EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Snow Magazine.
Taking on complex commercial accounts requires snow and ice management professionals to plan more effectively, communicate consistently and make wise use of their equipment, materials and people.
Snow magazine spoke with three veteran snow and ice management professionals with years of experience servicing large scale, complex commercial accounts.
We asked them to share their insights on how to best align resources – people, equipment and material – to get the job done in three different account scenarios: a sprawling medical campus; a manufacturing facility; and a multi-use residential/retail/office “lifestyle” complex.
Here is what our experts had to say.
Director of Operations
Schill Grounds Management
North Ridgeville, Ohio
Since Jason Dickey started working in the snow management industry in 1997, he has seen the good, bad and downright ugly aspects of commercial snow management.
As Director of Operations for Schill Grounds Management, located in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, a noted lake effect snow hotspot, he oversees the company’s commercial snow operations. Schill Grounds Management is a full-service landscape and property management company that counts on snow and ice management services for more than a third of its annual revenue.
The company specializes in commercial work, having spilt off its residential operations to focus on honing the operational efficiencies needed to service large, more demanding commercial customers.
“The most important thing to remember when working with big accounts is having a plan for how to handle each snow or ice event, and sticking to it,” says Dickey. “You have to educate your customer on the plan and keep them in the loop so they understand the why and how behind what you are doing.”
Dickey’s experience has shown that what usually derails a smooth snow and ice removal operation in a large commercial account is when the plan hasn’t been spelled out to the primary contact and their staff.
“If there are multiple contacts in an account that aren’t up to speed on the plan, you can have problems,” says Dickey. “You end up responding to multiple calls about this lot or that lot not being cleared, and all you do is put out fires rather than executing your original plan.”
Timing is everything, says Dickey, and is the key to managing a major snow event at a medical campus. “Knowing what time the storm is coming and what type of precipitation is anticipated so you have the right materials and equipment on hand is important,” he says.
With the constant flow of traffic in and around a medical facility, knowing the timing of when and where people enter and leave the facility is a must. Dickey says areas including rehabilitation units, emergency and trauma entrances and doctors’ parking lots are tops on the list.
“Certain lots are always full because of the 24-hour nature of a hospital and we have to work around it sometimes,” says Dickey. “We have found success using box plows in parking lot aisles since they better contain and push the snow.”
Dickey adds that a central part of the plan is to know before the season starts where the plowed snow is to be stored. He works with the facility security personnel to identify areas where snow can be piled and with their primary contact to determine if they are hauling the snow off site or letting it melt.
“We are sensitive to customer’s budgets and communicate the options to them,” says Dickey. “We also factor in the forecast and if another major snow event is predicted, we want to make sure we have a place to pile the snow without throwing our plan off track.”
When it comes to manufacturing facilities, the make or break point is selling the customer on designated parking areas for employees. And with the potential for up to three shifts a day, getting this element of your plan nailed down is vital.
“It is important to get the workforce to park together and not have stray vehicles in lots you are trying to clear,” says Dickey. “By concentrating where each shift parks, you have flexibility to clear and salt the remaining lots without obstacles.”
Dock areas where forklifts (which can easily get stuck in the snow) are used, are another zone that must remain clear to allow shipments to arrive and finished products shipped. Dickey recommends contractors know the facility’s shipping schedule and to be pro-active in keeping dock areas fully operational even in the toughest snow event.
The retail industry’s trend for “lifestyle” complexes that blend retail, residential and commercial office space into one area is convenient for shoppers and residents, but can be a nightmare for snow contractors.
Dickey and his team service a complex in suburban Cleveland that covers 75 acres and includes 800,000 sq. ft. of retail space, 500,000 sq. ft. of residential units, and 100,000 sq. ft. of office space.
“The most important thing for us on this account is to stick with the plan,” says Dickey. “Every machine we have assigned to the facility has its own designated location and at the end of the day it has to look like it didn’t snow at all.”
From clean curb lines and zero tolerance for snow and ice on sidewalks to limitations on noise because of the residential units, Dickey and his crew have their work cut out for them.
Schill’s crews vary starting times to best meet resident and worker needs, and start the clearing process from the center of the complex and work toward the outside – all part of a well-synchronized plan.
With activity running from early morning (the fitness facility sees heavy traffic as early as 5:00 a.m.) until late in the evening, Dickey and his crew have a tight window to get the job done. He points to an example of how his crews clear the facilities multi-story parking garages.
“We know which garages fill up the earliest and clear out the latest,” says Dickey. “To get the snow off the garages’ top floors we use 1-ton trucks and have made as many as 150 trips to remove the snow out of there.”
Team Perficut Industries
Des Moines, Iowa
When Team Perficut decided to focus on developing its snow and ice management operations, it was done to allow the company to aggressively pursue larger commercial clients. And with 95 percent of the company’s snow revenue coming from commercial accounts, Boelman and his team know they have to be on top of their game.
Perficut provides dedicated account managers, a 24-hour call center, an emergency contact line and extensive documentation and reporting for its commercial customers.
“We perform pre-season inspection reports – including video – on all our clients’ facilities,” says Boelman. “The reports document pre-existing hazards at the site and plug them into the company’s internal mapping program.”
Performance site reviews are completed after each snow event and document any damage incidents, as well as provide an evaluation on the quality of the work performed.
When it comes to putting their snow and ice management plan into action, Boelman and Perficut divide their large commercials accounts into service quadrants and follow a three-tier priority scale.
