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View Full Version : What to do in the offseason (Nov-Mar)


Zookem
07-02-2008, 11:37 AM
OK, I've been going back and forth on getting into the Lawn Care industry full time so I have to ask the most obvious question. I've posed this question many times to my wife, friends and family and it's the sticker, in my opinion, for the reason I have yet to dive head first into this business....

WHAT DO YOU GUYS WITH LAWN SERVICES IN THE MIDWEST (ILLINOIS, MISSOURI, INDIANA, OHIO AREA) DO FROM NOVEMBER-MARCH!

I know there are many fringe jobs one can get once established like pruning, fertilizing, and the like but I just don't find those services feasible being a one man show with currently <20 accounts. And my wife suggested installing Christmas lights and decorations. Yikes! Plus I feel that there's just not the market for those here.
I know that many are going to instinctively shout out, "SNOW PLOWING!" but I've already got a rebuttal for you! I have no interest in joining the "blade-on-the-front-of-my-4x4" crowd as, like I said previously, I'm a one man show. Residential accounts may be fine but the snowfall amounts in Central Illinois just aren't anything to get excited about unless you're a large snow removal company with many large commercial accounts. Being able to count on income from snow plowing would be very unpredictable.
This site has been great for obtaining useful information since I first checked it out a few weeks back. Keep those ideas coming for me!
Thanks a lot!

JohnnyRoyale
07-02-2008, 11:54 AM
Snow plowing is a great way to make money in the winter, but tough. I have been at it for 15 years and have had enough of the commitment and liabilties associated with it. I have also established myself enough to not need it anymore, and would rather spend time with my family, or take a long vacation instead. But for someone starting up, this isnt always the case, and you still have bills to pay and have to provide for your family, without your business expenses eating at your life's operating money.


I'd suggest you work your butt off enough during the summer to afford to take the winter off. I dont know if thats possible doing only resi maintenance, but I know a handful of design/build guys that take off to their winter houses (Florida, Costa Rica, etc) during the winter months. Other guys I know will take on a few renovations for the winter. Others will work for me pushing snow-one of them is actually buying my plowing business. There's lots you can do to keep busy and make money, if you have the right and marketable skills.

Zookem
07-02-2008, 12:08 PM
Thanks JohnnyRoyale,
The only issue I have with what you stated is that we don't get NEAR as much snow here as I'm sure you do in Ontario. Maybe 2-4 good-enough-to-be-considered-measurable snowfalls per year. I just don't consider that feasible for guaranteed work.
I appreciate your insight and expecially the part about having the right and marketable skills. I believe I have them and it's just a matter of adding to the customer base over the next few years.
Thanks!

JohnnyRoyale
07-02-2008, 12:42 PM
You're right about us having more snow up here, but we only have a few (12-15) measurable (plowable) snowfalls, last year was an exception. We generally get more frequent small blasts (45-50 per year) which require lot salting, sidewalk deicing etc. That's seems to be enough to keep us busy throughout the winter, while getting ready for summer all over again.
Now keep in mind, we only do commercial snow removal, no residential. But if your on a pay per push residential scenario, it can go either way, feast or famine. I like to go contract for the plowing, and all else extra. The guarantee I'm referring to is the fixed, base contracts over the course of the winter.
If I could go back 15 years, I would have done something else besides snow in the winter, but overall, the snow business has been good to me, not without challenges and obstacles. I can see why your not too keen about getting into the snow game. Whatever you decide, keep it simple, and do something your passionate about. Try to minimize your purchase of equipment with wheel, motors, or expensive wear items. Trust me.

mowerbrad
07-02-2008, 05:12 PM
If you can work alot during the mowing season you could be able to take the winter off. I work with our fire dept throughout the year so I kinda have something to do during the winter that earns me a little money

lawnjocky
07-02-2008, 08:39 PM
Where in central Illinois are you?
I can tell you this much, your date range is off. You should be able to set up work from about March 1 through December 1. That leaves three bare month's with no work. I won't recommend snow plowing. If your just starting out it's a lot of money and headaches to get started. Also your life is not your own because you can't predict the weather and you will work when it snow's, not when you want to. As far as having money for the winter there's only three ways to do it.
1. JohnnyRoyale has it right. Working a regular job is about 2200 hrs in a year. So you need to do 60, 70 or 80 hrs worth of billable work per week to hit that number. 2. Keep your cost's low and charge high prices so the profits will carry you through. 3. Do a combination of both. Most guys start with #1 then burn out, go broke or quit. The smart outfit's do #2 the rest tend to end up at #3 (including myself).

fcs
07-02-2008, 08:43 PM
What do you think about the company name Grassy Azz?

