John Allin reflects on what the 2010 Top Contractor list says about the industry and about professional snow removal contractors.
Once again, it’s time for the Top 100 list. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE 2010 LIST. I like seeing how certain companies are doing. No doubt this year's list has been affected by the type of winter experienced on the east coast of the USA. Running through a season that was several times “average” had a decided affect on the overall numbers. Add to that, the western portion of the mid-west was way below average – and the numbers can become skewed.
But, do the numbers provided actually tell the tale of who’s doing what?
I’m not sure.
I’m not even sure that is the point of the list itself. I interact with a good number of snow contractors who do not submit their numbers for consideration. Some have an affinity towards allowing others to get a look inside their business. Some would rather fly “under the radar” than to have others look closely at what they are doing. Others just plain do not care to participate for reasons they do not wish to reveal. I respect whatever reason they may have for not putting themselves front and center and in the cross-hairs of those who want to second guess what they are doing.
From my travels, I suspect “the list” is missing quite a few snow contractors. However, I don’t know as it’s a huge deal if some contractors in our industry wish to remain anonymous. The fact that the totals of those on the list itself has moved upward tells us a lot. Contractors from all over North America are on the list, ranging from the far west, Alaska, the mid west, the east coast and several areas of Canada. This is a very good sign. Back when these lists were first being compiled, one only had to get down past the top 10 to find contractors under $1 million in revenues. Now, you need to get below Number 90 to get below $1 million in revenues. You cannot convince me it this is because more are reporting their numbers than were 10 years back.
Some of these contractors you can actually “follow” for the past 10 years and see the dramatic uptick in revenues. One would tend to wonder “why is that”? I’m certain the overall industry has matured significantly since 1996, and it is reflected in the names and diversity on the list. The individual companies on the list have also matured – some dramatically. I know a lot of the owners of many of the companies on the list. I’ve seen the “owners” of listed companies grow from being “plow jockeys” to college educated, businessmen dedicated to professional actions. They are tracking margins, projecting expenses, figuring out how much revenue they require in order to survive and thrive in mild winters. The sophistication associated with running a snow and ice management organization has become much more apparent as equipment and computer technology advances how we perform and track operations.
Is the list important – yes, I believe so. Is it all encompassing – no, I don’t think so. It is a testament to how much the industry has grown in the past ten years. No longer are we going out there, pushing some snow for customers, sending out a bill and hoping to get paid so we have a little more money in our pockets. Now, contractors are controlling costs, seeking ways to become more efficient utilizing the tools that are available. Snow contractors are also becoming entrepreneurs’ in other areas of our industry – and in many cases driving the growth and sophistication we witness today
The first viable, and still the most accurate, snow estimating package was put together by a snow contractor looking to add a level of sophistication to his business so as to be able to expand beyond his home geographic area. The accepted and tested production factors for all sorts of equipment combinations were put together by a snow contractor who sought to bring accuracy to production tracking. The most effective computer tracking system used by snow professionals today was designed, tested and implemented by a snow contractor who thought “there must be a better way.” Most of the snow equipment advances of the past 10 years, while implemented by equipment manufacturers, were tested and critiqued by snow contractors. A few pieces were dreamt up, patented and brought to market by a snow contractor who believed “we must be able to find a way to do this better/cheaper/faster.” The drive to become more than “someone who can’t find a real job” came from within.
The Top 100 is a result of that same type of drive.