Last month we honored our inaugural class of Leadership Award winners at a gala event held at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum here in our hometown of Cleveland. It was part of a professional snow removal industry summit that Snow Magazine, along with the generous support of Arctic Sectional Sno-plow, Snow Dragon Snowmelters, WGS, Western, Fisher and Blizzard snowplows and Chicago Weather Brokerage, put on in conjunction with an educational leadership summit. You can see event coverage on pages 6-9 and read the profiles of this year’s award recipients throughout the issue, as well as on the Web at snowmagazineonline.com.
Each snow fighter was deserving of this honor. There’s no question the award recipients are savvy business people – you can see that from how they’ve successfully grown and maintained their snow removal operations over the years. What makes them truly outstanding representatives of our industry are their individual commitments to strengthening and legitimizing this industry and their devotion to giving back to the communities they work and live in.
But I was struck by something interesting during the event. Each award recipient was quick to redirect the spotlight off of them and onto their people. And each said, for them, there would be no award without their people.
So much time is focused on besting the competition, preseason prep, closing contracts and, frankly, smooching customers’ behinds we often forget about what makes up the foundation of our businesses. While an outsider would assess your business based on the value of your snow removal portfolio, your greatest and most valuable asset is your people. You could have the most lucrative contracts in professional snow removal history, but without key people playing strategic roles you’re nothing.
As a matter of fact, think about those competitors in your market who have failed. I’d bet there were more failures due to an inability to execute the work properly than there were because there was a lack of business. Remember, positive performance brings in business. It’s your greatest marketing tool.
Leadership Award recipient Scott Neave perhaps said it the best during his acceptance speech. To paraphrase, he said while butterflies are beautiful, it’s the caterpillar that does all the work but doesn’t always receive the credit. Scott, in a nod to his people, described himself as the butterfly of his company.
Before this winter’s snow season gets into full swing, take a few moments to recognize the caterpillars in your organization and thank them for making your snow removal service so beautiful.
In 1982, a confident young welding-supplies salesman in Erie, Pa., told his boss he was going to quit his secure job and go into business for himself plowing snow. Back then, a lot of people might have told the young man he was crazy. But today, snow removal contractors all over the country will tell you it was the best thing to ever happen to the industry. Things were never the same after John Allin entered the snow and ice business.
Allin’s career highlights are familiar to many in the industry. He grew the company that would become Snow Management Group (SMG) into the country’s first national snow removal business. He came up with the idea for the Snow and Ice Management Association, and was instrumental in its founding and growth. He was the exclusive snow contractor for the 1992 Olympics in Salt Lake City, after which he wrote a successful book, devised and sold an industry-leading snow melter, and started a consulting business.
But these are all just bullet points on a CV. They add up to a larger truth: John Allin took a collection of small, seasonal businesses and organized them into a full-fledged industry, one with its own association, multiple trade journals and once-unimagined revenues. Talk to some of his colleagues in the industry, no slouches themselves, and listen to the praise they shower down.
“John was always a big thinker, up for any challenge,” says Kurt Kluznik, president of Yardmaster Inc. in Painesville, Ohio. “No matter what he did, he did it in a big way.”
George Gaumer, vice president and general manager of Davey Commercial Grounds Management, a division of the Davey Tree Expert Co., watched Allin elevate the industry. “He basically led the charge of taking snow removal from something that was visualized as a bunch of individuals with pickup trucks and pulling it together as an industry,” he says.
Allin has long been known as a risk taker, says Chris James, who owns Chris James Landscaping Inc. in Waldwick, N.J. “To this day he’s one of the smartest snow professionals that I know,” James says. “He had his successes, he had his failures, but the man always showed up.”
And Kluznik, who bought Allin’s landscaping business in the mid-1990s, equates Allin with a pioneer in another industry. “Henry Ford didn’t invent the car, but there are a lot of people who think he did,” he says. “And I think John did for the snow-removal industry what Henry Ford did to the automotive industry.”
