowers could scale their trucks in and out, get a ticket and then pay only for what they received. He started with only one semi but now has a whole fleet to accommodate just about any request.
“If you call me at 6 a.m. and say, ‘My people forgot to order salt,’ under normal conditions we can get it to you within a matter of a few hours,” Dedon says. “It’s immediate delivery, and we guarantee the volume you’re getting with the state-certified scale.”
Dedon jokingly calls his management style the “Italian Method,” where each time he tells someone how to do something, he gets louder and louder.
“You will understand us when we’re done,” he says.
But make no mistake about it, Dedon is fiercely loyal to those subcontractors who live up to the Abraxus standard of quality. He doesn’t “bump” anybody off their routes with his own trucks if his own guys finish early with their assignments.
“I have a lot of my own equipment, so I could easily knock [the subs] off a job once I finish with some of the things I do,” says Dedon. “If it’s snowing east, not west, I don’t turn my trucks around and knock my subs off on the east locations. If I assign a sub to a certain location, he’s staying there.”
Dedon is also sensitive to the fact that some of his subs have to go to work at other jobs at 6 a.m., so he makes sure he has the equipment in place to relieve them.
“They know I’m here and that I’m not going to use a bunch of them one year and then get rid of them,” he says.
But the loyalty goes both ways. Dedon is loyal to his good subcontractors, and they’re loyal to him because of his treatment of them as “partners” and the fact that he pays very well and very quickly. In fact, lots of them have been with him for 15, 20 and 30 years, and he even has second and third generation subs. It’s because of them that no storm has ever closed the 88-acre SouthPark Mall in the 13 years he has held that account. And because they make sure the job is done right, they generate customer loyalty for Dedon, which he likes to refer to as “local loyalty” that keeps the “big-box” operations like Brickman and U.S. Maintenance at bay. He cites two accounts that he has had for 38 years and 25 years as examples of the loyalty he has earned through the unique way he operates his business. “I like being independent,” Dedon says.
“I like my direct relations with office managers. When they want something, they call me and not some call center in Pennsylvania or Maine or wherever. You form relationships with operations managers who you pull out of monstrous storms.”
Even though he has been in the business for 41 years, Dedon doesn’t take it for granted that everyone knows the name “Abraxus.” He understands the importance of advertising and typically earmarks $50,000 annually to make sure his brand is reinforced in customers’ brains. He has advertised via TV, radio and billboards, often using the slogan, “We manage the business of snow so snow doesn’t manage your business.”
“The key is consistency,” says Dedon. “If there’s no consistency and you think you’re just going to go out and advertise for only one year, it won’t work. It has to be something people remember.”
Dedon came up with name “Abraxus” for that very reason: people would remember it. After a stint with the Marines, he enlisted in college as a psychology major and also worked in home improvement and plowing. He wanted a name that began with “A” so that it would be listed at the top in the phone book. After seeing a photo in a book of the cover of a Santana album called, “Abraxas,” Dedon decided that was it. He also demonstrated his business savvy by choosing a phone number that would be easy to remember: 216-321-SNOW, with the 3-2-1 sounding like a countdown.
“We were the first ones to do that, and now everyone does it,” he says.
The most memorable ad campaign Dedon ever did consisted of billboards marking the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 and honoring those people who lost their lives.
“Of all the things I’ve done charity-wise, that was probably my proudest moment,” says Dedon. “As a former Marine, to be able to thank the people who sacrificed something for us, it was a very emotional moment for me.”
Dedon sees reward in a job well done, but is grateful for receiving a Leadership Award from Snow Magazine.
“This award humbled me, and I’m not one who is easily humbled,” he says. “After 41 years of doing anything, you figure you’re pretty sure of yourself to have existed for 41 years. But after meeting a lot of my fellow professionals through the other Leadership ceremonies and the Top 100, I’m really humbled. It’s a great honor bestowed upon me by my peers and my working constituents and I’m very honored.”
Jason Stahl is a Cleveland-based freelance writer and frequent Snow Magazine contributor.