MowHouston.com
07-02-2008, 09:23 PM
You can order firewood from a wholesaler and sell that. I did it last year from my website, advertised in the paper and on google and did pretty well. Or if you have available trees in your area, get to collecting/splitting ASAP to process your own wood to the consumers.

Also, you can try contacting REO (real estate owned) companies that deal with forclosures. They're always looking for people to take over their clean outs on houses that just got forclosed on. Haven't tried that yet, but have been told it pays alright.

MileHigh
07-02-2008, 09:50 PM
Plow Snow, winterize irrigation systems, fall leaf cleanouts, fall aeration, oh and did I metion PLOW SNOW.

MileHigh
07-02-2008, 10:02 PM
I won't recommend snow plowing. If your just starting out it's a lot of money and headaches to get started. Also your life is not your own because you can't predict the weather and you will work when it snow's, not when you want to.

I love the snow! I can make over 2k in one good storm SUB-CONTRACTING. I pay my snow shovelers at least $30/hr shoveling, and $40 snow throwing, I just can't wait for the skid steer, atv, and V-Box salt spreader, Then I'll really rake it in. I always at least pull a grand every plowable event...after expenses and payout. And that's with a 7.5 plow and a snow thrower. Plus its a lot of fun.

And when you plow snow...you become a weatherman, and are (most of the time)always prepared for the storms. Did I metion I love the snow, I can't make more money in less time doing anything else!...PERIOD

It's really not expensive to get started at all, especially if you have the right truck. You can get a real nice used plow anywhere $900-$2000, and brand new ones are 4k-6k installed. I love the snow, why not make money with it...especially when it stops your other work.

Daily Lawn/Landscape
07-02-2008, 10:08 PM
If you don't want to snow plow, than offer salting/ ice control as a sub to snow removal companies:ie small opperations. There is great money in it and in alot of casses all you need is a dusting of snow to put material down. I do a lot of small Dr. offices and make a boat load. All you need is a tailgate spreader and some material and your set. I live in So. Indiana and we average 1-3 snow events a year and I do really well.
But really the thing you need to do now is work your tail off and put back money for winter if your not working on something in the winter mo. My 1st year out I worked every day I could and banked enough to make through the winter.

Zookem
07-03-2008, 12:46 AM
Thanks all for the useful information. I would have never thought of just ice control or salting in the winter months. Something for me to think about....

Zookem
07-03-2008, 12:47 AM
Where in central Illinois are you?
I can tell you this much, your date range is off. You should be able to set up work from about March 1 through December 1. That leaves three bare month's with no work. I won't recommend snow plowing. If your just starting out it's a lot of money and headaches to get started. Also your life is not your own because you can't predict the weather and you will work when it snow's, not when you want to. As far as having money for the winter there's only three ways to do it.
1. JohnnyRoyale has it right. Working a regular job is about 2200 hrs in a year. So you need to do 60, 70 or 80 hrs worth of billable work per week to hit that number. 2. Keep your cost's low and charge high prices so the profits will carry you through. 3. Do a combination of both. Most guys start with #1 then burn out, go broke or quit. The smart outfit's do #2 the rest tend to end up at #3 (including myself).

Champaign-Urbana area.