Before there was a Snow and Ice Management Association, there was a Snow Plowers Association of America, on whose board Allin sat for a year and whose demise would eventually lead to SIMA’s creation. Allin was asked to speak at the snow plowers conference in Minneapolis in 1992, and it was there that he learned the association wasn’t a nonprofit entity. Allin and the other contractors who sat on the association’s board decided they weren’t interested in making money for the group, so they resigned.
The founder of the snow plowers group offered to sell the association to Allin and the other contractors, but they couldn’t reach a deal. Soon after, the Snow Plowers Association of America went under, and for the next few years Allin concentrated on his business and continued to meet fellow snowfighters at tradeshows.
Then, in 1995, his marketing coordinator needed a project to keep her busy. Allin, who had grown tired of snow removal’s image as a side business at best, asked her to write to all the contractors he’d met in the past few years and ask if they’d be interested in joining an industry association for snow and ice professionals. About 25 wrote back and said yes, and, after another round of correspondence, 13 agreed to travel to Erie to hammer out the details. “We wanted to get together and see if we could promote professionalism, and we did it on a wing and a prayer,” Allin says. “None of us ever dreamed it would get to where it was.”
A few of those 13 couldn’t make it, but on June 26, 1996, Allin and nine other contractors met at Sid’s Restaurant in Erie and later throughout the weekend at Allin’s house. By Sunday SIMA was born.
Rick Kier, president of Pro Scapes Inc. in Jamesville, N.Y., was one of those who hunkered down in Allin’s basement to form SIMA. He says the contractors gathered there wanted to improve their businesses and their industry, and they knew they’d have to work together to accomplish that. At that point the industry had “too many people who didn’t understand proper marketing, didn’t understand proper bidding, didn’t understand proper technique,” Kier says. “This was our opportunity to professionalize.”
SIMA was initially funded through $1,000 contributions from each of the 10 charter members, and its first headquarters were the offices of Snow Management Group. Not surprisingly, that initial investment wasn’t enough to sustain SIMA for long, so Allin contributed more and more along the way. At one point someone added it up and found that he contributed $267,000 to SIMA in its first four years.
None of SIMA’s charter members ran large operations, Allin says, but that was actually the point: they wanted to grow and professionalize their businesses. “We wanted to learn more about business. We wanted to be businesspeople,” he says. “People looked at us as individuals who can’t get real jobs. That was probably the biggest beef we had: we were looked down upon by people who own or manage properties. And we wanted to change that.”
Fourteen years after SIMA was created, Allin, who served as president for the first six years, is satisfied that the industry is more sophisticated because of it. “Back before we started SIMA there were no trade publications,” he says. “SIMA started the first trade publication. Now there’s two that seem to be doing fairly well.”
Kier credits Allin for structuring SIMA in a way that prevented it from “becoming an old-boy’s network. … John insisted that it be set up in such a way that board members would rotate off the board and other people would come on and it would really stay an association that belonged to the members.”
Before the creation of SIMA, Kier says contractors were on their own when they started their businesses. Often the only information source within reach were local competitors, who usually weren’t too motivated to assist contractors setting up shop on their turf. “Today if someone wants to learn about this industry, they can join the association, they can network with other contractors across the country and in Canada, they can attend training sessions,” Kier says. “There’s so much more education now as a result of SIMA.”
THE EARLY YEARS
Allin was thinking about how to succeed with snow decades before SIMA was even a rough idea. He left his native New Jersey to attend college in Erie, and he started doing sales for a welding-supplies company in town. Allin did well at the company, but even in his early days he wasn’t content to be an employee. In the late ’70s he used a Christmas bonus to buy a plow for his Ford Bronco, and he started servicing residences in legendarily snowy Erie.
During the next few years, the side business did well – too well for the liking of Allin’s boss. By 1982, Allin was taking off weeks at a time to tend to snow removal. “It got to a point where my boss said, ‘Who are you going to work for? Are you going to work for you or are you going to work for me?’ I left the sales job.”
