Pushing ROI

In any business, results speak volumes — especially when it comes to measuring return on investment. For snow and ice removal service providers, investing in the right snow pusher will improve ROI, increase value and reduce overall expenses.

Equipment that positively impacts an operation helps contractors complete jobs faster and better, allowing for more job opportunities during the season. Efficient snow and ice removal benefits contractors by increasing profits as well as creating satisfied customers who want to share their experience, meaning word-of-mouth advertising with the potential to add more business in the future.

To maximize results, consider three main factors in a pusher’s capabilities that significantly impact the return on investment (ROI) — time on the job, salt usage and maintenance requirements.

Reducing the hours needed for snow removal increases ROI. A few features and components can virtually eliminate follow-up plowing and make a big difference in time spent removing snow and ice.

Contractors choose between two main types of snow pushers — one-piece rigid or segmented moldboards. Unlike traditional one-piece pushers, segmented pushers feature a moldboard made of 24- or 32-inch-wide individual sections. The separate sections move independently of one another, allowing the unit to contour to the surface of the pavement and scrape snow and ice out of dips and recessions, all while moving up and over raised objects thanks to spring-loaded trip edges. For example, one section may lower to reach a pothole while, simultaneously, another section trips over a raised manhole cover.

Segmented pushers can move more snow than traditional pushers with one pass and still manage to get over curbs, accommodate crowns in the road and scrape compact areas, effectively eliminating follow-up plowing. That compares to the time spent using a longer traditional pusher that floats over uneven areas and will require two or three passes because of leftover snow.

Because of the way sectional pushers can handle snow in one pass, contractors will spend less time driving as well as using salt. Many contractors have found that using a sectional moldboard pusher could cut labor hours in half and reduce their fuel usage by 30 percent, widening their profit margins.

Rich Johnston, owner of Johnston Landscape Maintenance of Westville, Indiana, vouches for the time and money savings. After the first time he and his crew used a pusher with a sectional steel moldboard design, they saved almost three hours on their route.

Another timesaving component to consider is how the pusher attaches to contractors’ equipment and moves relative to that equipment. A snow pusher is picked up and set down hundreds of times during a snow event. Standard hitch designs force the operator to manually adjust the pusher each time it’s dropped, making for a challenging, time-consuming process. Choosing a pusher that eliminates the hassle of adjusting can save time and money. Slip-hitch systems, for example, automatically and continuously adjust the pusher to the pavement grade, resulting in fewer missed areas and less follow-up plowing. This easy-to-use hitch style ensures that all four of the carrier’s tires remain on the pavement at all times to retain full traction and eliminate drag and loss of horsepower.

Mechanical side panels, which lift over hidden objects such as curbs, medians and parking lot islands, also help achieve a faster ROI. The component helps keep the operator safe and prevent damage to the client’s property. Snow removal companies can spend tens of thousands of dollars each year repairing damage done to curbing, parking lots and on streets that have been hit by rigid, fixed side panels that don’t adjust to hidden obstacles.

More than curb damage, if a pusher with rigid side panels hits a hidden curb, the entire pusher could be totaled and the carrier could be damaged. Since the fixed panels won’t give after the initial contact, the pusher may twist — causing irreparable damage with the only solution being purchasing a new one.

Not only does that damage cost time and money, but the impact puts operators at risk of moderate to severe injuries. Mechanical side panels prevent equipment damage and workers’ compensation claims, which can slow the job down for repairs or time to replace an injured worker.

Rick Lemcke, owner of R.M. Landscape Inc. of Hilton, New York, invested in a sectional pusher with mechanical side panels and a slip-hitch system and saw an increase in efficiency. With the pusher, his team could handle snow events involving 20 to 30 inches of snow 20 to 25 percent quicker than with his previous plows, which added up to substantial savings.

A Slippery Slope

One of the biggest challenges for snow and ice removal contractors involves properly removing ice. Thanks to supply and demand, rising salt prices heavily impact the bottom line. Depending on the area, prices doubled and even tripled between 2013 and 2014. Using salt isn’t only expensive, but it also causes environmental concerns. Some pushers have features that can significantly cut salt use, and the related cost, to increase overall ROI.

Steve Funzinski, owner of Green Sweep out of Swanton, Ohio, at first was intrigued by the segmented pusher design, but wasn’t convinced. He decided to test a sectional moldboard pusher against the box plow he was using. The test measured the effectiveness and speed of snow removal, how much salt was required, and if the segmented pusher could handle clearing a tough lot full of potholes. The segmented sectional pusher exceeded the other pusher in all tests and Funzinski used 33 percent less salt.

