If I were going into business today, especially the snow removal business, the most important question I would ask is, “how do I get customers?” You, as a landscape contractor, have the advantage over me, because you already have an established customer base to start with.
Why do I want to go into the snow removal business? That’s a relatively simple question to answer. If I were a landscape contractor living and working in the colder climates, I would like to find something to generate cash flow during the slow months of winter. After all, I still have the overhead of paying rent on my facility every month and all the inherent expenses that go with it, whether I’m using it or not.
More importantly, if I could keep my crews busy during the winter months, instead of laying them off, I wouldn’t have to start from scratch each spring, hiring and retraining new people.
As a homeowner, how would I find someone to handle my snow removal? I’d probably ask some of my neighbors who they use, or I’d look up companies online. However, if I knew that the same company that already services my landscape has added snow removal to their list of services, I would probably call them first.
If you’re a landscape contractor, you already have a loyal set of customers, many of whom probably need snow removal, depending on your location. Let them know that this is yet another service you can offer them. Keeping and transitioning the same customers from dry season to wet season is not only beneficial to your company, it also fills a need for your client.
With some training and familiarity, you and your crews will master the techniques of snow and ice removal. But before you get your plows lined up and ready to go, here’s a few things you can do to ensure a flow of new customers.
Getting clients (new and old)
Send a letter to your clients to inform them of this additional service your company is now offering. Set up a schedule whereby you’ll send out a different letter or promotion at least once a month, just before the first snowfall and throughout the season. You’ll find that the more information you send out, the more clients will respond. This can also be in the form of an online newsletter.
When you’re out doing landscape maintenance, pass out door hangers or flyers about the new service. Take a little time to talk to people in the neighborhood. This is best done before snow season, and should be done more than once. You’d be sur prised how much business you can generate with this strategy. If you can get several clients on one street, the jobs will be much more profitable because you’ll save travel time.
Remember, snow removal is just as important as any other landscape service that people need, and it’s remarkable how many new clients you can obtain if you simply show how good you are as a contractor.
Take time to visit your local hardware and landscape supply stores.
The people who go to these places are the ones who need your services. Build relationships with the store owners or managers. Chances are, customers have asked them more than once if they know of any contractors in the area. Give them a stack of your business cards to hand out.
Your current clients will be your biggest help in spreading the word about your new service. Referrals are everything, so be sure you ask them if they know anyone who’s looking for snow removal services. Give them a little incentive, like a free inspection of their landscape lighting system, or a special price on something for every new customer they get for you.
Once you have customers, you need to keep them, and then add more. You continually have to increase your customer base, because you’re bound to lose some through attrition. People downsize and move to apartments, or move away to other cities. You may be the best landscape contractor in town, but you’ll still lose a few clients this way.
You’ll need to make a concerted effort to retain the customers you already have. One way is to get a little closer to them in a friendly business relationship. Just as you call your relatives during the holidays, or send birthday cards or baby announcements to family members you haven’t seen in a long time, make sure your customers know that you’re thinking about them, too. It’s critical to success.
Just as winter is the off season for landscape work, think of spring and summer as the off season for snow removal. When lawns are green and your snow-service-only clients aren’t thinking about you, remind them of how much you appreciate them as customers, and how you’re looking forward to another winter of providing them with excellent service.
(Your snow-only clients might turn into year-rounders!) Let them know you’re there, but don’t overwhelm them. You don’t have to call them or send out thankyou cards for every calendar holiday.
Instead, create a list of about four or five different days per year on which you wish to send regards.
Keep your customers in the loop with social media as well. Ten years ago, you didn’t have this tool to tell people about your business. Nowadays, with the power of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, it’s easier than ever to constantly update your profile and send out information to your “followers” without feeling like you’re being overly intrusive.
Your crew represents you
Your employees are your ambassadors. You can spend a lot of time making sure that you keep your customers happy, but if you don’t have a hard-working, well-trained, courteous group of people working for you, it will be very difficult for you to retain your clients.
John Alexander of Snow Management Services and Groundmaster Landscaping in Denver, Colorado, said that only the best workers with high endurance and strong work ethics should be retained for snow work during the winter months.
“It’s a ‘now’ business,” said Alexander. “Most clients have an expectation that when it snows, it’ll be cleared off their property by morning.
If you’re working for a hospital, the snow has to be constantly moved. You have to be very diligent and keep your clients happy. They depend on your service, and you are managing risks for them.”
Snow removal is not a task that just anyone can handle. Be precise in hiring the right group of people who understand the severity of the job. Those who don’t have the proper training, ability and endurance to work in snowy conditions will just hinder your business.
No two customers are alike
We mentioned sending out cards to your client list. But if you don’t personalize these relationships, and get to know these people a bit, you might as well just address those cards to “Occupant.” What Jim and Sally need for their property isn’t the same thing that Tom and Tina need for theirs. It’s important to put faces with the addresses.
As you work with them through the season, call and ask your clients if they’re completely satisfied. (It’s also a good way to check up on your employees.) Rather than generalizing a plan for all your customers, sit down with each client and find out exactly what they’re looking for. Then give it to them.
Transitioning the clients you already have Just because snow season’s approaching and you’re anxious to jump right in doesn’t mean that you’re ready. First, take the time to learn the ins and outs of what snow removal is all about.
Find out everything you can about ice and snow removal, what training, equipment and supplies you’ll need. Learn about the properties of snow and ice, and the chemicals and salt used to melt them. Research the attachments you can buy to turn your professional mower into a snow machine. Make sure you know all the local ordinances. Once you’re really confident that all your frozen ducks are in a row, then you can go ahead and broadcast your new service to the world. Be prepared for some to be skeptical that you’ve become an expert overnight.
How to succeed…and keep succeeding
Operating and managing a snow removal business is not that different from operating and managing any other part of your landscape business. To be profitable in snow as well as sunshine, follow the same principles. Hire and train good people; reach out to new customers and make sure the old ones are well taken care of. Doing these things should keep your snow removal business alive and thriving for years to come.