Keep in mind that the United States was in a recession in 1982. Not too many people were electing to leave safe jobs back then. But entrepreneurialism was in Allin’s blood – his father was a welding contractor and plowed snow on the side to keep the trucks running in the winter – and he was going to be his own boss sooner or later. “I think my own makeup was such that being self-employed would feed my sense of self-worth a lot better than working for someone else.”
And if it was a given that Allin was going to be his own boss, it was just as sure a thing that he’d cast his lot with snow. He loves the stuff. “I never thought of snow as being difficult,” he says. “People who don’t do it or don’t like it think it’s difficult. People who love it think it’s great.”
So great, in fact, that Allin worked a plow himself during his company’s first quarter century of business. He’d do a morning route and then get to the office at 7 or 8 in the morning and work all day. “I was in a plow truck right up until we did the Olympics in 2002,” he says. “When I got back from Salt Lake City after the Olympics it became readily apparent … that I was not going to affect the bottom line greater by being out in the truck.”
Allin’s biggest contribution to the snow-removal industry was his instrumental role in the creation of SIMA, but his crowning achievement as a snowfighter was being the exclusive contractor for the 1992 Olympics in Salt Lake City. The job itself went off without a hitch, but it was in the contract negotiations where Allin was most impressive.
By the time he entered a bid for the Olympics job, a bribery scandal had rocked the local organizing committee, whose top officials had been forced to resign. Allin knew that the committee was looking to keep costs down, and he made an audacious proposal with that in mind. The committee wanted him to discuss a variety of per-hour and per-piece pricing structures, but Allin brought one of his own: a flat $1.8 million for the eight sites up for grabs (six had already been awarded).
Then Allin got really gutsy. At the end of his presentation he said, “If you can’t come to an agreement with [the contractor for the other six sites], I’ll do the whole damn thing for $4 million.” His bravado struck the right note. Later that day the committee called Allin right before he was to board his plane home. He was told to forget about the flight and bid for the entire job. After a few more hours of negotiation, John Allin had himself all 14 sites for the 1992 Olympics at a flat rate of $3.8 million (after further talks, the final figure was closer to $5 million).
This put immense pressure on Allin and brought high visibility to SMG, all of which was summed up during the first meeting of the Olympics Works Department. At a meeting of all the contractors, the head of the department said, “‘If the custodial people don’t show up, we’ve got a little more dust in the corner. If the waste people don’t show up, we’re going to have bags of garbage we’re going to have to hide. If the recycling people don’t show up, nobody really cares. If snow guys don’t show up, the Games don’t go on.’
“So,” Allin summarizes with a bit of understatement, “that added a bit more pressure.”
That said, during the first couple months of the contract, Allin wondered if his plows would be put to use at all. Through October and most of November, Salt Lake City had almost no snowfall. Allin was beginning to think he’d made out pretty well in his contract terms until Thanksgiving weekend, when the season’s first heavy snow fell: 9 feet at Snowbasin, where the downhill skiing was being held.
“We got everyone out there and it all turned out well, but 9 feet of snow in 48 hours is one massive quantity of snow,” Allin says. “The Salt Lake City area had record low snowfalls for November of 2001 and then record high falls for December of 2001. And we went from no snow and rolling in dough to snow every other day and going, ‘Oh, man, are we in trouble.’ ”
AFTER THE OLYMPICS
But he wasn’t, of course, in trouble. In fact, Allin and SMG were riding high after a successful Olympics. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee wrote a shining letter of recommendation, which “made it so that we literally had no more competition when we went out to bid on a piece of work.”
Which sounds like a godsend, but it led to one of the most important lessons of Allin’s career. The company could win any job it bid on, and it grew – much too fast. While SMG always operated in the black, it ran into cash flow problems, and Allin had to sell it in 2004. “My advice to people,” Allin says, “is don’t grow fast.”
