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Contractors Brace for Bad Weather

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The snow plowing business faces a few different challenges, some shared by other industries and some not. A lack of snow is a unique challenge that can dramatically reduce the company’s income.

“They’re saying it’s going to be a pretty mild season,” said Chris Albin, owner of Budget Cuts Lawn Service in Syracuse, which also performs snow plowing services.

Still, he remains hopeful that the winter will bring plenty of white stuff compared with recent seasons.

He has been gearing up since October, renewing existing customers, preparing equipment and staking driveways. About half of his business is commercial and the other half is residential.

Consumer conception about pricing is challenging in this service-based business.

“A lot of homeowners expect a lower price,” Albin said. “It’s a huge competitive market. I’d like to see prices to go up a little bit. People don’t understand the costs behind each plow truck: full coverage insurance, fuel, the driver’s salary. The truck itself costs $45,000 and it is $7,000 for a plow.”

To keep costs down, his company plows only properties within a 10-minute radius of his shop. Driving all over costs him more for fuel and wages.

Typically, he plows residential driveways once snow is three inches deep unless requested otherwise.

Commercial property owners usually have a “zero tolerance” policy for snow, as having customers drive on it can pack it down and cause icy conditions if it thaws and refreezes.

Jimmy Judware, owner of Jimmy’s Landscaping and Snow Removal in Liverpool, has heard predictions of a snowy winter.

“I’m thinking we’re going to be pretty busy this year,” Judware said.

Like Albin, he serves commercial and residential properties.

“They’re predicting a pretty bad winter this year. So I’m thinking we’re going to be pretty busy this year,” he said.

He and his team work on planning routes to ensure they can efficiently clear snow and keep costs down.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “Everyone thinks people jump in trucks and it’s easy. We’re out there all hours of the night. I’m also out there shoveling, salting and removing ice off roofs.”

At Chase Enterprises in Oswego, Allen Chase, the owner, said that one of his biggest challenges this year is labor. His multi-state operation performs roadside maintenance from Iowa to Virginia.

He has been hiring Oswego County residents and putting them up at hotels in other states where his company has work.

Locally, Chase has 15 trucks outfitted for snow removal.

“We haven’t staffed everything we could but we’re keeping customers happy,” he said. “We’re in a big demand for middle management in Oswego County because we’re growing.”

Finding that talent has made growth more difficult. He has also scaled down his plowing business from 50 trucks to 15 in recent years because staffing those seasonal positions is hard.

Obtaining goods has also affected his business.

“The cost of salt is out of sight,” Chase said. “With supply chain problems, it’s hard to get replacement parts. It’s expensive and it’s impossible to get. Stuff that was a phone call or finger stroke away is on back order for undetermined periods of time.”

He thinks the area is due for a snowy winter.

Featured Image: Snow plow operated by Budget Cuts Lawn Service in Syracuse.