snow plowing business, snow removal business

Snow Industry Profile: Doug Borrowman

Jun 28, 2018

 Snow Industry Profile - Doug Borrowman

About
Doug Borrowman
Owner
TD Business Ventures
www.tdbusinessventuresinc.com


TD Business Ventures have been serving Sylvan Lake since 1999 and deals in property asset management. TD focuses on all property maintenance needs and offers a “hands on” approach to maintaining a property.


When Doug Borrowman got his start in the snow industry 19 years ago, it was out of necessity. Since then, he’s grown his business, TD Business Ventures in Sylvan Lake, Alberta, Canada, to have 10 employees during the snow season. “I was doing bobcat work in the summer, and I had to pay bills. So, I decided I would start pushing snow. I started pushing snow 19 years ago and now we have up to 10 employees.”

In that 19 years, Borrowman has grown to enjoy managing snow events and the challenge that comes with it. “What some people think is pretty daunting, we pretty much have it down to a science. It’s pretty routine for us, so it’s fun to go out there and just know that you’re making a difference, you are doing something while everybody else is sleeping, and in our town, we are the only one that attack snow like this. Our competitors do it a whole different way and they don’t really want the work, so I’ll take it. I like the challenge that every snow event is a little different. The timing and when you get it versus the timing when you have to have it all cleared. Things like that are what I enjoy.”

Like many snow businesses, finding employees that can deal with the unpredictability of a typical snow event can be difficult for Borrowman. “I mean as much as all of this is exciting, to have that unpredictability, it’s hard to find staff that can accept that unpredictability, and so, it can be a little challenging to staff this kind of work. That can be the biggest challenge for me. Just getting the staff all figured out.”

Based in Sylvan Lake, Alberta, Canada, near oil fields also makes finding employees a challenge. “The oil patch really messes up our labor market in a lot of ways. To get just the guy that shovels sidewalks we have to pay $20 to $25 an hour. That’s coming down, because we were able to get some guys for $18 this year, but they are not guys who are going to stick around. We have paid operators up to the $30 mark over the years. Unfortunately our industry, the snow maintenance industry, doesn’t command oil patch income so it’s hard to pay/compete with oil patch wages”

Borrowman has leveraged a unique business model to ensure consistent year-round revenue, and improve customer retention. “When I got my first large customer, we were doing snow work for probably a dozen people already, and we just did it when it snowed. It was very primitive back then compared to where we are now. So, one customer asked us to do a bunch of work year round for them. Eventually, we went to all our existing customers and said ‘I’ll do the summer work for you and we will take your winter work and we wrap it into a contract all year round’. So 85% of our work is year round work. Some of them I have had for 15 years. I finance the customer’s work for a year, over 12 months, that’s easy for them to figure out. I budget for them and I can show them what they are going to spend for snow. Some of our service agreements are yearly and some of them are 3 year terms.”

I finance the customer’s work for a year, over 12 months, that’s easy for them to figure out. I budget for them and I can show them what they are going to spend for snow.  Some of our service agreements are yearly and some of them are 3 year terms.

After almost two decades of running a snow business, Borrowman points to liquid deicers as one of the most beneficial changes. “It’s definitely given us the opportunity to have a leg up on all our competitors. Our competitors don’t want to use the stuff, they see snow removal services as a necessary evil as opposed to a profitable cost center. We’ve used BEET 55 for probably 6 years now. We actually manufacture it right in our town, so that makes the product availability perfect.”

A constant in the snow business is customers who want the same service at a lower price. “A lower price for the same work is what customers are after, but I think everybody is. Anytime you are in service, our income is going to be their expense and they are going to do what they can to control their expense. So, liquids help us because we can go out and do more when we put liquids down ahead of time, so it allows us to be more cost efficient.” 

Just because he’s been pushing snow for nearly two decades doesn’t mean Borrowman is averse to new ideas. He’s invested in technology to make his business more efficient. “We recently designed an app so we do everything digitally now. Anything you can do that reduces paperwork and duplication of resources is beneficial. All our documentation is online using an app that we built. Our crews take all the pictures, they describe exactly what work they have done so they have start pictures, end pictures, start time, end time. All the documentation you need for your due diligence is all done there. And we are the only one in our area that even considers doing it that way.”

Making sure that our staff is better trained is a priority. They are well trained, don’t get me wrong, but I think I can do a better job of keeping them properly trained.

Training is also an area Borrowman has invested in. “We work with Greenius and have started doing staff training a lot. We are going to enhance that more and integrate that more into our program. Making sure that our staff is better trained is a priority. They are well trained, don’t get me wrong, but I think I can do a better job of keeping them properly trained. Greenius is an online training system that provides basic training, it makes somebody competent, though it doesn’t make them an expert. They get some video training, and afterward a test. Then we do field testing with them, actual practical testing of the equipment that they will be running. So, that’s everything from skid-steers to walk-behind blowers to backpack blowers to just sidewalk shoveling practices. They learn the best practices for doing that.”

This profile appeared in the 2018 Snow Industry Benchmark Report. Download it today to see how your business compares to that of your peers.

2018 Snow Industry Benchmark Report

 

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