Not surprisingly, Allin had been thinking about his next opportunity. During the Olympics, the Secret Service forbade snow piles from being higher than 18 inches, so he was forced to constantly haul it off. This, of course, was quite expensive, and he looked into snow-melting devices, but he couldn’t find a suitable solution. He worked on the concept for a snow-melting machine for the next few years, and after he sold SMG he approached Park-Ohio in Cleveland about developing a prototype and patenting a product. The company’s CEO liked the melter so much that he insisted that Park also manufacture it. Allin entered into a partnership with the company to produce and sell the Snow Dragon, which took him to 36 countries in 40 months as the company’s public face.
Allin left Snow Dragon after five years and, after some trepidation, became an industry consultant. He had heard about other consultants struggling, and he had his doubts. So he sent notes to everyone he knew in the industry inquiring whether they’d be interested in using his services. The response was more than adequate. “I went from zero to 100 in about three months,” he says. “I was just flabbergasted by how it took off.”
But there was another Allin who wasn’t flabbergasted at his success: his wife, Peggy, who has supported and enabled his entrepreneurial dreams from the very first moment. “I’m very, very fortunate to have a wife who not only has supported all of the dreams that I have put forth but has gone to great lengths to ensure that I succeed by being a background person who sometimes is the driving force behind my vision,” Allin says. “A lot of people operate in their businesses alone and they themselves are the driving force. Peggy and I make a very good team.”
STATE OF THE INDUSTRY
As Allin surveys the industry he helped bring to professional maturity, he sees one that’s much more sophisticated than when he began. That sophistication is reason to celebrate, but it also will pose the industry a challenge in the years ahead. The trick, he says, is to not let advances in efficiency and business acumen outpace business growth. “With the increased sophistication has come a down trend in the pricing and the profits,” he says. “That’s a good thing. You’ve got a lot of people breaking into the business because now they know they can make money at it, and unfortunately there’s been downward pressure on pricing because of it.”
His solution is vintage John Allin: keep learning, keep evolving. “The business is going to have to become more sophisticated as people become more educated.”
Lots of business owners have an idea first, and then build their lives around the plans that will help make them successful. Though Troy Clogg is successful both in the snow removal and landscaping industries and has the respect of family and employees (who are sometimes both), he was more chosen by his field than the other way around.
During his teenage years, Clogg was hatching ideas from his parents’ home in Farmington Hills, Mich. In his senior year, he got a taste of the landscaping industry, starting up BBC Lawn Care with two friends, followed by Troy Clogg’s Lawn and Snow Co.
“He was always a little bit more motivated than the other kids,” says Greg Counsell, who went to high school with Clogg and is now his shop manager. “It was all pretty small-time back then, basically a gang of push mowers, trying to make some extra money. I never would’ve thought it would be a career.”
Clogg may not have planned on a career, but he knew how to work with others to reach that short term goal, says his father, Bill Clogg .
“Even as a kid, he used to be sort of a leader of all the neighborhood kids,” says Bill. “He’s always been that way. He’s always had his own thoughts and ideas of how to do things.”
Clogg and his friends wanted to make some money, and Clogg had the business instinct needed to figure out how to do it, says Bill. Not only was he creative with the tools that were available, he enhanced his own product through observation of the people he thought did it best.
“He’s a very creative individual,” says Bill. “He watched what the professionals were doing on baseball fields before he started out. He took that and learned from that, using that for his customers.”
Business slowed down for university, but Clogg decided he had borrowed enough money and came back to his growing business to refocus. Building the company was less a passion at the time and more a way to pay the bills.
“I don’t have any romantic way to say it,” he says. “I got in the business to survive. I never intended to make a career out of it. When I started out, I just sat down and tried to make more money than I spent.”
He brought in employees and bought his first house in 1986, which doubled as the company’s operation’s center, now known as Troy Clogg Landscape Associates, through 1989. Though he and his friends were just trying to survive, Counsell felt pressure not to rely on Clogg’s business instincts. “My parents were really not happy about it those days. It was just two or three guys and a couple of lawnmowers,” he says. “We did our lawns, then fixed our equipment and went home. It was really hard work; lots of long days.”
