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Competing against the snow shysters in snow & ice season

Unscrupulous contractors will take the money, but do no work.


October 11, 2019
By Ryan Ricci

This past winter was one of the most treacherous winters in southern Ontario, with numerous school closures in various districts and as many as 22 days of school bus cancellations just north of Toronto.

In January and February alone, we had nearly as much snow as some of the worst documented winter seasons, with 120 centimetres of accumulation. That’s not far behind the record-breaking 2007-2008 winter season when 194 centimetres of snow accumulated within a span of five months.

To say the least, most, if not all, companies offering snow removal services were kept extremely busy, and were in high demand. Some, in particular, took advantage of people’s vulnerability of being snowed in and never showed up to do their work.

Chad Adams, a Toronto resident, was looking for someone to help his mother salt and shovel her property over the winter, when he stumbled on an ad for a company calling itself “Snow Bros.” on Kijiji.

Adams said the company’s owner told him they could take the job for $600 for the entire winter season and sent Adams a contract.

“He was supposed to come and do all snow removal for anything more than two inches of snow,” Adams told CBC News reporter Robin De Angelis. “He was supposed to do the driveway, the front porch, the city sidewalk and salt as necessary.”

Adams paid an up-front installment in November, but it didn’t end up snowing again until January.

Someone did come by a couple of times to shovel or put down salt in January, and Adams said he paid the second installment by mid-month.

But for the remainder of the season, especially during January and February, he said, no one ever came to clear any snow or ice at his mother’s house.

Adams isn’t alone. Dozens of complaints against such companies were filed with the Better Business Bureau, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and Kijiji since the beginning of this past winter.

A repeat client of our organization had decided against enrolling in our services this past winter in pursuit of someone who could do the work much cheaper. Much like Adams, he hired a technician off Kijiji who provided a deal that was hard to pass up – a set rate of $550 for the entire season ($110 per month). Reportedly, this technician fell ill during one of the snowstorms in February. As this technician was a solo one-person operation, no other employees or backup resources were readily available to step into this technician’s shoes in his absence, leaving our former client as well as many others vulnerable. Thankfully, when we received the call, two vehicles in our fleet were just completing their rosters, and were able to assist.

(Editor’s note: the remainder of this article is aimed at the general public who may be thinking about hiring a snow contractor this winter. The message below is applicable to anyone contemplating snow services, including those working in the turf and grounds maintenance industry, and it’s a message that can be shared among landscaping customers for future reference.)

Don’t be the next victim this winter! Here are important things to keep in mind when selecting a snow removal company:

1) Research the company’s reputation

A company that is researchable and has positive customer reviews helps validate that, a) the company is legitimate, and b) they are true to their service commitment.

2) Get your service commitment in writing
Most legitimate companies know to have both theirs and their client’s obligations in the form of a legal and tangible document (agreement), which must be signed and dated by both parties. Any company that insists on keeping their transactions to verbal discussion only should raise a red flag.

Agreements should always include the following:

  • Full legal names and addresses of both parties (the client and the organization).
  • Commencement and termination dates.
  • Scope of work to be performed upon each service visitation (be as specific as possible).
  • Minimal snow accumulation threshold for service.
  • Prices and due dates.

3) Never pay up-front
Companies asking for payment before an ounce of work is completed should raise a red flag. Giving in to this provides leverage to the company. It provides precedence that they do not need to work in order to get paid, and usually results in the customer being scammed.

4) Steer clear of “one man and a truck” operations
What happens to one man with one truck when he suddenly falls ill, or when his truck breaks down, or he gets struck in a snow bank, or when his equipment fails? His operation ceases to exist.

Hire a company that is established, has resources, and does not depend solely on one person and one vehicle in order for it to function.

5) Ask how many properties are assigned to each vehicle in their fleet, and what areas/regions they service
If responsiveness is important to you, then this is certainly something you do not want to pass up on asking.

The more properties that are stacked onto a single vehicle to attend upon any given snowfall, the slower of a response time you can anticipate, unless, of course, you miraculously happen to be right at the top of the roster. Additionally, this will also impact the amount of time it will take to circle back around to you should each property require servicing twice within the same snowfall.

Unless each vehicle in the company’s fleet is systemically divided geographically and divided into small areas, a single vehicle traveling to multiple regions can also impact response times.

 


Ryan Ricci is president of Markland Wood Group, a landscaping and property maintenance service business in Etobicoke, Ont.