In August, I attended Buyers Products official groundbreaking and golden shovel ceremony kicking off the ongoing expansion of its distribution center and corporate HQ. The expansion includes 280,000 square feet of 67-foot-high, brand new, state-of-the-art warehouse space with 20 additional docks at its Mentor, Ohio, location. Simultaneously Buyers will add another 17,500 square feet of office space and expand its employee parking.
I had an opportunity to corner Chief Commercial Officer Dave Zelis for a couple of questions about the state of the industry heading into Winter 2020-21 and what snow pros could expect with regard to new product development.
Snow contractors see equipment suppliers reinvesting in themselves as a reflection of healthy activity in the industry. However, contractors also want to know what this type of investment will mean for them.
Dave Zelis: This facility helps us address two main objectives. One, it provides space for inventory. When you’re talking equipment for snow and ice removal, those are big items and not shoe box-sized. So for our long-term future we’re going to continue pushing forward our brand preference, and in order to do that you need products on the shelf. When [a snow contractor] wants a snowplow they typically want it as soon as possible and not wait three months for it. That’s true for our distributors, as well. To have the product available when it’s needed you have to have inventory.
Second is the technology going into this addition. Right now, we can ship and LTL order within 24 hours, which is pretty strong for most manufacturers. This [new facility] will allow us to ship product even faster. From the moment we receive the order to the moment that particular order goes out the door, we’re looking at same day, if not a few hours, of having that order shipped. It’s the Amazon Effect, and we’re trying to mimic that for what we’re doing in the industry.
We’ve been struggling to persevere through this global pandemic and two disappointing winters. How these impacted Buyer’s and SnowDogg’s supply chain?
As far a market is concerned, suppliers, contractors and dealers have been a bit pensive going into this year. Uncertainty breeds a wait-and-see attitude in people. I can only speak from my position and we’ve seen some dealers get significantly more aggressive with their inventory positioning. And we are doing the same. Obviously, the pandemic has impacted every industry. And yes, I believe nearly everyone in our industry did feel it, especially when you thinking about the challenges of social distancing, PPEs, and state-mandated restrictions regarding the number of employees you can have in a [manufacturing] plant. These things will certainly curtail anyone’s manufacturing capabilities to a certain degree. We did see some of that, but I don’t think we were affected nearly as badly as some other companies, simply because we’re so diversified. That diversification, this past spring, allowed us to become designated as an essential business.
Every manufacturer must plan on a strong winter. If you don’t, then you are running the risk of leaving your customers and the contractors without the products that they’ll need to do their jobs. So, we have to constantly be looking at it as a heavy snow and ice year and be ready with the equipment and replacement parts that snow contractors are going to need. As soon as an organization stops thinking like that you’re going to get yourself and your customers – the snow and ice contractors – in trouble.
With the two lackluster winters contractors did not push as much snow. Therefore, they didn’t put as much wear and tear on their equipment. I can imagine there is a fair amount of available inventory. What can snow contractors expect to find in the market as they begin to make their purchasing decisions for this coming winter?
We’ve been working with an outside financing company on special deals that will help relieve the [financial] burden of making equipment purchases. In my opinion, people are being very cognizant with their cash flow and their cash position, and rightfully so with all of the [economic] uncertainty out there. I think people are going to start looking a value-based purchasing and what they are getting for their money. For the cost, what are they getting in return? And from our perspective, we believe [return on investment] is one of our strengths.
Voice of customer is an important component to your business. What are you hearing from the market about snow contractor needs and how is this directing you for future product decisions?
From day one, this is how we go about doing our business. We talk to the people who use our equipment to learn what they want and what they want that equipment to do. Pre-pandemic, we have multiple meetings per year where we invite dealers, distributors, and contractors to our facility to meet with our product managers and engineers to suggest design changes. We want to know if we fell short at some point with a particular piece of equipment. I much rather have to make an improvement than have users not say anything.
We certainly feel we’re strong on the salt spreader side of the business. And I have multiple conversations with industry professionals about liquid treating [equipment] and two years ago we introduced a spray line and we’re going to continue to fill this line out.
At the same time, we’ll explore any opportunity where the customers are telling us it’s equipment they want, they’re having trouble getting, or they feel the value is not there in the market. We look for those opportunities and if we can provide solutions that improves the market, then we will.
“Ongoing Storm” Ruled Out As Slip-and-Fall Defense in NJ
State’s high court rules slip-and-fall protection doesn’t apply and property owner had duty to ensure safe conditions during an ongoing winter event.
The New Jersey Superior Court has ruled the ongoing snow-storm rule, which relieved commercial property owners from any obligation to provide safe conditions during an ongoing snow and/or ice event, didn’t apply in a recent case because the defendant (property owner) had a duty to maintain safe conditions.
For New Jersey property owners and managers, without the protection of the “ongoing storm” rule this decision could embolden nefarious characters to seek out slick and/or snowy properties during an event for the opportunity to file a bogus slip-and-fall claims.
However, for Garden State snow fighters, this means stressing to property owners the importance of vigilant winter services and a snow and ice mitigation strategy provided by qualified and professional snow and ice managers who keep fastidious service records.
In addition to providing snow and ice services, detailed recordkeeping and proof of service is the best way to protect against unwarranted slip-and-fall claims.
Our legal friends at Freeman, Mathis and Gary break down this ruling and provide valuable details...
In Pareja v. Princeton International Properties, __ A.3d__ (N.J. Super. App. Div. April 9, 2020), the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court reversed a summary judgment decision in favor of a commercial property owner defendant who was sued after a plaintiff slipped and fell on black ice that had accumulated on a portion of defendant’s driveway that is connected to the public sidewalk.