Clogg built a five-year business plan to clear his debts and get out, looking for something else upon which to build his career. Five years later, though, he was married and supporting his wife and first daughter, Kristyn; no time to switch gears without some solid plans for providing for his family. With Counsell and others depending on him, he carried the load of bringing in the business that would help sustain them even outside of work.
“When it was just us, Troy was always out trying to sell work. He was working our books and just trying to get us more,” says Counsell. “Even after the work was done, he still stayed it pretty hard. He would have fun, but he kept at it.”
Clogg made another five-year plan, still intending to leave snow and landscaping once something else was in place. Partway into that plan, he realized that maybe he was in the right business after all, when he saw success and started getting more customers.
“There were some days in snow where we’d be working 30 hours in a row, just us couple of guys,” Counsell says. “We’d finally get done with one job and think we were going to finally get to go home and Troy would’ve just gotten a new condo site we had to go hit. He just pushed and pushed us, but it’s good he did. He was like an ex-Marine sometimes.”
As Troy Clogg Inc. grew, it moved to Wixom in the mid 1990s. The snow and landscaping business has grown from then on, adding employees and customers. While he didn’t go looking for success in the snow removal industry, it had started to find him, and he noticed a chance when he saw it.
“He had the foresight to see that he could develop the company into something very good. It’s great to watch and be a part of it with him,” Bill says. “We’re very proud of the work that he’s done.”
As a businessman, he is constantly reaching for new ideas and prospects, some successful and others less so, but always exciting, says Dan Weingartz, a vendor and friend who has served with Clogg on several industry committees.
“Being conservative is not him,” he says. “He’ll make more mistakes, but it’s because he’s always looking for ways to get better. He’s got a very entrepreneurial spirit. You never know what it’s going to be, but there’s always going to be a lot of energy behind it.”
His reach outside the company extends to land development, hunting equipment development and green resources. At one point, he even worked with a team on a robot lawn mower.
“For the amount I’ve spent in failures, I probably could’ve gone to Harvard,” Clogg says. “But it’s been good. I’ve met good people and had great experiences. When I’m looking at trying something new, I’m usually thinking, ‘Why not?’ When I’m telling my life story when I’m 90, I don’t want to say ‘Well, I thought about trying this, but never did it.’ I’d rather give it a try. I’m happier than ever with that.”
Seeing different plans come and go with different results has been a staple for Counsell. The variety may not always bring in money, but it improved Clogg’s business savvy.
“Clogg is a really smart businessman, and he’s learned a lot from the school of hard knocks,” Counsell says. “What makes him different is that he’s just managed to retain and reapply everything he’s learned. He’s able to leverage and spin things around. Because of him we’re working with people that 15 years ago we could never have done.”
Beyond his ability to learn from mistakes and see potential, Clogg capitalized on his personality as the company grew, reaching to the community around him and building business even in unlikely places because of a personal connection.
“He has become the people person,” Counsell says. “That’s his forte. There’s no question about it, the majority of our work comes from him knowing people. He just tries anything and does things differently and wacky things that people remember him for.”
“Clogg has always been very innovative in how he grows his company,” says Weingartz. “He really puts a lot of heart and soul into it. It’s really an extension of himself.”
In the industry, he gets involved in boards and industry groups. He’s a member of MGIA, SIMA, PLANET/ALCA and TEC, an international organization of CEOs. He contributes articles to several magazines, giving his advice on how to grow a company. His work has won awards from local organizations and industry affiliates.
“In these boards and in the industry, he really thinks outside the box. He challenges what we thought originally,” says Weingartz.
Clogg coaches his employees to grow and learn the business from the inside out. He keeps his door open to employees that want to ask questions, and is eager to help his employees get better at what they do to help the company overall, says Weingartz.
“He’s built it primarily around getting people that understand what he’s trying to do,” he says. “He’s very giving of opportunity. He encourages his people to set goals and then genuinely helps them reach those goals. He helps people make their own business inside his business.”
