Private plowers have been busy this season
“December was incredible (28.51 inches), and January was not so bad (17.23 inches),” said Chris Ranum, owner of LP Tree Service, which deals in commercial and residential snow removal when it isn’t trimming or removing trees.
And February? Eleven days in and we’ve already racked up 17.11 inches.
“It’s been hectic,” said Jeff Widner, owner of JNT’s Snow Removal in Janesville. “A lot of road time and not a lot of rest.”
Ranum and Widner said winters such as this help balance out the lean years, when payments still must be made on snow removal equipment.
Winters such as this also open the eyes of pickup truck owners with visions of easy plowing money.
“A guy can get into the business for not a lot of money,” Ranum said. “If he’s got the truck, he can spend $4,000 and put a plow on it.”
That’s the easy part, Ranum said. The difficulty comes in being available around the clock and sticking to commitments made to customers.
“My philosophy on snow removal is that if you’re doing it as a business, you have to be accountable to your accounts,” he said. “When it’s a lean year, it’s tough. When it’s average you can get by.
“When it’s heavy, it can put you in your grave.”
Widner agreed, saying he tries to take on as much business as he, his equipment and his personnel can handle.
Widner’s seen more plows on the roads this year, but he doesn’t know if they’re people plowing as a business or just trying to pick up a little extra cash.
He fears for the latter, as routine auto insurance won’t cover accidents that happen in a plow job for pay.
“You’ve really got to have the business auto coverage,” he said. “If you don’t and you hit someone or wreck someone’s property, it can be a big problem.”
Ranum said most commercial and residential snowplowers work with one another for coverage during scheduling emergencies or equipment breakdowns.
Doing snow removal well means also doing ice control, particularly with the larger commercial accounts that account for about 75 percent of Ranum’s snow removal business.
“All that salt eats your truck, and how long are you going to keep filling a small tank with 80-pound bags of salt?” he said. “So then you add a 5,000-pound drop spreader and start buying salt in large quantities.”
Widner said he’s been knocking on wood this year. His fleet of four trucks, an end-loader and a salt truck has required only a few hours of downtime this season.
“We’ve been lucky in that we’ve been able to get right back out there,” he said.
Ranum and his crews typically hit their commercial accounts as soon as three inches of snow hit the ground. Clearing residential driveways, for which they charge about $25 to $30, comes later, usually when the snowfall has ceased.
Which hasn’t happened often this winter.
HIRING TIPS FOR PLOWERS
So you’ve had it up to your eyeballs—quite literally—with snow and are ready to hang up your shovel for good?
Here are some tips for hiring a private plower from Chris Ranum of LP Tree Service and Jeff Widner of JNT’s Snow Removal.
--Look for someone who’s been in business for a while. That demonstrates the plower consistently services his accounts throughout the season.
--Take a look at a plower’s work; make sure they’ve done a decent job.
--Make sure the plower is insured to cover not only damage to himself or his vehicle, but damage to you or your property as well.
--Evaluate prices objectively.
“Don’t let $4 or $5 get in the way,” Ranum said. “The plower’s reputation and accountability are far more important. The cost of a slip and a fall is undetermined.”
--The best time to line up a plower is in the late summer or early fall.
“If you call now and someone has room for you in a year like we’ve had, you might want to ask why that is,” Ranum said.