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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Since I retired at the end of November, I've been pretty aggressive about expanding. I need one more to quadruple my customer list, which actually more than quadrupled income. I've expanded to one town on each side of me and gotten a couple of very lucrative accounts. So what's the dilemna? Well, you judge:

Yesterday I got a call from a guy two towns away wanting me for the season. He didn't ask if I worked in that area, but more about that later. This would be about 20 miles from my house and 10 miles from any point of my route in that direction. On the plus side, it's all fairly easy highway driving with little traffic. I told him I'd be glad to talk to him but it would be considerable charge for mileage. He said "That's fine". I told him I didn't think it would really be worth it to him unless he had a fairly large lot. "No, just a little drive". I arranged a time to meet and drove over - Checked the mileage to make sure - ten miles exactly from the end of my route to his house. I'd never been there and when I found the house I thought to myself "How am I going to handle this?". Right on the main street to a little town (nice driving, no back streets, very little traffic). Driveway is packed dirt and gravel so no big deal. It's about 10' wide and 30' long ending in an ell (garage-type building attached to the house). There is a space at the street end widened out to park another small car. So all-in-all, it's a three-car parking area. No ditch, perfectly flat and lots of space away from the house to put snow.

Homeowner is outside. Early 30s. I introduce myself and ask if he has any special requests. "No". Does he want references - "No". Does he want a bid proposal - "No". I can't get there till late morning - "That's fine". I won't be responsible for grass damage - "That's fine". He tells me he has walked all up and down his street and been all over town, but can't find anybody who plows snow. I quote a price that's about three times what it's worth and he doesn't even hesitate - "That's fine - it's well worth it". He even wants sanding which is unheard of in a setting like that. I told him the price is high due to the travel involved and offer to lower it if I can get some more business in the area which he's sure there is plenty.

Can you imagine me driving up to this place with a 3500, two yard sander and 9' blade? It was like taking a machine gun rabbit hunting. Definately overkill and overpriced, but what else was I supposed to do? I just hope I can get some more in the area. My thought is that'll be my last plow and I'll float around town seeing what I can get. Who knows, if there really aren't any plow guys in that town, I may have found a new base of operations.

It was too good to be true, but so were the last three accounts I got before this.
 

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You want my opinion on THAT? It sounds great . My one worry might be whether he will really pay or not, or question the amount of snow he feels there was compared to what you say there was, or the distance away and the possibility that there is less snow in his location (or more, meaning you have to service only his place). I'm sure you will have thought of these as well but otherwise it sounds like you may have found the end of a rainbow.:)
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Yep. Considered all of that. One price per push to 12". Just not enough area to be concerned with depth when travel distance is the main factor in pricing. I don't let anyone get more than one month behind in payment so it's usually one or two pushes at most that I'd get beat out of.
 

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I'd ask for a deposit up front.Usually the ones that are too good to be true will balk at that point.

Glad to hear the expansion is going well.Hopefully it's a good winter for you. :)
 

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After you quadrupled your route,do you really have time to travel that far out of your way,?while this customer doesn't care when you show up what will you do if you can find some high end work that needs to be done early,can you get there on time?
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
In this area, it's the custom to start plowing after daylight. I have one person who needs plowed out so she can go to work. Even she doesn't get plowed until the road gets plowed, which is sometimes late in the morning.

What you would call "high end" just doesn't exist in this area. Maybe if I expand to Augusta or the coast, but by then I hope to have subs and/or employees.
 

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****, as long as you can fit it in and he pays his bills, go for it. I've found this type of customer can be one of your best, and I tend to cater more to them than the chronic complainers

He may have been burned in the past by "unprofessionals" and you come across as being the opposite. I've run into this a number of times. Some people are willing to pay for dependable service at a premium, this equals higher profits!
 

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**** it does sound good and maybe this will bring in more business than you can handel you may be shoping for another truck and driver .Which is a good thing:D Where are these poeple in my area that will say that's fine.I only have one like that wants his driveway plowed even if there just and 1" and does not ask for amount totals from me .
 

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If he ends up being a good customer thats great . If you can add more customers in that area and he is happy with your service why lower the price . You may then be lowballing yourself ? I cant imagining driving 10 miles to a customer . I dont have to drive more that couple of mile to any of my customers . I guess thats the advantage to a urban setting
 

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**** it sounds FANTASTIC to me, Go for it Buddy if you do pickup extra work maybe you can add another truck or sub it out.

I'm glad things are working out for you my friend!
 

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Sounds like a great opportunity to get into a new area. If you can get the work to keep one busy, a sub might be a move in the right direction (down the road of course). We have a commercial account that we maintain with similar circumstances. It's not really in our service area, but not really very far away either. Driving up the highway for one account didn't really seem like it was going to be worthwhile, so we subbed it. Now we don't have to worry about one of our trucks getting stuck or breaking down two towns over causing us to pull another truck off a route to bail out the other one for just one account. Productivity, that's what it is all about in the end (after profit of course).

You may want to stick those outside duals back on that 3500 if you are going to be on the highway. Those 800 units will have a heyday if you ever get stopped, break down, or (and I hope not, but) get in an accident.
 

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****,

Great job on the growth burst and hope you all the best. However, it seems more like you are just telling us how good you are doing and not really asking if this is good or bad.

I can understand the situation you are in because over the past three seasons I have gone from 4 gas stations to 30 commercial accounts. In doing this I also added a dump truck to support my P/U and also added a sub.