Pushing employees and helping them grow is another part of his business instinct, says Counsell. With all the freedom to move and build business, it urges employees to better themselves, which makes a better business overall. “We have so many resources to use, and there’s an awful lot of opportunity to be had here. There’s a lot of backing and connections to the industry,” he says.
Though he’s always building new strategies, one of Clogg’s most recent projects to help his employees grow is a nearly-complete system to teach them the best ways to make their own sales to customers.
“That is really much more fulfilling than my own sale,” he says. “Years ago, I had to teach a guy how to use a weed whacker so I didn’t have to be the one doing it. Now I feel like I’m really contributing with this. It’s nice to hear from a customer, ‘Yeah, Clogg, we’ll have you again this year,’ but it’s so much nicer to hear that one of my employees can do it.”
Helping his employees improve is about giving back to his group, but also delivering the best product and customer service, says Counsell.
“We’re a great group because of his drive,” says Counsell. “He likes to be on the top. He doesn’t want a truck with his name out there doing a bad job. He wants it done right and the customer happy.”
“We’re not alone in this market, obviously,” Clogg says, “but just to be one of the names out there, to be one of the ones with a reputation for doing stuff right, for being fair, and for always being there for the customer, I’m okay with that. I want to give back, as much as I can help out. I’ve mentored and coached up and coming contractors – I’ve got an open door policy for advice.”
One element that helps Clogg train his employees is the length of time they’ve been around. Though Clogg lives out of Grand Haven with his wife, Linda, and the most current in a life-long line of companions, Lucky, his rescued dog, many of his workers have been with him for years, and he considers them family too. “Everybody really cares about our success here,” says Counsell. “There’s a core group here, and without any one of these people, this just wouldn’t work.”
According to Clogg, they’ve been through some tough times together, both personal and business, and even when he wasn’t at his best they rallied around him. “I’ve grown close to my entire team,” he says. “It’s a really heartfelt thing. I’ve really got great people all around me. For me, all that stuff is really important. I wouldn’t want any part of running this business without my key people in there. Relationships are really the only things you have that survive the test of time.”
Though he might seem free-spirited in his business decisions, Clogg is more than steadfast when it comes to family, Weingartz says. “He’s the kind of guy, when you get to know him, he would do anything for you.”
Beyond that, the relationships from the business to the community aren’t just about a contract to Clogg. He is always contributing to the community, whether by donating a truck for a parade or planting the flowers at a local elementary school every year.
“He returns,” says Counsell. “That’s part of his personality. It makes him happy, being the guy that gives back.”
Beyond business ethics, being involved in the community holds the company to a higher standard.
“There’s always something going on around here,” says Counsell. “And you’ve got to follow through after all that PR. When we’re out in the community it means we have to work to rise to the top and do everything to the best of our ability.”
Being a part of the community is about more than encouraging his employees to perform better for Clogg, he says. “Giving is just the right thing to do,” he says. “If you don’t give, you can’t receive. When you give back, you make better people, which make a better community, which make a better country, which make a better world.”
The year was 1976. America was celebrating the Bicentennial, Gerald Ford was President, “Rocky” was the silver screen’s hottest movie and David Dudash was beginning a business that would help lead the snow removal industry into what it has become today.
In his early 20s, Dudash and friend/coworker Guy McIntyre worked together at a landscape company in Northeast Ohio. They’d go out after a day’s work and talk a little about work and a lot about family. Confident in their knowledge of the job, they knew they had the skills to break out on their own.
“No fear,” Dudash says of their decision. “We just jumped in.”
Now in his 35th year as the boss, his business – Green Estates Inc. – is an industry pillar and Dudash is recognized as a member of SNOW Magazine’s inaugural Leadership Award class.
“Being recognized by your peers is the most gratifying honor that we can receive,” Dudash says, comparing it to the feeling he felt when Green Estates received the Snow and Ice Management Association’s excellence in business award in 2007 or when the company was prominently featured in various publications for outstanding service over the years. “We have been very fortunate to grow the way we did and maintain the business relationships that we have maintained – from employees to vendors to customers, many over 20 years and one for the full 35 years.
