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Consumer Tips

Finding the right winter service provider can be a challenge. Here are a few helpful tips:


Are you satisfied with the current service?

Ask yourself; Does your current contractor provider provide consistent reliable and honest service? Do they have the equipment and trained staff to service you properly? Can/Do they handle unexpected storms or breakdowns? Is your current level of service lowering your exposure to potential litigation from slip and falls? Do they maintain proper levels of insurance? Does your current contractor have the financial position to fix, maintain proper levels of equipment? If you answered yes to all of these questions, why change?

How long has the company been in the business?

Look for a company that is knowledgeable and experienced in the type and size of property you need to service. If snowplowing is a part-time or sideline of their main business, have they invested in the necessary types and amount of equipment. Will the company monitor weather conditions, your property, and respond automatically or do you have to call them? Do they have 24 hour contact numbers? Are they reachable during storms or do they just have an answering machine?

Can the contractor provide all the services I require?

Do you require plowing, de-icing, removal (haulage) and sidewalk maintenance? Does the contractor maintain sufficient supplies of de-icers. Does your current service provider have sufficient experienced staff to cover major storms, breakdowns, staff sickness/absence?

Does the contractor have enough equipment?

Companies should have enough equipment to handle any size snowfall. Loaders and heavy equipment are often required during heavy snowfalls, standard plow trucks (pick-ups) will experience significant difficulty plowing amounts over 8 inches. Amounts over a foot are almost impossible with a standard plow truck. Companies relying on subcontractors to perform this function often have to "wait in line" while subcontractors service their own accounts. Proper back-up equipment for breakdowns and heavy or late snowfalls is essential. Professional companies have modern and reliable equipment.

Is the company properly insured?

Proper coverage is critical! Ask for proof coverage. Are employees covered by Workers Compensation (WSIB) or do they employ so-called subcontractors? These items should be non-negotiable!

Getting an Estimate

Does the company respond promptly and in writing to your requests? Do they return calls regarding any questions about the estimate? Did the company visit the property prior to quoting or just quote hourly. Be wary of companies that will not quote fixed pricing either by the time or season. If they don't respond in a timely and professional fashion this may be a sign of the service you will receive.

Are Pricing options provided? Are the options clear?

Most reputable companies will let you decide how you want to price the job. Each option has its own risks. If you can predict the weather, have a Farmers Almanac, or simply have a hunch about the coming winter there are different cost implications for each option. In reality if you pick one method of pricing and remain with it over the long term (several seasons) each option will, on average, be equal. There will be seasonal fluctuations but over the long term your costs should be equal. The basic four are compared below:
    Per Hour
    Company will price each piece of equipment by the hour. Often a tell tale sign of an inexperienced company if they only provide this option. Easiest way to price and to learn how to operate a plow company. Little or no expertise is required. Trust between you the customer and your service provider is required. No necessity to visit site prior to estimate. Advantages are you pay for what your company provided. If it does not snow much there are savings. Risks are increased costs for heavy storms or season. While most service providers are honest and fair, some unscrupulous contractors can "pad" the account to inflate costs. In reality less than 5% of our customers select this option.

    Per Centimetre
    Typically used for very large accounts where annual snowfall loads vary greatly season to season. Relies on a third party verification of daily snowfall, typically Environment Canada, to verify snow amounts. Annual 30 year average snowfall in K-W is 154 cm and is fairly consistent season to season. Same risks as Per Hour above.

    Per Occurrence or Per Plow or Per Visit
    These have the same meaning. A parking lot/property will be quoted a fixed sum for each plowing at a set level of snow. For example $75.00 to clear after a snowfall of 2.5 cm or more. This requires considerable experience as the contractor must know what their equipment can accomplish in order to competitively price the job. It should be noted that this price is set for average snowfalls and responsible contractors will allow for additional charges for heavy snowfalls. These heavy snowfalls would occur at most one to two times per season. This option has the advantage of fixing your cost for each plow and that the contractor is assuming the risk and the fixed cost if it snows very little. The risks to the customer are if a heavy winter is encountered with many blizzards or heavy snowfalls. The number of snowfalls in K-W are consistent year to year as any experienced contractor will be able to attest.

    Per Season
    This option requires even greater experience. Pricing is based on an average number of plows per season. Often used by non-profit organizations or companies that require a fixed, budgeted amount each year. Has the opposite risks and benefits of Per Plow. The customer is at risk of having paid more for a season when there are fewer and lighter snowstorms. The contractor risks losing money if it is a winter with many snowstorms over the average, but this usually averages out over three years so there is no advantage to either party. Often paid in installments.
Is the company reliable?

Can the company provide reference for jobs of similar size and type? Providing excellent references for a small dental office with one truck does not necessarily mean the company could adequately service a mall with ongoing service requirements during daytime snowfalls.

Does the Company use Standard Service Contracts?

A contract should be provided that clearly defines the level of service, pricing options and payment terms. This is just good business practise! It should also disclose any additional costs that may be charged and how those will be provided, either automatically or only at the request of the customer. The customer should be aware of all charges up front and if, how and when they will be charged. A site map should also be provided by the customer, and be made part of the contract to clearly define service areas, where snow is to be piled and any areas of concern such as flower beds, fire hydrants and drain areas. A cancellation policy should be standard.

SUMMARY

Finding the right service provider can be tricky. Professional firms may not be the lowest bidder but are committed to providing consistent reliable quality service. This should be evident from the outset. Considerable investment is required to keep equipment modern and reliable and properly insured. If you receive an unusually low bid use caution, the company may not even last the season or quit on you after they realize their error!

June 25, 2017

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