At the time of the accident, temperatures were below freezing, it was drizzling sleet, and there had been numerous storms in the days preceding the accident. Although the National Weather Service had issued a warning regarding slippery conditions due to the mix of snow and sleet, the defendant had not employed any pre-treatments or snow removal on the day of the accident.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant by applying the ongoing snow-storm rule. The ongoing storm rule relieved commercial property owners from any obligation to try to render their property safe while sleet, snow or ice is falling. The rule is premised on the ground that to do so would always be inexpedient and impractical. The trial court held that the defendant had no duty to remove or reduce the black ice until after the precipitation had ended. The appellate court disagreed and reversed.
The Appellate Court held that the defendant had a duty to take reasonable steps to render a public walkway abutting its property reasonably safe, even when precipitation is falling. In its reasoning, the court noted that a commercial landowner’s liability may arise only if, after actual or constructive notice, it fails to act in a reasonably prudent manner under the circumstances to remove or reduce the foreseeable hazard. In the case at hand, the court found that there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether the defendant commercial landowner acted reasonably under all circumstances by not doing anything to remove or prevent the black ice hazard during the precipitation. Therefore, the appellate court reverse the summary judgment decision indicating that the question of whether the commercial landowner’s inaction was reasonable under the circumstances was a question for the jury.
Following the Pareja decision, it is now more important than ever for commercial landowners to be diligent about snow and ice removal on their properties. Commercial landowners should reevaluate their contractual agreements with vendors for snow and ice removal to ensure that these contracts address providing snow and ice removal to their properties during an ongoing snowstorm in order to protect from any liability for snow and ice-related injuries.
SnowWolf Introduces Open-Ribbon Hydraulic, PTO Snowblowers
Three models for wheel loaders and tractors provide performance of an engine-driven unit but at a fraction of the cost.
Snow industry supplier SnowWolf has introduced open-ribbon snowblower attachments for wheel loaders with hydraulic drives and tractors with power take-off (PTO) drives. SnowWolf partnered with Dalen - Lid Jarnindustri AS in Norheimsund, Norway, in designing and manufacturing the new attachments. SnowWolf has extensive experience in hydraulic drives, and Dalen is among the elite companies worldwide in terms of snowblower design.
SnowWolf is the North American distributer for Dalen snowblowers and Dalen has access to SnowWolf’s proprietary hydraulic-drive system technology for use in the European market.
The new SnowWolf snowblowers provide performance advantages at a speed that is comparable to engine-drive snowblowers with an acquisition cost that is one-fifth to one-third of an engine-drive attachment. In addition, thanks to SnowWolf’s trademark design simplicity, operating and maintenance costs for the new snowblowers are lower than engine-drive attachments.
“Snow-removal contractors and municipalities are both going to love these attachments,” SnowWolf Sales Manager Dale Oberg said in a statement. “Now there’s a snowblower on the market that does the work of an engine-drive blower, is self-powered, feeds well, blows well and costs less to own and run, all at an initial price point that doesn’t push purchasing one out of reach.”
The hydraulic-drive motor on the wheel loader snowblower is designed to perform optimally with a hydraulic flow of 40-50 gallons per minute. The range gives contractors and municipalities the flexibility to use the attachments on different machines in a fleet or on a replacement machine if a breakdown necessitates renting one.
“Many hydraulic drives require a specific motor size for specific gallon-per-minute flows, and operators have to change motors for the different flow rates,” Oberg said. “Our motor covers a wider range of loaders, and it squeezes every ounce of hydraulic horsepower out of the flow that’s available.”
The open-ribbon design essentially makes SnowWolf’s blowers self-feeding. The serrated ribbon, which is fabricated with Hardox 500 abrasion-resistant steel, makes first contact with a snow pile, cuts right into it and pulls snow and ice into the feed.
By comparison, conventional blowers have fixed side plates and the ribbon spins entirely inside of the housing. They can only blow the snow and ice that makes it past the front of the housing and into the ribbon.
“Ours chew right into it,” Oberg explained. “They’re a lot more efficient and work a lot faster because operators aren’t stopped short when they ram into a snow pile and hit ice.”
SnowWolf created its open-ribbon snowblowers with no shear pins, chains, sprockets, gears, pulleys, transmissions or belts. Fewer moving parts and connection points translate to lower maintenance costs while also providing smooth operation.
SnowWolf snowblowers cut down on fuel costs, as well. While engine-driven snowblowers require two engines – a diesel motor to run the machine and another to run the snowblower – the SnowWolf attachments use the transmission shaft to split power and run the fan, which eliminates both fuel and maintenance costs associated with a second diesel engine.
Built-in protections reduce downtime and maintenance costs, as well. If there’s a major pressure strike on the hydraulic motor that impedes ribbon rotation, a hydraulic relief system stops both the fan and the ribbon. The pressure strike could be caused by an obstruction caught in the attachment or the ribbon hitting an immovable boulder, for example.
They also feature two oil-filled, auto-reset clutches, one on each end of the ribbon. In situations where there’s excessive backpressure on the ribbon, due to heavy feeding for example, the clutches engage to break away some of the power. Meanwhile, the impeller (fan) continues spinning to keep the blower clear.
In either case, operators simply need to shut off the hydraulic power or back up the machine to remove the obstacle or reduce backpressure to the ribbon. There’s no damage to the attachments and operators can get right back to work.
Annual maintenance is straightforward. SnowWolf snowblowers require a yearly oil change on the gearbox and clutches, and grease needs to be applied to various points, such as the rotating chute, gauge wheel adjustments, skid shoe adjustments and the ends of the ribbon shaft.
Greasing is necessary after every 30 hours of operation for the hydraulic-drive model and every eight hours for the PTO-drive models.