Rake 'n Bake
07-03-2008, 10:16 AM
I'm kind of in the same spot Zookem. I know I could get snow removal business but I'm not sure I want to. Many headaches involved with it, especially the beating your equipment will take from the salt. My current bosses trucks and loaders start to have serious problems after 3-5 years from the salt. There's always Christmas tree sales but that only lasts a month and business has dropped considerably in our area as many people go to artificial trees or just look at price and buy them from Lowes or Home Depot.

coopmaster
07-03-2008, 05:19 PM
Nov and Dec are really busy for me with leaf removal. I get a lot of calls the week before Thanksgiving / Christmas from people who want there yards to look perfect because there family is coming in. Jan and Feb I mostly sit on my butt.

milkie62
07-07-2008, 02:26 AM
I said I would never run a snowblower after seeing guys out there in it but after latching onto a townhouse contact that is all I will do now.No lawn damage,no truck breakdowns,lower fuel costs and low insurance.I pay 2 guys $25/hr to help and they make me between $150-$175/hr.I drop off a 6x12 enclosed trailer which I setup for 5 snowblowers.2 are generally spares unless my son is helping on non-school days.I pay for all meals and we go around the clock.Each blower uses about 1 gallon per hour so with three going it is 3 gallons an hour and at least 6 per man per hour get done.So it comes out to 18 drives per hour minimum.We also have the cab setups which helps alot.

Lawn Enforcer
07-07-2008, 02:43 AM
I have thought about doing a part-time police officer course to become a reserve officer for some of the county sheriff's office. $17 an hour is not too bad for part-time!

Grass Happens
07-07-2008, 02:53 AM
I make popcorn at a movie theatre...
In all honesty, I have tried t come up with all kinds of ideas, but none worked for me, or wouldn't work in this area. So now i garbage pick/ buy used equipment, part it out or repair during the winter, sell during its peak season (for cash) and throw it into a savings account. Its never alot of money, but maybe enough to help out.

dave34
07-07-2008, 03:23 AM
im just stating a lawn care buiss.back up i moved to the country 2 years ago from the pittsburgh area.there are some citys around here does any one think i have much of a chance up here?

dave34
07-07-2008, 03:31 AM
can anyone tell me is snow plowing hard to learn because i know several companys here lost contracts from pushing to much gravle around

dave34
07-07-2008, 03:34 AM
im just stating a lawn care buiss.back up i moved to the country 2 years ago from the pittsburgh area.there are some citys around here does any one think i have much of a chance up here?

Wayne's Lawn Service
07-08-2008, 11:57 AM
These guys are giving some good advice here. Here's my .02 worth.

1) Fall cleanups will take you through at least early December.
2) Get licensed to apply fertilization and weed control applications. The margins can be excellent and the fertilization is great winter work and very profitable. Lime can also be applied late fall and winter as a profit center for your company.
3) Snow - You don't have to do it, but you may want to after thinking about it. It's not about plow-able snow events. It's about the smaller events that require a deicing material. Your money is made on these events. You can be a very small business and schedule a limited number of small commercial accounts that will carry you through the winter in most cases with a limited number of snow events. If I were going to do snow, take on a limited number of commercial accounts and stay away from the residential. Potentially too many issues with residential for not enough money. Snow is not the only answer, but it can make sense.
4) Part-time job if necessary - but spend your time looking for new work in the fall and winter.

lawnjocky
07-08-2008, 01:50 PM
It seems my comment on not getting into snow/ice work has drawn a lot of attention. For this area of the country here are things to consider.
1. BladeScape loves snow. Fine. Denver gets on average 60.4". Champaign gets 28. Little difference there. But what's really important is frequency. I didn't look that one up but I just bet Denver trumps Champaign by a wide margin.
2. You can get into snow work on the cheap. But just keep this in mind. The snow/ice event is not going to wait for you to fix your cheap truck and used plow, nor will your customers. You can skip the snow and only do ice. A new push spreader would set you back $300-400. The problem is most customers will want you to do their snow if you're going to do their ice.
3. And this is the big one. Do you like Thanksgiving with the family, take trips at Xmas time, ever go to a party on New Years eve and have a drink or two? If you're going to be involved in ice/snow work then you need to stop making plans for that stuff or anything else. Your job is now to babysit the weather 24/7. And don't trust the weatherman, I've made more money on flurries than blizzards.

Snow and ice is a natural fit for a lawn care company. There are very good profits in it based on per hr rates. But there are not that many billable hrs to work with. I have always treated winter work as icing on the cake. In this area, if you're just starting out you need to work on building a summer base first. Thats money you can depend on year after year. Since it's not something you are eager to get into just hold off until the time is right.