“The only really meaningful thing that Guy and I have to show for ourselves after 35 years in business is our name and reputation,” he adds. “To be recognized by others in our industry for that accomplishment affirms our belief that you lead by example, and that if you don’t have your name, you really don’t have much of anything.”
Building a company
Based out of the Cleveland area, Dudash and McIntyre started with nothing, but bid some snow work and began to grow slowly.
“We starved the first couple years,” Dudash jokes.
According to McIntyre, the early years included Dudash driving while he sat in the back of a pickup truck, holding onto a fertilizer spreader and distributing salt. The company – and equipment – has evolved, but the two of them remain the same.
“I don’t think we’ve changed much,” McIntyre says. “We’ve always done what we says we would do.”
In a career flush with accomplishments, Dudash says his toughest challenge came early, but helped establish a blueprint to succeed.
“We were doing big properties and struggling to get through,” he explains. “That led to the development of what it took to get our business to where it’s at – the right equipment and right people. We’ve now got systems in place.”
Those systems include a comprehensive walkthrough of each property his team plows prior to the start of the snow season, which generally goes from Nov. 1 to April 30. With the client’s representative participating in this information-sharing session, the route foreman and all team members are able to hear the client’s concerns and requirements first hand. Any Green Estates expectations are addressed, as well.
This is an excellent opportunity to provide input and suggestions to best make the operation efficient.
Known as the “snow belt,” the area east of Cleveland often sees storms continue for several days, which can place an incredible burden on equipment and team members. By keeping equipment in top working condition and having dedicated and knowledgeable employees – many have an average tenure of 10-12 years with the company – Green Estates has developed an uncommon connection with its clients.
“Our relationship with the client has developed a level of trust that allows the property owner’s representative to talk directly with the route foreman during the course of an event to ensure that all areas of concern are being addressed,” Dudash says. “We want the customer to expect the highest level of concern and service from our company.”
Green Estate’s employees understand the need to meet and exceed client expectations, as well. Dudash says they sleep when they can and will make up for it later. After all, no one sleeps less during major snow events than the company’s owners.
Because Green Estates customers demand 24/7 wet pavement, Dudash says it is their goal to be on site prior to a call for service from a client. If there is a potential snow event around rush hour traffic, he will have the salt trucks sitting in position on site, allowing no chance to miss a service call due to stalled traffic conditions.
“Our business model for the plowing operation has as a goal ... to have all sites plowed within a three-to-four-hour window,” he says. “Our salt is stored on site and each team is self-sufficient. We do not depend on help from other teams.”
It is those storms, which present the most formidable challenge, that lead to Dudash’s favorite part of the job. And he’s not referring to the “light, fluffy stuff.” He’s talking about being hit with a half a foot of wet, heavy snow at 5 in the morning and need it cleaned up by 8 a.m.
“When the last bit of work is done, after a really challenging snow ... you’ve been on the job for two or three days ... the positive feedback from the customer,” he says. “It’s a great feeling.”
With its three largest clients – a pair of upscale shopping centers and Progressive Insurance company’s two campuses and multiple satellite lots – encompassing approximately 6 million square feet of plowable surface, Green Estates stands at the ready with a fleet of vehicles including: 11 dump trucks with plows and salt spreaders, four 4x4 pickups, a Ford Ranger service vehicle, five skid steers, two offloaders for box plows, and Dudash’s favorite, a 924 CAT Loader.
In addition to 10-12 full-time employees year-round, Green Estates hires approximately eight additional people during peak season and works with 30 subcontractors – each with up to five pieces of equipment.
“We’ve developed a nice network of long-term, reliable subcontractors who are part and parcel to the way we do business,” Dudash says.
