Forward thinking

Forward thinking

How tractors with inverted snow blowers increased Deneigement Vanderzon’s efficiency.

June 24, 2014
Brooke N. Bates
Industry News

snow tractorsPaul Vanderzon had a conversation with snow contractors six years ago that left them thinking he was crazy.

When he told them residential work comprised 60 percent of his snow removal business, they’d scoff, “There’s no money in residential.” But business was booming at Deneigement Vanderzon in Saint-Bruno, Quebec, with $1 million in annual residential snow removal.

“I finally said, ‘Stop telling me I’m not making money,’” Vanderzon says. “They asked, ‘Well, how many driveways do you have?’ I said, ‘3,000.’ He looked at me like, ‘You’ve got to be crazy. What do you have – 150 pickup trucks?’ I go, ‘No – 24 tractors.’ Then he was calling people over: ‘Check out this Canadian. He’s crazy! He has 3,000 driveways but he does the work with tractors.’ Since then, people are starting to listen.”

Deneigement Vanderzon has used agricultural tractors since Vanderzon’s father founded the company in 1959. Back then, the tractors had no cabs, and used buckets and scrapers to remove snow. In the mid-70s, the company started replacing buckets with standard snow blowers, which sprayed snow evenly out of driveways instead of leaving piles.

When Vanderzon turned 16 in 1978, his father bought him a tractor to begin clearing snow. By then, the company was using inverted blowers, which operate while the tractor drives forward instead of backward. But young Vanderzon wasn’t convinced.

“I said, ‘No, I want the standard blower and I’ll show them how to do snow,’” he says. “After that first year, they were outperforming me easily by 30 percent, and I kept having breakdowns. By the end of that year, I begged my dad for an inverted blower.”

Push vs. pull.

Any type of plow or snow blower requires backing up, one way or another, for residential work. Either you drive in the driveway and push snow as you back out, or back into the driveway and pull the inverted blower as you drive forward.

“The inverted is already more efficient because you’re actually driving out of the driveway forward, with a better vision of oncoming traffic,” Vanderzon says. “You can drive a little faster and pay attention to where you’re blowing snow.”

The next advantage comes at the curbline, where inverted blowers smoothly drop from driveway to street-level. With standard blowers, operators must guess where to drop it, hoping not to catch the curbline and bend or break the blower. Likewise, beyond the pavement, an inverted blower simply “glides over grass without gouging into it.”

“We found our property damage really lowered because we never had to drive onto the property to get rid of snow,” Vanderzon says. “Our clients were very pleased – as we were – about having little to repair, because even if you fix it beautifully, clients are annoyed that you damaged it in the first place.”

These efficiencies make the inverted blower ideal for residential work. In fact, it’s the only method Vanderzon uses for driveways. For larger commercial parking lots, he brings ag tractors with hydraulic plows.

Speed of snow.

With 3,200 residential customers packed inside four square miles, Vanderzon averages 50 driveways an hour – about double the rate of the typical plow. The company, which has 32 employees, made about $1 million in residential snow removal while commercial accounts for $600,000.

While pickups with plows can travel further and faster, ag tractors max out around 18 miles per hour – which requires a compact service area. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“We don’t have the luxury of time to take 10 or 12 hours to clear up the snow,” Vanderzon says. “In my market, when the trigger is met, we have four hours. I have to get as much work done as I can in those four hours. Every minute that you’re wasting driving from one house to the other is money you’re not making.”

Better business.

The further Vanderzon ventures from Quebec, the stranger his snow-blowing tractors seem. Within a 30-mile radius, this method is the norm – largely thanks to his father’s initial interest in it.

When the manufacturer went bankrupt soon after Deneigement Vanderzon switched to inverted blowers, Vanderzon’s father asked another manufacturer in Quebec to build it. Normand Co. Ltd required a minimum order of 10, so he rallied a few local snow contractors to place the first order.

Within the last 10 years, Vanderzon has observed ag tractors and Normand inverted blowers have replaced pickup trucks and plows in Ottawa and across Quebec. Though slow to spread, the trend is moving into Ontario, and even creeping into Manitoba, Alberta and the U.S. By sharing best practices as a mentor, and showing inverted blowers in action as part of Pro-Tech’s documentary, “Project Sno Fighter,” Vanderzon is promoting the method’s efficiency across North America. “I have yet to see one single person who has gone with the inverted snow blower and been disappointed,” he says.