It’s 5 a.m. on a blustery and cold winter’s day. While most people are still tucked in bed keeping warm under fluffy down comforters with their dogs at the foot of the bed, you’ve been out in your truck for hours because several inches of snow came down overnight. It’s your job to make sure the parking lots and driveways are clear of snow and ice before the currently sleeping masses begin their morning commute.
Your work plowing and treating pavement is critical to making sure your customers can get out of their driveways to get to work or have a safe parking lot to park in when they get there. Without you, motorists would be stranded or worse, they would hit a patch of ice and strike another vehicle or slip and fall walking into the office.
Snow removal is one of those businesses that is less predictable than other green industry niches. It can come along at any time of day and is utterly dependent on the weather. One mild winter might hurt profits, but a harsh winter might have you raking in the dough. You’ll work for it though.
Landscape companies located in the snow-prone areas of the country know that winter is a whole different ballgame than the routine that summer maintenance provides. A missed weed trim isn’t going to put someone in the hospital. But not getting the sidewalk cleared of snow and ice might.
Snow management is just one of the many services Waterloo, Illinois-based Linnemann Lawn Care and Landscaping Inc. performs. President and CEO Adam Linnemann started the business in 1994 when he was only 14 years old.
“Today, we employ 25 team members and dispatch nine crews for service and install work,” Linnemann says. The company’s service offerings include lawn maintenance, lawn care, landscape design build, holiday lighting and of course, snow removal. A fleet of 13 trucks helps get the crews and the snow in the right place.
Even for a company like Linnemann whose customers in the Greater St. Louis area don’t see as much snow as other parts of the country, snow removal is still a good business. About 20% of the company’s annual profits of $1.4 million comes from snow removal alone.
In this Q&A, Linnemann shares his insights into running a successful snow removal business as part of an entire landscaping operation.
Q. What time of year do you start marketing your services and why?
Our marketing of our services is nonstop. Snow removal contracts were wrapped up in early August. We blast our email newsletter for fall aeration and overseeding in early August as well. Holiday lighting comes next. We send out renewal info for new lawn service as early as late January for the following season. It’s a nonstop effort for us at Linnemann.
Q. When do you book most of your ongoing business?
Most of our business is booked in February when we send out renewal info. We work all winter long touching base with existing clients and set up renewals at that time. My sales people are busy in the offseason getting contracts renewed all winter long.
Q. What are your customer retention strategies?
We offer a prepay discount back in the form of a gift certificate if our clients prepay. This helps with customer retention. Simply doing good, consistent work, having clean trucks and uniformed team members goes a long way as well. The last thing that helps us out the most with customer retention is having someone in the office answering phones five days a week. Clients love talking to someone and knowing they can always get a hold of someone for any questions, problems or service changes.
Q. What are the biggest challenges in the snow removal business?
This is an easy answer … getting salt at a reasonable price when needed and hoping it actually snows here in St. Louis. We only average 15 to 18 inches per year.
Q. What are the opportunities?
Opportunities would be to turn these snow contracts into seasonal for guaranteed income. We would have to test the waters with this method.
Q. What do you think it takes to be successful in the snow removal business?
Definitely it is having clients that want zero-tolerance on their properties, allowing you to salt and apply ice melts even when we get very minute amounts of ice or snow. It is also educating clients on why it’s important to be a zero-tolerance business for the safety of their customers. Lastly, understanding your own numbers and what to charge is important so you can rest assured you are making money for this important service.
Q. What does it mean to have
a “zero-tolerance” snow removal business?
Zero tolerance means that even in very light snows or “dustings,” we come out and mitigate the snow with ice melters. The same goes for any refreeze situations after the storm. When the snow piles melt, if they refreeze on the parking lot as ice, we come out and mitigate the ice. We have no tolerance for ice or snow on the properties we manage.
Q. What advice do you have for someone considering expanding their landscape business into snow removal?
Go with bulk spreaders if at all possible. Ice melts are cheaper when purchased in bulk. I also recommend hiring a weather service to give you detailed weather reporting so you can make educated decisions on when to service based off up-to-date weather data. Enjoy working at night and long hours, because snow removal is not for the faint of heart!
Adam Linnemann is president and CEO of Linnemann Lawn Care and Landscaping. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Helping his peers
Whether it is sharing advice about snow removal or answering an accounting question, Adam Linnemann doesn’t mind helping out his fellow green industry pros. In 2017, the owner of Linnemann Lawn Care and Landscaping, Waterloo, Illinois, started The Green Executive landscape industry peer groups and consulting.
“We currently facilitate two peer groups, offer regular facility tours of our own shop and tour others while providing constructive feedback,” Linnemann says.
He also offers one-on-one consulting and green industry bookkeeping services, which includes accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll services and Quickbooks invoicing.
“We are here to help,” he says.