Zookem
07-08-2008, 08:15 PM
It seems my comment on not getting into snow/ice work has drawn a lot of attention. For this area of the country here are things to consider.
1. BladeScape loves snow. Fine. Denver gets on average 60.4". Champaign gets 28. Little difference there. But what's really important is frequency. I didn't look that one up but I just bet Denver trumps Champaign by a wide margin.
2. You can get into snow work on the cheap. But just keep this in mind. The snow/ice event is not going to wait for you to fix your cheap truck and used plow, nor will your customers. You can skip the snow and only do ice. A new push spreader would set you back $300-400. The problem is most customers will want you to do their snow if you're going to do their ice.
3. And this is the big one. Do you like Thanksgiving with the family, take trips at Xmas time, ever go to a party on New Years eve and have a drink or two? If you're going to be involved in ice/snow work then you need to stop making plans for that stuff or anything else. Your job is now to babysit the weather 24/7. And don't trust the weatherman, I've made more money on flurries than blizzards.

Snow and ice is a natural fit for a lawn care company. There are very good profits in it based on per hr rates. But there are not that many billable hrs to work with. I have always treated winter work as icing on the cake. In this area, if you're just starting out you need to work on building a summer base first. Thats money you can depend on year after year. Since it's not something you are eager to get into just hold off until the time is right.

Thanks for the insight, lawnjockey. You are correct to put the emphasis on snow frequency and not snowfall amounts. That 28" you looked up for Champaign seems to usually include one 10" snowfall event per year so you're only looking at 18" already.
I'm certainly only looking at building my summer base first, but I'm trying gain a little foresight into what the possibilities could be down the road. As of now I'm only providing lawn care on the side as I already have a busy regular job.
Just something to plan for if, for God only knows why, I decide to plunge full-time into this business!

bohiaa
07-08-2008, 10:33 PM
I make babbies

mcgruff
07-08-2008, 10:36 PM
I agree with bohiaa,,,,,also didnt you say you live in Illinois? I know where i'd be if i werent making babies, I be 25 foot up a tree trying to shoot an Illinois monster whitetail.

mybowtie
07-08-2008, 10:50 PM
can anyone tell me is snow plowing hard to learn because i know several companys here lost contracts from pushing to much gravle around

no it's not hard....There are some tricks to the trade. Around here this past winter, the ground never froze. When the snow came the gravle/stone drives were not frozen, and it was a PITA. Very easy to dig up the drives, even with shoes raised up. I lost one customer due to this. I had a pile of stone that wouldnt fill up two 5galon pails, and he complained.

Rake 'n Bake
07-09-2008, 08:28 AM
3. And this is the big one. Do you like Thanksgiving with the family, take trips at Xmas time, ever go to a party on New Years eve and have a drink or two? If you're going to be involved in ice/snow work then you need to stop making plans for that stuff or anything else. Your job is now to babysit the weather 24/7.

How true. Not to mention when your favorite teams make the Super Bowl or play in the NHL Winter Classic. You may only get 5-6 hours of sleep from March to November but at least it's 5-6 hours straight instead of midnight to 3:30 and noon to two.


Then again, it can get you out of doing some things you hate to do...

Wife: Can you take me to Aunt Doris' 85th birthday party at Whispering Pines?

You: I'd love to but we're supposed to get up to an inch so you need to go with your sister. I better wait to see what happens with the snow.

THEPLOWKING
07-09-2008, 05:15 PM
Take the H & R Block tax class and get into tax preparation there or at a local accounting firm.
The season goes perfect with lawn care.
Back in 2000-2003 when I had a full time Lawn Care business I would work at the local accounting firm from January 15th until April 1st.

I now have my own Tax preparation business which I work about 70 hours a week during tax season. I still have a part time lawn care business the rest of the year about 15-20 hours per week.

Works perfect for me, I work a lot of hours in the winter when its cold and theres nothing to do and then about 4 hours a day Monday thru Thursday the rest of the year. Gives me plenty of time for jet skiing, volleyball, the beach and partying the rest of the year.

Its the best move I ever made. I got sick and tired of always working a lot in the summer when theres lots to do and having all that downtime in the winter with nothing to do.