For many businesses in locations with moderate climates, winter is a season that brings fewer jobs and contracts. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Construction companies across the continent have started to discover that this perceived offseason holds a different set of opportunities. Some business owners have found that cold-weather services—like snow and ice removal—help maintain consistent cash flow throughout the year. If you’re looking to maintain steady revenue during the cooler months of the year, consider growing your business with winter work using the following three best practices.
1. Plan for the Offseason
Before you go all in on accepting winter jobs, take some time to plan ahead and make sure your business, machines and staff can make it through the offseason. To get started, review your business plan and determine what kinds of wintertime jobs make sense. This decision will be unique to your company, staffing situation and equipment availability. Also, consider that expanding your work into a fourth season won’t automatically bring jobs in the door. At the end of the day, profitability in the offseason comes down to managing operating costs and maximizing the utilization of the equipment you rent or own. The winter season is often unpredictable, with large variations of snowfall year over year, so ensure that you have a financial cushion to get you through any possible scenario. Expanding into the fourth season is a big decision, so it is imperative that you consider every angle. Use these questions to help streamline your thought process before taking on new opportunities:
- Is your organization adequately staffed for the unpredictability of snow jobs? Will you need to hire temporary workers? Does your compensation structure need adjustments to accommodate longer hours, off-hours work and/or on-call work?
- How will you secure business during this time of year? Do you have existing clients with whom to network about your new offerings? Do you need to market your company to new potential customers?
- Is your financial foundation strong enough to take on the risk of expanding business operations?
- Do you have the appropriate insurance to ensure your company and employees are protected?
- What are your metrics of success? How will you determine whether it is beneficial to maintain offseason work as a long-term business strategy?
Beyond business planning, equipment is the next piece to consider. You may find that additional equipment will be needed to diversify your business.
Research all options for doing so, including new, pre-owned and rental equipment. If you’re starting small and easing into offseason work, renting can give you a chance to adjust to new challenges and give your team the opportunity to get comfortable using the equipment in different conditions.
Afterward, you can better determine whether a piece of machinery is the right choice as a long-term investment.
However, expanding into winter work could also reveal that you already have the right machines to operate year-round. In that case, adding new attachments to your existing fleet can fill the role of equipment dedicated for snow moving, priced at thousands of dollars. Consider attachments like angle brooms, push brooms, salt/sand spreaders, scrapers, snow blades, snow buckets, snow pushers, snow v-blades and/or snow blowers.
Whether you need a few extra pieces of equipment or an entirely new set of attachments, the old adage “You have to spend money to make money” might be true for you as a business owner considering snow work for the first time.
2. Assess Your Fleet
After you have redefined your business plan and identified your equipment needs, it’s time to assess your fleet, regardless of whether you have added new equipment or are sticking with your current fleet.
This step will ensure that you’re fully prepared to take on the drastically different working conditions that wintertime brings.
Factors to consider include:
- Will your loader need to fit in tight spaces, like residential areas, and have plenty of room to maneuver on sites like parking lots?
- Are you picking up snow with a bucket and loading it into a truck, requiring extra lift and reach, or are you moving/pushing snow into piles? A vertical lift machine is ideal if you are looking at loading snow into high-sided trucks. A radius lift machine works well at mid-range or lower working heights.
- Will you be switching between multiple attachments while removing snow? If so, consider looking at a machine that has a power attachment system, which allows you to quickly switch between nonhydraulic attachments.
- Consider the lighting at the sites on which you will be removing snow. Adequate lighting and road kits are very important in low-visibility situations. With the right equipment, you will be well on your way to business growth and diversification into the last season of the year.
3. Train Your Employees
Once you have determined the right approach to taking on winter work, don’t forget to think about the people you will have operating these machines. Winter and snow work can present a unique set of challenges. Consider these safety tips for working in winter conditions:
- Read the operation and maintenance manuals before operating any piece of equipment. Understand and follow the operating instructions and avoid the hazards identified on the decals installed on the machine.
- Equipment owners should refer to the maintenance instructions regarding filling equipment with the correct fluids in the correct increments to ensure the equipment performs like it should.
- Always face the machine when getting in, grabbing the handles and using the steps that are provided, maintaining three points of contact at all times.
- Never attempt to start the engine or operate the controls from outside the machine.
- Look in the direction of travel when backing up and check each side before swinging or turning the machine.
- Stop the machine on level ground when you finish working on a site. Always fully lower the equipment’s lift arms, place the attachment flat on the ground and turn the engine off before exiting the machine.
- Ensure your employees are familiar with the areas in which they are removing snow. For example, if the machines are stationed at an apartment complex or a shopping mall, training your employees on machine docking locations and potential obstacles to overcome (e.g., parked cars) is important.
Construction companies don’t have to throw in the towel for the year once the cold weather arrives. Before winter comes, start thinking about how your business can adapt to work in snowy conditions. All it takes is a bit of careful planning, proper machine maintenance and an operator-focused mindset. It could be the key to increasing revenue and steadying profits year-round.