When most snow business owners discuss snow events, they talk about the stress of managing the event, the long hours, the lack of sleep. Brian Kenny, owner of Edenscape in Ohio, has a different perspective.
“I have a unique role as the owner, but I always make myself available for my snow manager, so I usually end up in a plow truck and maintain a route. I like it because it’s more laid-back. My route is out in a somewhat rural area. It’s somewhat peaceful. It’s a good time to think and reflect. I’ve thought about planning. I’ve thought about some things I needed to work on in the company.”
Since starting in snow around 2002, Kenny has grown his business to 11 pieces of machinery, including plow trucks and skid steers, as well as 2 sidewalk crews. He’s grown by pounding the pavement.
“We go through doors and shake hands with businesses and apartment complexes, condominiums. We usually start by going after the summer green maintenance work and the snow comes with it. We try to learn their expectations and level of service for snow.”
In his nearly 15 years of business, Kenny has seen many changes in the snow industry. But one that stands out to him are changes in plow blade technology. “The introduction of a V-plow has been extremely favorable. I started with a straight blade, but every plow that I purchase now has some type of wing on it or is a V-blade.”
Kenny also believes the use of liquid deicing products is poised to grow. “I see more people going to a brine product. Using liquid sprays on parking lots. It doesn’t seem as corrosive, but I haven’t used it. That’s something that may gain popularity. For those that are setup to use it, I can see it being more cost-effective and not having to wonder if they’ll have enough salt at the end of the year. You never know how much salt to buy. It’s a volatile market.“
He’s also noticed shifts in customer expectations. “A lot of clients want you there at a certain time. But you can’t be there. People are getting to be more ‘Now!’ People want it now.”
The 2015-16 snow season taught Kenny the importance of diversifying his contracts. Like many snow providers, he experienced a significant decrease in snowfall, so having a good mix of seasonal contracts helped his business bring in revenue even though it wasn’t snowing.
“Having those contracts helped out quite a bit. Especially with key employees. Keeping them employed without per push invoicing going out did quite a bit for us. It’s a gamble. What I did was try to push more of a retainer type of system. We did a retainer at 10 pushes for one customer. For us, 10 pushes is an area when we start to make money. About a third of my customers were on a retainer. I would love to see more contractors use that concept. ”
Like most contractors, finding experienced employees is tough for Kenny. A recent tactic he used that generated results is press releases. “I had a little bit of luck in the spring sending out press releases about how a local company is hiring 20 employees. It’s great for people to see that - here’s a company hiring 20 people. It’s newsworthy. We’ve also done job fairs and have posted signs on the back of trucks and trailers saying “Help Wanted.” Our web page says we’re hiring. We’ve done job fairs. We’re trying different stuff, but it hasn’t necessarily worked. It’s still a challenge.”
Kenny believes that the best form of marketing is as simple as trying to do the best work that he can. “We do a lot of referral based marketing. Just asking for business. We network with our existing clients and ask them who their neighbor uses. Sometimes our existing clients have other apartment complexes. I have not advertised for snow.”
Kenny takes a simple approach to selling. “You go to a property and introduce yourself and ask for the business, or the opportunity to have that business. Then you stay in touch with them. And build a relationship with them. It’s not easy to walk through a door and ask to talk to the person who takes care of the property. It’s very simple, though. And then you have to follow through on what you say you’re going to do. And that’s what’s tough on people trying to get in. They don’t necessarily know that if you take on that contract, it’s a serious responsibility. If someone slips and falls and hurts themselves, it can be devastating for the person that falls. It can alter their life. So there’s a huge responsibility there. Not everyone gets that. They have a beat up truck and throw a plow on it. No wonder he’s half the price of me. It’s because he’s not going to be there when he says he will - his truck is going to break down.”
Once he’s generated interest, Kenny delivers a packet that helps differentiate his business. “We use a sales folder. In that sales folder you’ll find information about the company, some awards, a newsletter, typically a proposal for the work we’re going to do, residential and commercial references.” He even uses his role during events as a selling point.
“I’m the owner, and I’m one of the people out in the truck. When you call, I’m in a truck. I’m not in Florida or Arizona on vacation.”