EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated in October 2019.
Today’s snow and ice removal industry is a subcontractor’s market.
Actually, it’s a smorgasbord. You don’t have to go far to hear snow contractors lament their need for reliable and dependable subcontractors.
"We’re limited to the amount of work we can take because of the amount of subcontractors available to us in the marketplace," says Bob Wesoloski, president of R.B.R Snow Contractors in Islandia, N.Y., which hires about 140 subcontractors each season. "We’ve turned work away because we just don’t have enough subcontractors."
Recruiting and hiring reliable snow subcontractors – independent snow and ice removal experts who work either on seasonal or an on-call basis – is a never-ending task for contractors. And this market’s demand means most business owners are willing to negotiate more favorable terms for subcontractor services.
The time is right to enter the industry as a subcontractor. Still, there are a few things to keep in mind that will increase the probabilities for being employed as a subcontractor this winter season.
1. Timing Is Everything
Waiting for the snow to start falling is the wrong way to go about getting hired as a subcontractor.
Most snow contractors want to know well in advance of the first big snowfall who is on the payroll and who is available in a pinch.
"Everyone is caught up in the now," says Jim Monk, president of Markham Property Services in Markham, Ontario. "And the last thing subcontractors are thinking about now is the upcoming winter."
If you’re not secured in a subcontracting deal by the start of snow season, make sure area contractors know you’re available and ready to go at a moment’s notice. And make sure they have your contact numbers, including work, home and cell.
2. Have Credentials
While being certified for snow removal is an important asset for a subcontractor, many snow contractors are looking at a whole different set of credentials, including reliability, availability, honesty and enthusiasm.
"We’re always looking for a few good subcontractors," says Duane Scott of Scott and Crispell Inc. in Ithica, NY, who relies on as many 40 subcontractors during a typical season. "And these are the qualifications we value most (in a subcontractor) because these are what count when things get real busy."
Most snow contractors believe skills such as operating a plow or working a skidsteer can be taught or honed with some practice. But when it comes to character, this highly sought asset can’t be taught after hiring.
3. Come Equipped
If you operate a small landscape firm and you’re looking to subcontract for a larger snow removal company, chances are you’re already pretty well equipped – truck, plow, salt spreader and maybe even your own skidsteer and loader as well as your own crew of available guys.
However, since demand far outreaches supply, some snow contractors say all they seek is a pick-up truck and the proper insurance. Other snow contractors are so desperate to staff their sidewalk crews they will take individuals eager to put in a hard day’s – and night’s – work shoveling and other types of site work.
Interested subcontractors should contact their local snow firms and find out what type of positions they’re filling. Explain your skills and availability and ask if there’s a potential fit on a snow crew.
4. Know Somebody.
In subcontracting, it’s as much who you know as what you know.
Placing help-wanted ads in their local newspapers isn’t the norm for snow contractors. Rather, the preferred recruitment method is to ask peers and colleagues for referrals. According to an unofficial survey of snow contractors, nearly 90 percent say a reference from an industry peer holds a lot of weight in their decision to hire a subcontractor. It’s important for would-be subcontractors to let managers at truck repair businesses, plow dealers and commercial dealerships – places a snow contractor frequents and does business – know you’re looking for subcontracting work.
It’s also important to let other subcontractors know you’re available for work. Contractors, desperate to fill job openings, often offer subcontractors a finder’s fee to bring in reliable new bodies.
However, subcontractors shouldn’t count out the power of the cold call.
Justin Gamester, of Piscataqua Landscape in Eliot, Maine, is more apt to hire a subcontractor who cold calls him about winter work.
"I’m impressed when (a subcontractor) takes the initiative to give me a call and ask me about work," he says. "It’s my experience that these guys are really enthusiastic about working for you. More times then not, they can be counted on to show up for work when expected and to give you their all."
5. Be Flexible
Subcontractors must be able to go with the flow during the winter season, say most contractors. Those subcontractors with the attitude that they don’t really want to leave their truck cabs may end up sitting out the winter season.
Many snow contractors pay top dollar for guys willing to go that extra mile.
"I’m more apt to hire a subcontractor if he shows up with the attitude that he’s will to do whatever it takes to work for me," says Roger Nair, president of NLCI Land Management in Brunswick, Ohio. "For example, I want a guy to work for me who is willing to take an extra couple of minutes to shovel a walkway instead of saying, ‘No, I don’t do sidewalks.’"