Keeping the pusher design in mind, contractors should consider their pusher’s cutting edge, because this determines the degree of ability to remove ice. Rubber and steel edges are the most common options, but steel effectively scrapes ice and hard-packed snow down to the pavement better than rubber. This reduces salting requirements, saving money and time.

Removing ice efficiently with the steel edge lays to rest the safety concerns and liability issues ice causes — especially since lawsuits for slip-and-fall claims can top a half-million dollars. The pusher’s lot-cleaning results go a long way in preventing liability issues tied to these claims. Typically, the responsibility for clearing the lot of all snow and ice falls solely on the contractor, making it imperative for snow and ice to be removed as completely as possible. A pusher that can remove snow and ice on the first attempt will prevent issues sooner, too, especially during business hours when customers are coming and going.

If It’s Not Broke…

When investing in a snow pusher, contractors need to look beyond the purchase price and take into account the long-term effects of repairs that can drastically change the total cost of ownership. They should look for products that will spend more time working than getting parts replaced.

Mounting blocks on a pusher’s mainframe, for example, prevent damage and lessen repairs. Should an operator hit a hidden curb, the blocks will absorb the impact, protecting the pusher, carrier and operator. Designed to handle a lot of pressure, these mounting blocks will experience little damage and might last more than five years.

Along with operator and equipment safety, segmented pushers can mean overall less maintenance. At first, contractors tend to be skeptical, assuming more moving parts means more maintenance. However, that’s not always the case because fixing a segmented pusher can be quick and easy.

A steel cutting edge tends to be more economical than other cutting edges over time, as well. Rubber edges wear quickly, lasting only 20 percent as long as steel, which translates to replacing five rubber edges during the same period as replacing just one steel edge.

For Johnston, the difference meant significant time savings. The first time he needed to change a steel cutting edge, the pusher was in its fourth season and approaching 700 hours of use.

On a one-piece moldboard plow or pusher, the entire cutting edge, often at least 8 feet, must be replaced when damaged. In the event that a sectional cutting edge gets damaged, only that individual 24-inch or 32-inch section needs to be replaced. This significantly reduces repair costs, making replacement not only easier but more cost-effective overall.

Drop-and-go hitches, which self-adjust to the pavement, also lessen maintenance. The nature of this style of hitch ensures even wear on both shoes for longer life and fewer replacements. Commonly made of steel, pusher shoes can survive several years of abuse, but premature wear drastically cuts short their lifespan, which is a common occurrence with conventional hitch designs that require manual adjustment.

Slip-hitch systems also make it simple for operators to attach the pusher on various interfaces. For instance, some slip-hitch systems require the operator to secure four pins while transferring a pusher between coupler systems on different machines.

Along with easy changeovers to and from other pieces of equipment, take into account whether or not operators can service their pusher easily in the field. A hard impact can damage or break a pusher’s linkages, springs or bolts to the point of needing repair. Luckily with some segmented pushers, operators can fix damaged components easily onsite within 10 to 15 minutes if the parts are readily available. Other pushers don’t always have easily replaceable parts and would require a trip to the repair shop. This impacts overall productivity and can turn a successful season into a costly one.

Looking at the Big Picture

When considering a pusher’s ROI, take into account other pieces of secondary equipment needed for the job, whether it’s sand and salt spreaders, liquid anti-icing applicators or snow brooms. Those extra pieces mean more expense, more time on the job and a lower ROI.

A pusher that provides contractors with results can also provide potential new accounts and profits. Johnston estimated his company saw a profit increase of about 30 percent after adding the right pusher with the best features to his fleet. The profit resulted from less salt usage, less manpower and fewer hours spent pushing snow.

Lemcke was able to expand into new markets after he found the right pusher. Doing so has added $150,000 to $200,000 to R.M. Landscape’s annual revenue stream.

A high-quality snow pusher will typically pay for itself in the first 30 inches of snowfall — a relatively quick return, considering many areas of the country average this amount in the first few months of winter.

Getting the best ROI stretches far beyond the purchase price of a pusher. Time on the job or spent performing repairs, replacement part expense, salt costs and the time to apply it all add in to the cost to remove snow. And the lower that is, the more that’s in the bank.

Push results. Look for a pusher that has proven performance, and the profits should quickly exceed the initial costs, maximizing ROI.


Randy Strait is owner and president of Chicago-based Arctic Snow & Ice Control Inc. He’s is also a Snow Magazine Leadership Award recipient and Top 100 contractor.

October 2015
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