Departments - Research

Unseasonable winter. Labor shortages. Global pandemic. Our benchmarking report examines how the average snow and ice professional fared during winter 2019-20, as well as an outlook for this coming winter and beyond.

October 19, 2020

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It’s been a crazy year, to say the least. Not only was the industry hampered by another low-snow, low-event winter, but just past the mid-winter point we experienced the onslaught of a global pandemic that impacted every business in our economy.

As commercial and retail businesses furloughed workers and closed offices and manufacturing plants, many of you were concerned that, even if it did begin snowing again, would your services be needed? Or worse, would your clients have the means to continue paying for services. The implications of an economic and financial domino effect were appalling.

While it’s fair to say no one was left unscathed by COVID-19’s impact, the 2020 State of the Industry data seems to indicate that the industry did persevere, and snow and ice management contractors – perhaps through a combination of thoughtful preplanning and good luck – managed to keep their heads above water and make it through to more solid footing this past spring.

Here are some of the highlights from this year’s report. According to the research data, more than a third of snow pros reported an increase in their gross revenues last winter over the previous season, and on average, contractors saw around $1.5 million to $1.7 million in gross revenues generated primarily from commercial contracts (62 percent of the overall average portfolio). Profit margins last winter hovered around the 50 percent mark for snow plowing (41% profit margin) and ice mitigation/management (47 percent).The following pages go into further detail on Winter 2019-20’s impact on the average contractors’ snow and ice management operations. And keep an eye out for additional in-depth reporting on the State of the Industry data findings in upcoming editions of the Snow Magazine Enewsletter.

Competitive Pressures

NEARLY HALF (43 PERCENT) of snow and ice professionals report operating in a high-pressure market, according to industry data. In contrast, 29 percent of respondents report low to very little competitive pressures in their market. And just short of a third of respondents (28 percent) report their market maintains a comfortable amount of competitive pressure.

And for a historical perspective, when looking at the last few winters, contractors appear to report a slight improvement in market pressure with a modest swing toward low or neutral conditions, according to industry research.

So, where is this pressure coming from? According to the data, more than half of respondents (61 percent) cite local and regional competitors as providing the bulk of the competitive pressure in their markets. Only 14% of respondents pointed their fingers at national and/or multi state firms, and 8 percent indicated it was both local and national. A slim 3 percent of respondents said there were no competitors in their markets, and 16 percent ID’d competitive sources like low-ball contractors; "crooks," and "idiots." In fact, one contractor responded: "Knuckleheads thinking they can provide cheaper services."

Winter Expectations

HEADING INTO WINTER 2019-20, the majority of snowfighters were anticipating "normal" seasonal conditions. Only 12 percent were banking on an active season, with cooler temperatures and extreme winter conditions, according to the State of the Industry data. Likewise, 26% of respondents' predictions were on the mark, foreseeing warmer condition, fewer billable events, and an overall disappointing season.

Heading into this winter, though, snow contractors have a favorable outlook, with nearly a third (29%) anticipating cooler temperatures, extreme conditions, and more billable events. So, what are they basing this seasonal sentiment on? When ask, many contractors responded they outlooks were based on long-term forecasts and weather service assessments. However, a fair number of contractors submitted responses like: “We’re bound to get a bad one,”; “Gut feeling” “The Law of Averages,” and “Hoping for the best.”