If you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough to live in an area of the country that sees an appreciable amount of snow during the winter months, then a snow removal business could be exactly what you are looking for to supplement your income.
Imagine – while the rest of the population is cursing the cold temperatures and relentless snowfall, you can be raking in some serious cash and laughing all the way to the bank.
Starting your very own snow removal business is straightforward and you can easily be up and running after just a few days of planning and preparation. As with any business, the first step will involve getting all the necessary paperwork completed and making sure you’re doing everything by the book. Head down to city hall to get started. After that, it’s just a matter of sourcing the necessary equipment and buying a little advertising.
From an experience standpoint, it’s always good to have a little, but not absolutely critical. It really depends on what services you’re going to offer and the type of equipment you will be using. A word of advice though: if you are operating a truck mounted plow, you’re going to need some experience in order to complete the job efficiently and safely. You also don’t want to be responsible for any property damage that might occur because of your inexperience.
Startup Cost versus Services Offered
In order to get this business off the ground, you’re going to have to invest in equipment. The cost of such equipment will depend entirely on the type of snow removal you are going after. Do you plan on offering residential services only? Perhaps a combination of residential and commercial? Or maybe you will be concentrating on large commercial contracts. Here are the differences:
You will be targeting residential homes and offering everything from one-time jobs to all-inclusive contracts that cover the homeowner for the year. While you can literally start this business with a few shovels, a professional service will have equipment that will allow you to make the most efficient use of your time. This may include snowblowers and possibly a plow mounted to a pickup truck.
For small jobs, many snow removal businesses simply tow a few snowblowers (one large and one small) on a landscape style trailer. This is perfect for most residential homes since you can get in close with the snowblowers and finish off with a shovel. Alternatively, some services use a truck-mounted plow. However, it’s not great for getting in close and you’ll have to do a lot of touching up with shovels afterwards.
Expect to pay around $3000 dollars for the snowblowers. On top of that, you will need a truck and trailer. If you go the plow route, you’ll need a heavy duty pickup truck capable of carrying the plow and preferably 4-wheel drive so it doesn’t get stuck. The cost of the plow is around $2000 new. Check around for a good used one to start. You’ll also be paying for installation.
Most commercial work will involve parking lots. Schools, shopping plazas, office buildings, and industrial lots will make up the bulk of your business. A truck-mounted plow is ideal for this type of work. In some cases, you will need a combination of plow, snowblowers, and shovels to complete the job because you could also be responsible for making sure the sidewalks are free from snow – it really depends on the job.
Large contracts are generally acquired by winning tenders well in advance, and smaller jobs are simply negotiated by you and the business owner before the start of the winter season.
If you plan on getting into large commercial jobs, you may find that a pickup plow is simply not effective and you may need to get into a large, front end loader type industrial machine. These are big bucks and you would certainly need a large contract in writing (or a few) to justify the purchase or lease of such a monster. Don’t worry, if you’re just starting out, you likely won’t have to worry about that for a while.
Most snow removal firms establish contracts with clients and charge by the season. The only exception to this might be the one-off residential customer that needs your service in an emergency. But even residential work is usually done on a contract basis.
Terms vary greatly according to the type of customer and the work that needs to be done. There is usually an agreement that you will keep the property free from snow (within reason). In other words, you’ll be there to remove snow once it accumulates to a certain level. This can all be negotiated with the customer. Of course, there are limitations, and you won’t be showing up to clear snow if there is only a trace amount on the ground.
Residential contracts can be tricky because you may clear a driveway after a heavy snowfall and have to return after the street plows have been by. If it keeps snowing all day, you’ll be obligated to make several trips.
Phone around to other firms and get some estimates for various jobs (just to get yourself in the ballpark as far as local pricing goes) if you’re just starting out (and before you sign a customer to a contract). You certainly don’t want to wind up losing money – and anyone that’s been in the business for while will have a fairly accurate price.
If you’ve priced your services correctly, you should make a decent profit over the winter. Keep in mind that you are charging over an entire season, so even though you may go through weeks of daily snowfall, there will also be weeks when you won’t see any accumulation at all. It all evens out in the end unless you hit an exceptional year.
Many snow removal firms offer additional services such as sidewalk shoveling and salting. Some will even clear snow from decks and roofs.
If you decide you want to offer a salting service, you’re providing your customer with an all-inclusive service that will distinguish you from the competition – not to mention, making even more profit for yourself. This is particularly true if you do commercial jobs. Although you may have to get some additional equipment (a salt hopper) for the back of your truck, it will more than pay for itself in one season. Additionally, you can buy bulk road salt for a fraction of what you’d pay by the bag.
Are there any drawbacks to this business?
Well, one thing you’ll have to get used to is being on-call for most of the winter. You may also have to start your day very early (while it’s still dark) if you’ve got a lot of customers and there has been a heavy snowfall. If you’re running a commercial operation, you’ll have to have the parking lots completed before the businesses open. You don’t want to be clearing snow from around parked cars.
Although the snow removal business is seasonal, there is a tremendous opportunity to earn some excellent money if you’ve got the proper equipment to make the most efficient use of your time. This business is quite often started by folks who are in the landscaping business and already have a heavy-duty truck and equipment. It fits their business model perfectly since landscaping dies out in the fall anyway.