Brian K. Smith, grounds manager for Progressive, is entering his 10th winter working with Dudash. When he first started in his position, the company’s policy was to split the bid in two – not allowing one company to handle the large account, which required 24-hour availability. This redundancy policy worked fine, provided both portions were handled equally well. In this case, however, the other half never lived up to to the standard set by Green Estates. It wasn’t long before Progressive changed its stance and awarded Dudash and his team the entire contract.
“We couldn’t get another company to provide the level of service of Green Estates,” he says.
Excellent work is a staple in this relationship, but it is also the personal attention to detail that makes Dudash stand out, according to Smith.
“The fact that he wants to listen to you,” he says. “He likes to resolve issues, rather than just put the fire out.”
While his customers have grown to know him over the decades, Dudash has also been very visible with his colleagues throughout the industry. He has been a presenter at the Snow and Ice Symposium, spoken at a Michigan Green Industry Association function, sat on a panel for the Ohio Landscape Association and has worked with the Gates Mills Horticulture Center – a vocational education facility where high school students interested in a career in landscape attend hands-on training – for 20 years. He estimates he has employed about 50 of its students over the years.
Family and Community
Being dedicated to growing the business and giving back to the industry is plenty on its own. Throw a family into the mix and you’ve some very difficult decisions to make. Work has caused Dudash to miss his fair share of holidays and birthdays, but the family understands it is part of the job ... a job that has produced a very nice lifestyle.
“You hate to do it, but you make it up,” he says of sacrifices. “When it’s time to do what you’ve got to do, you do it. You make up for them when it’s done.”
He’s been fortunate to be in a position to include his two sons – as well as McIntyre’s – in the business. They worked for Green Estates during the summers of high school and college.
Making up for lost time with the family has included coaching his three children (two boys and a girl) in everything from tee ball to Catholic Youth Organization basketball. While his sons are now out of the house, he still takes his daughter – now 16 – kayaking. Driving to Vermont and Cincinnati to visit the boys at college is also important.
Though three-to-four-day vacations – like they’ve taken to Lake Chautauqua for the last 10 years – may be the norm, it was about a decade ago when Dudash loaded up the family and drove across the country. They spent 22 days touring the national parks.
Because he and his wife both come from large families with many siblings, they also spend quite a bit of free time visiting to keep in touch with brothers and sisters, as well as both their mothers.
Giving back to the community means a great deal to Dudash, too. He’s headed the building and grounds community and has served as parish chairman at St. Francis of Assisi. He’s a lifelong blood donor at the American Red Cross and has been a platelet donor for the last 20 years.
He even grants employees use of the company’s equipment and vehicles if they are helping at their church or a community venue.
Most near and dear to his heart, however, is working with (and spending time as president of) Friends of Adoptive Families, a nonprofit organization formed by adoptive parents whose main function is to raise funds for medical and play equipment for the organizations from which the children were adopted. You see, two of Dudash’s children are adopted. He’s take six trips to Korea, where he escorts children back for adoption.
While “lead by example” is Dudash’s style of management, his philosophy goes much deeper than that.
“It took 25 years to develop,” he says. “Start with the right equipment and right people, listen to the feedback of the people who do the work ... Let your good people run with it. Divide and conquer and trust the people you have in place.”
Being friends for even longer than they’ve been partners, McIntyre knows this philosophy is a product of Dudash’s character.
“Dave is fair and honest,” he says. “He does a lot on handshakes, still. His word is his bond.”
As for his advice to someone looking to get into snow removal as a career, “Going in, project yourself to the end of your career,” Dudash says. “Your name and reputation is all you have.
“When you start out, whatever you do, make sure you do what you says you’re going to do and at the quality you says,” he adds. “Pay attention and listen to the customer. Stay one step ahead and anticipate their needs. Customer service is the most important aspect of the business. If you don’t know that and have that in your package, then somebody is going to take them away from you. You’ll always have more work than you can handle if you do it right.
“All we do is about relationship building and looking toward the long run,” he continues. “Places we’ve maintained and taken care of in the past know who we are. The level of service ... I’d like that to be copied.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob Thomas is a freelance writer based in Cleveland, Ohio.