Surely one could say that it has been a different sort of winter thus far: only a couple of salt applications; merely one plowable snow-fall; record-braking Christmas Day high temperatures; and a bunch of confused vegetation that does not know whether to stay asleep or start blooming again. If nothing else, it is a sign that the way in which we approach our winter maintenance practices each year changes. As year-round landscape maintenance contractors, we must keep up with the changing times in order to ensure that we are always providing value to our clientele.
Long-gone are the “like clock-work” times when November 15th would hit and the fall clean-ups would instantly end… the weather and the season changes are just not that predictable. Unfortunately, we do not get to communicate with Mother Nature to reconcile the calendar dates with the reality of what she is actually going to do!
As much as the thought of the winter season gives the majority of us the chills, the reality for folks in our business is that we actually do want it to happen like clock-work. It is very complicated to manage seasons that bleed into one another. The majority of condominium maintenance contracts are all-inclusive and all-season. In other words, condominiums typically pay us the same monthly landscape maintenance rate every month. As pleasant as it may be to still see bare ground in December, there is a costly reality for us… continuous fall clean-ups that do not end! As conscientious landscape maintenance providers, we do not stop our weekly site visits until we are actually settled into the winter season – typically after a considerable snowfall blankets the ground. Can you imagine a landscape company that did not make regularly scheduled weekly visits in the summer months? That negligence would be grounds for dismissal with cause. Despite that our contracts outline that the winter season begins November 15th, we are always conscientious of the perception of things. A mild November 15th, like the one we had this year, is perceived as too early to stop regularly scheduled weekly visits. So for that reason, we continue to treat it as if it were like any other part of the regular season. And because fall clean-ups are expensive (labour intensive, fuel intensive, and costly disposal fees all add-up quickly), fall clean-ups that are dragged out longer than they should be can cause significant damage to the bottom-line.
In order to continually outperform our competition, we work hard to retain the best and most reliable staff in the industry. The only way to do this from our experience is to pay staff a consistent, competitive, and most importantly reliable salary to be on-call – this ensures that staff who may not be physically working a full work-week throughout the winter months have a base pay that they can rely on to put food on their families’ tables and enjoy a quality of life that they deserve. So continuing on the topic of costs associated with a never-ending fall season, it is a financial burden to pay hourly staff to clean-up leaves while also paying winter salaries – all the while at no cost increase to the monthly landscape rate.
In addition to the financial challenges, there are also logistical ones. During these seasons that cannot make-up their minds, it is not uncommon to be cleaning leaves one morning and then plowing and salting the very same evening. To take a rig that is set-up to be cleaning and transporting leaves and transform that into one that is meant to manage snow\ice maintenance, is no easy feat. This process is very thorough and time-consuming if you want to ensure that it is done properly. Our full-time in-house mechanics feel the stress of the inconsistent season changes just as much as the rest of the organization does.
With all of the above said, we are consistently reminding ourselves that condominium owners are paying maintenance fees and deserve value for their hard earned money. If we had a nickel for every time we overheard dialogue that included: “I pay maintenance fees, and for what?”, we could cover all of our clients’ maintenance fees and then-some! Anyone without insight into the behind-the-scenes would probably agree with the sentiment that they are paying for nothing. We take these sentiments as our responsibility to demonstrate to our clients that our costs are very justified and there is a great deal of work happening behind-the-scenes although it may not snow on exactly the first day of the winter contract. As such, it is important to think of your landscape maintenance fees as an annual payment, broken into equal instalments. This may help to calm the nerves when one is concerned that they are not getting their “daily” value from their maintenance fees because we are not physically plowing the snow every single day.
Any good winter landscape maintenance contractor is putting the fees that you pay them to good use… remember that equipment is rented for the entire season, not just for each storm; reliable personnel are paid for the entire season, not just for each day and night that they physically shovel snow. Good contractors also site check daily to ensure that isolated areas are not freezing-up. Another thing to remember is that you pay us to assume your liability – it is in our best interests to ensure that we are doing our jobs to limit the potential liability from slips and\or falls on your properties.
Please enjoy a safe and happy winter season.
This article was featured in the Condo Confidential Magazine Winter 2016 Issue
“An Easy Winter? A Fallacy in the World of the Landscaper” by Jon Agg & Adam Watson, Pristine Property