How to Make More Money as a One-person Snowplow Operation
Created January 17, 2023
When you first start out plowing, it’s all about making a name for yourself and getting enough clients to fill your schedule. Residential properties are a great entry point for contractors looking to get started in the snow and ice industry and gain some experience, momentum, and cash flow.
While it might take a little time to gain traction in this industry, there are several ways to better position yourself to make more money as a one-man operation.
How Property Type Impacts Efficiency Rate
Taking on multiple homeowner associations (HOAs) or communities with similar driveway types will save you time in more ways than one. It reduces wasted downtime driving in-between properties and time spent planning where to stack the snow.
Getting the Right Snowplow for Your Needs
If you’re ready for the next step of growth, focus on getting more efficient with your equipment. Whether you’re staying with residential or venturing into commercial work, upgrading your snowplow can result in a higher profit with the same amount of manpower as before.
If the driveways or properties on your route are simple and straight, you can easily use a straight blade and clear it in no time. If there are more curves, a car port, or varying geometrical shape—the versatility of a v-plow or winged plow could greatly help you get the job done more efficiently.
V-Plows Equipped with Scrape Maxx™
If you’re currently using a straight blade on a half-ton, a good next step may be upgrading to a newer ¾ -ton truck with a v-plow setup. V-plows are often referred to as a “Swiss Army Knife” for their versatility, with Scrape Maxx now as a standard feature on all SnowEx® truck plows, there’s no need to purchase additional accessories.
Scrape Maxx can even make a light-duty plow act as a heavier-duty plow by adding down-force that holds the plow down against the pavement for a cleaner scrape. It also improves back dragging capability, which is helpful for residential driveways and tight spaces on commercial properties.
As a rough gauge, upgrading a straight blade to a V-plow, could easily increase efficiency rates by 25%, providing all properties are close by.
Nothing Like Winged Plow Efficiency
A second option to consider is upgrading to the ultimate truck plow—a winged snowplow on a 1-ton truck. There is a higher cost and learning curve up front, but the decision to upgrade equipment in this manner can certainly pay off in the long run. Contractors can gain around 30% increase in efficiency by adding a winged blade (1-ton truck required) to their setup in place of a straight blade or v-plow.
SnowEx offers a full line of products to meet the diverse needs of commercial contractors. Use Power Match to determine which snowplows will fit your vehicle, based on its unique specifications.
- TIP: If you’re not in the position to buy a new winged plow but want to increase your snow carrying capacity, add wings to your straight blade. It still requires a larger truck but can be a quick and affordable solution that will help you gain some efficiency in your setup.
Signs That You’ve Outgrown Your Plow
There will come a time when you simply can’t rely on your current setup any longer to get the job done. Added business growth and new commercial properties require constant upkeep that can cause used equipment to break down to the point where maintenance becomes more costly than the equipment is worth. When this happens, it’s time to consider upgrading to a more heavy-duty setup.
Having the right tool for the job will ensure you don’t run the risk of abusing your equipment. A light-duty plow will not perform the same or hold up as well as a heavy-duty plow that is designed to withstand substantial wear and tear. You also need to carefully consider the size vehicle you are using—as you upgrade your plow and the weight increases, your vehicle must also level up.
Buying Used Vs New
Most entry-level plow drivers start with a used straight blade or v-plow on a truck. Although new equipment is more dependable, it can come at a higher price point and could slow down your ability to start making a profit. There is typically a large pool of used equipment available for entry-level plow drivers or contractors that are looking to save a little money, while still being able to upgrade their equipment.
Added Benefits of Investing in Good Equipment
Most large contractors are always looking for subcontractors, but they require good equipment if you’re going to represent their company and name. By investing in new and versatile equipment, you’ll better position yourself for these kinds of opportunities.
Slowly Add in Salting Services
The great thing about salting services is that you are still needed, even if there is only a chance of snow (especially for commercial accounts). Adding this service to your offerings can really boost profit margins and keep you busy in the winter.
If you have a few small requests, a walk-behind broadcast or drop spreader is the perfect way to add onto your services without getting in over your head with equipment expenses early on. Then make the transition to a tailgate or hopper when the time is right.
Start out with store-bought, bagged material as needed and as you grow your business, opt for pallets of bagged material, or buy in bulk through sourcing supply houses. Just remember to start thinking about placing orders early in the season, well before demand depletes supply.
The HELIXX™ Advantage
Incorporating pre-wet and direct-liquid capabilities to your ice control services is another excellent way to broaden your reach. It can increase efficiency by “activating” salt to accelerate ice melting ability. Our SnowEx HELIXX hopper lineup will give you everything you need to get started. There’s no other spreader on the market this flexible for providing de-icing and anti-icing services.
For more information, check out our resource article that fully explains the HELIXX advantage.
Making Your Way into Commercial Services
If you have mostly residential accounts but are interested in generating more revenue, start by just adding one or two commercial properties. By focusing your time on fewer, yet bigger accounts, you could potentially double your revenue while still being able to maintain as a single operator.
Commercial accounts are paying for “insurance” and peace of mind knowing that their customers and employees are safe and there is less liability risk. They are more demanding of contractor’s time and may need you to service the property multiple times throughout a storm—and willing to pay for it.
Knowing When to Add Extra Manpower
Keep in mind that the more commercial accounts you maintain, the more “on call” you will be. At a certain point, you will need additional help. The first team member might function more as your “sidewalk crew” where there is less equipment overhead needed.
Pace yourself and be realistic with your needs. As your commercial property demands increase, you’ll need to adjust your strategy and potentially invest in more equipment to keep up. Once you add employees, you become responsible for someone else’s livelihood so make sure you can maintain enough work to keep you both busy.
Preparing for the Worst
The key to being a profitable snow and ice contractor is being prepared for the absolute worst. The last thing you want is to have a detrimental breakdown right in the middle of a huge storm—especially as a one-man operation. Having a backup plan will help keep things running smoothly.
An emergency field repair kit is crucial. It will allow you to have all key tools and parts in case you experience a breakdown in the field. This is especially important as a single operator.
Having a backup vehicle is also ideal. Although it’s not always financially possible, winters are harsh and there will come a time where you can’t make a repair as fast as you need to. Having the option to set it aside and jump into your backup to finish out the storm can save you a ton of headaches and phone calls from angry clients.
- TIP: Having a UTV, skid-steer, or tractor as a backup vehicle is a wise investment and could also transition to landscape use in the spring and summer months.
One Step at a Time
Everything in this business is based on relationships and takes practice and experience over time. As you grow, don’t forget the fundamentals—be punctual, consistent, and courteous. Remember, word-of-mouth travels very fast in this line of work, so do your due diligence to keep a positive reputation attached to your name and quality of work.
Navigating business growth is a gray zone that is influenced by many factors. Grow only to where you are comfortable and stop when you are at a place where you feel good. Increasing your bottom line is always the main goal, but you don’t want to grow so fast that you lose control of your business.