I am not sure that increasing your account list by 400% and taking on a out of the way job, no matter what the rate is, with only one truck can be good for the long term interest of your business. Please DO NOT take this the wrong way. I just see guys take on additional accounts looking at the $$$ but not really considering what I might take to get the job done.

Now a 400% increase if you are going from 4 to 16 might be managable, with one truck. If you went from 10 to 40 not so sure that is a good thing. Also time to plow should be the real consdieration and not the number of accounts. There are plenty of guys that plow 40 drives in one event with one truck. I drive up to 25 miles from my base operation to get to a job with my dump but service several other accounts on the return trip. My P/U can service more accounts in the local area with the sub to back either of us up if there should be a problem or a heavy snow fall.

From the people I have talked to about plowing residential drives the basic rule I have heard is, one truck 4-6 hours MAX for a 2"- 4" snow event, hours go up with more snow. This is based on a understanding that MOST people want there drive cleared when they leave for work. With commercial and/or a mix those numbers can change either up or down.

For me with all commercial and only 5 of the 30 locations being 24hrs operations I have plenty of leeway on times. So travel time is not a huge factor therefore, I am able to have a wider coverage area. Most of the commercial accounts I service are 5 or more stores involving all or none contracts. They are also mostly all seasonal accounts too so that helps putting resources behind getting the job done.

Even if you are looking to sub out, finding subs this late in the season might be a problem. If the guy could not find a plow truck while he was willing to pay the high rates how will you find a sub to do the work?

When you are running one truck any minor problem that results in lost productivity can be devistating to a business during its growing years. I have had to turn down some referral business because I was not comfortable with being able to meet the demand. When I told some of the client this, they saw it as responsible and said maybe next season, or I was able to pick up the grass work and I'll add more snow accounts next season as I look for good subs and/or add another truck.

Moral to my response with this post is; it is easy to look at a job and say well I will just bill him three times the going rate. Bottom line, if you can not get the job done, or if you have to take quality time away from other accounts to service the one paying the high rate in the long term is the increased profit margin really worth the risk??

Just some food for thought. Easy to tell someone "go for it" but those three words do nothing but help ones ego. Ego alone will not support a long term productive profitable business.

GOOD LUCK :cash :cash :cash
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Thanks, Ron and all. I was kind of blowing my own horn, but also really did want input to see the potential downsides. Ron noted the play on statistics. I had lost a few accounts due to people buying a garden tractor to plow with, moves, etc. I was down to three customers (remember, I was working also). I told the wife I was kind of discouraged along with the other events that were going on. Then, two days later it seemed like the dam burst. Within a week I was up to eleven. Income had increased even more relative to the # of customers. But I was also getting leery for the very reasons Ron brought up. I do have a 1/2 ton with a 7 1/2' as a backup. But that wouldn't help with the sander. I only have one who wants plowed for work and she's first on the list at 5:15AM. Then I've got it set up so I go to the furthest one to the East and work my way West. All are off one highway and it's 25 miles from the Eastern to the Westernmost points. I've estimated five hours, not including the 5:15 one. Starting about 6:30 that would let me finish about Noon. What I've also found is that I can push 10-12" about as easily as 4" with the one ton so I'm only allowing another hour or so for larger snowfalls - mainly to account for the traffic.

I'm already thinking about buying another truck and trying to get a couple of subs for next year. This led to the same thinking - if he couldn't find a plow guy, how will I? Solution - since there is an excess of plows in this area, I sub out the work here and plow that area myself.

Please, keep the ideas coming. I won't take it wrong - I want to consider every possibility before it happens. This is really new ground for me in so many ways.
 

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****
I agree with Ron about the 4-6 hour per truck rule. Our routes are full with 2 trucks and 54 accounts, all within 8 miles of eachother. With 12" + storms, it takes about 4 hours to plow everyone out and about 6 hours to go back and clean everything up. Small storms can be done in 4 - 6 hours. I have found that if I don't get around in 6 hours, the phone will start to ring. From the sounds of it, I think the customers in my area are a little more impatient than the ones in your area. I do have a question. Does your estimate of 5 hours include the new account two towns over? If it does, I wouldn't hesitate to take it. You can always drop it next year, as you pick up more accounts closer to home.
 

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residential timing

I also agree with Ron and BWinkel after 6 hours your customers will become concerned . Even if they have nowhere to go. You have to at least allow them to get out if they need to . If I take on more than 50 -60 customers it takes to long . You need to groom your route and keep the customers tight to your homebase . I am not sure you can do that in your location . I think what I just stated is already known by us its good to review the info anyway .
 

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My first year I had about 8 customers scattered all over the place. I would take customers just about anywhere within a 20 mile radius. Gradually began to lump them together by adding and dropping. I think it is harder living in a rural area. I would love to have a 150 unit subdivision to plow but I wouldn't want to live near it.
 

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I've learned that expectations can vary greatly by region from this board. One current example of this is the "Ouch" thread in "Off Topic" forum. There we see a public highway covered with several inches of hard packed snow, reported to be in that condition season long. That would not be accepted in my area, the attorneys would be foaming at the mouth over it.

There are parts of upstate NY however, where this is acceptable. I would aslo expect that some regions are a little less impatient than some of our urban areas in terms of account servicing. I've also found that residential accounts are more tolerant in this area.

One thing to consider though ****, is the distance you'll be travelling from your repair facility. If something breaks on your truck, how far will you have to travel to repair it, and if the truck is imobile, how long will it take to bring tools or parts to the truck? I once had a tire going down and was able to make it back to the shop to change it, if I were just a few minutes further away, I'd have been changing it in the brunt of the blizzard. Just another thought to add to your equation.
 
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