First on the priority scale are areas requiring 24-hour access and frequently traversed walkways where pre-treatments of ice melting products are done to maintain the zero-tolerance requirement.
Next on the list are vehicle entry and exit points and structures with ramps (i.e. parking garages) and vehicle drop off areas. Boelman says they continuously monitor these areas, as well as ground temperatures and the types of precipitation (ice, flakey snow, slush) involved with the event.
Third on the list are outlying areas and overflow parking lots that do not require 24- hour access, and can be left until the morning for an overnight snow event.
Removal plans are tailored to coincide with employee work schedules, not always an easy task with medical facilities that have staff constantly coming and going.
“We clear walkways an hour before shift changes to make sure we have an ice-free, slip-free environment,” says Boelman. “We always keep an eye on emergency room entrances and constantly service those areas.”
Boelman says managing customer expectations is important with commercial accounts, especially medical facilities that see 24-hour, seven-day-a-week activity.
Perficut’s internal monitoring protocols produce reports every six hours during a snow event. The reports are e-mailed to clients and allow them to provide feedback if there are any service issues or concerns that arise during the event.
One of Perficut’s largest commercial customers is a John Deere manufacturing facility that occupies 70 acres of concrete in Ankeny, Iowa. The facility employs three shifts of workers who produce large self-propelled agriculture sprayers and cotton pickers for farmers across the globe.
The facility requires Perficut to employ two shifts of employees during snow events and deploy a wide array of equipment from ATVs and sidewalk plow machines, to four heavy duty loaders.
Following the company’s quadrant and priority scale formula, Perficut focuses its attention to designated walkways and forklift paths that see heavy usage around the clock. The forklifts and other vehicles need access to exterior raw material sites at all hours, even during snow events.
“We work with the plant manager and find out what ‘pick sites’ need to be accessed and at what time,” says Boelman. “We also look at the forecast and are proactive in pre-treating sites we know will be accessed.”
With vehicle and pedestrian traffic coming and going constantly, determining a plan for keeping sidewalks, roadways, and parking lots and garages clear for large multi-purpose, “lifestyle” complexes can be challenging.
Perficut services two such facilities in the Des Moines area and tracks store hours for every retail outlet, as well as the office hours for the businesses in the complex to keep the flow of traffic moving smoothly.
Boelman says they have a strong relationship with the property managers and work with them to communicate with tenants and residents when and where Perficut’s crews will be working.
“They will instruct residents and tenants to park in certain lots to allow us access to areas that otherwise we couldn’t clear,” says Boelman. “This allows us to clear the lots quicker and get people back in their regular locations sooner.”
The company uses its full complement of equipment in servicing these accounts including ATVs to salt on weight-sensitive loadbearing ramps, dedicated sidewalk machines, skid steers and loaders and containment box pushers for large lots.
“We like to use smaller equipment such as skid steers and ATVs that are quicker and have a zero-turn-radius to move snow to our push zones where the plows and loaders take it to one of the three designated storage sites,” says Boelman.
A unique challenge Perficut faces is that it must travel the same roadway residents, shoppers and workers use to move the snow to the designated storage areas.
“Even though it is only a short distance the logistics can be a challenge and our timing must be perfect to avoid congestion,” says Boelman.
Xtreme Snow Pros,
For Chris Marino, owner of Xtreme Snow Pros in Mahwah, N.J., tackling snow and ice events at commercial properties comes down to one thing – making sure you have the right equipment for the job.
“You have to identify what equipment is required, where at the property is that piece of equipment needed, and make sure the equipment is productive,” says Marino, who started the company in 2009 and services a five-county area in densely populated Northern New Jersey and Southern New York State.
When designing a plan to service large commercial properties, Marino recommends contractors prepare for the worst case scenario snow and ice event.
“More is better when it comes to allocating equipment and being able to service the client according to their needs,” says Marino. “The client has faith in your ability to get the job done and it starts with making sure you have the right equipment.”
Marino also is strong believer in having your systems locked down and not only having the right equipment on-site but extra materials as well.
“We have our materials, including extra fuel, on site ready to go,” says Marino. “We are ready to handle a snow or ice event of any length and for back-to-back events without having to take time to resupply. Our clients don’t want to hear the excuse that we have to go off property to refuel or back to the warehouse for more de-icing product.”
Keeping the flow of foot and vehicle traffic going is the top priority in medical complexes. Marino outfits his sidewalk equipment with brooms to help achieve zero tolerance, as well as v-plow, snow blowers and air blowers, in addition to applications of anti-icing liquids.
As with all Xtreme Snow Pros’ commercial accounts, the property is divided into zones with a team commander in each zone to make certain nothing is missed and work is being completed to customer standards.
When developing a plan for managing snow and ice for one of Northern New Jersey’s numerous manufacturing and warehousing facilities, Marino again turns to large tractors outfitted with a variety of blade types (box, angle, reverse angle) to match the job at hand.
The company also employs skids steers with snow buckets and containment plows to clear tight areas and walkways where foot and forklift traffic are a constant.
For large retail, residential and office complexes, Marino adds ride-on snow blowers to relocate snow quickly and keep parking areas and sidewalks clear.
Extreme Snow Pro also has all its machinery and trucks outfitted with GPS units and provides clients with real time access through a secure web portal so they can see – no matter where they are – what equipment is currently deployed at their facility.