Monday, October 27, 2014

SIMA Think Tank: Stakeholders find solutions together















'Collaboration among Think Tank participants generated literally dozens of possible solutions.'

By Phill Sexton
On Aug. 27, facility and property managers from across North America, many having recently joined SIMA, gathered with fellow members in Detroit for the SIMA Think Tank. A first-of-its-kind collaboration between the two industries, the goal of the Think Tank was to provide a neutral forum where snow & ice management service providers and their clients could meet to identify common pains and to develop solutions together.  

The Think Tank produced several overarching outcomes. Most notable was the dynamic variety of collaboration between the various stakeholders. SIMA hired Dr. Michael Marquardt, professor of human resource development and international affairs and program director of the Executive Leadership Program at George Washington University, to coach participants and facilitate the collaboration. 

Stakeholder participants included property/facility managers, service providers, insurance professionals and suppliers who worked together in a roundtable setting to identify common pains and root cause issues, and then proposed solutions under the direction of roundtable facilitators. The groups used Marquardt’s action learning approach to problem solving.

Collaboration among Think Tank participants generated literally dozens of possible solutions. Two common solutions that were identified among 14 roundtable collaborations were: 
  • The need for standardization that is systemic throughout the industry, including standard definitions, contract agreements, payment terms and best management practices the entire industry follows. 
  • The need for increased communication and education between snow & ice service providers and facility/property managers.  
Although the Think Tank was considered a huge success, the work to make the resulting solutions a reality has just begun. To maximize the learning and collaboration from the Think Tank the next step for SIMA is compiling all of the solutions presented and submitting a proposed plan of action to the membership and industry at large. Specific solutions that can be developed and leveraged will be reviewed and approved (if necessary) by members of SIMA’s Outreach Advisory Committee, SIMA staff and SIMA’s Board of Directors. Further strategy and plans of action for the next year will be communicated in the coming months. 

Strengthening the bond between stakeholders
The idea for the Think Tank evolved from the 2012 Snow Strategies Forum in Chicago. At this event, SIMA partnered with several nationally recognized facility/property management (FM/PM) executives who participated on a panel and offered their experiences and frustrations related to snow & ice management services. This initial exposure compelled SIMA to develop an outreach campaign focused on the FM/PM industry. 

Over the next two years, SIMA’s outreach campaign included the development of the Snow & Ice Management Best Practices Guidelines, as well as dozens of news releases and best practices presentations, and collaboration with the FM/PM industry at national, regional and local levels. 

These opportunities to advocate for the industry have also resulted in a new approach for expanding the capacity of engagement with the FM/PM industry through a newly developed group called SIMA Ambassadors. 

Facilities managers, contractors find mutual understanding (By Cheryl Higley)
Attendees at the first SIMA Think Tank tackled 14 topics that represented some of the pain points related to snow & ice management. Each table included a moderator and a mix of contractors, facility/property managers and other stakeholders who spent the entire session focused only on topics covering contracts, scope of work, invoicing, technology and more. Presented with a problem, vigorous discussion resulted in the identification of areas of concern for each stakeholder as well as possible solutions.

At the end of the session, all the groups came together and presented details on their conversations. A common theme throughout each of the presentations was that a lack of communication and understanding of each other’s functional responsibilities and restrictions is hindering a true collaborative relationship as it relates to snow & ice management services.

“The SIMA Think Tank was very informative in many aspects for me. It allowed open and candid conversation that let each participant learn and understand the other side of each other’s business. We need to collaborate more often in this type of setting,” says Doug McDaniel, senior facilities manager-exterior services for Wal-Mart.

Mike Mason, CSP, vice president and COO of The LawnPro, said the active learning format put each stakeholder on even ground: “It allowed us to look at the problems the industry faces in a completely different light. Through discussions with stakeholders at every level we were able to come up with some real solutions. The outcomes were so good, we have begun utilizing the concept of action learning in our company.” 

To learn more about how you can help SIMA’s advocacy and outreach efforts, contact 
phill@sima.org or call the SIMA office at 414-375-1940.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thoughts on Salt











'There’s one additional consistent message I’ve heard on salt supply for contractors: Don’t wait until just before winter to search for salt...'

By Martin Tirado, CAE
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend two educational seminars hosted by SIMA members in the last week. Not surprisingly, both programs focused on the hot issue for this winter season: salt supply. The speakers were nicely diversified, from a major salt mining company, to the former executive director of the Salt Institute, a consultant to DPW and fleet managers, to weather forecasters. Here are a few things I learned, and thoughts for you to consider.

Technical information:
  • 12°F  (-11°degrees C) is the lowest limit of salt in melting snow and ice. Any air & surface temperatures lower than this and additional melting materials will be needed to effectively melt snow and ice.
  • 23.3% is the ideal salt solution for brine.
  • DPWs are starting to use FLIR infrared cameras in their trucks to detect sources of heat for purposes of both public safety and to detect where there is active heat (melting) occurring on roadways.
Salt supply:
  • Approximately 20% of salt used for snow and ice melt is consumed by the private sector. With 80% consumption, the public sector has much more group buying leverage than the private sector.
  • Salt mining companies are in business to sell salt, not control supply and demand. At least one major salt mining company is bringing salt from overseas to try to meet demand. The supply chain, from mine to applicator, takes time and is affected by several factors including the weather, such as the freezing of the great lakes shutting down shipping routes.
  • Supply could increase if salt applicators could take on more inventory. Ports and salt depots have a maximum amount of salt they can store at any one time.
If you have a limited supply of salt for the upcoming winter, there are the essential things that should be done, including not over-applying, spreader calibration, use of liquids in a variety of ways to maximize the snow and ice melt effectiveness of salt. 

There’s one additional consistent message I’ve heard on salt supply for contractors. Don’t wait until just before winter to search for salt and purchase a 1 year, historical-based average supply. The companies that have planned and purchased effectively, they have salt for this winter. The longer one waits, prices are only going to get higher as supply decreases.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

SIMA builds bridges between you and facilities managers











'Fast-forward four years, and I’m very proud of the work that SIMA members and staff have undertaken to further the goals of reaching out to this key group.'


By Laura Ingram, CSP
Our company became involved with SIMA as a member about four years ago. At the time, the Snow & Ice Symposium was coming to our area of North Chicago and we figured we’d check out the association.

We were impressed with our first show. At the time, there was a lot of talk within the association about being more proactive in reaching out to the facility and property management professionals who are responsible for hiring snow service providers. This type of discussion was extremely interesting to me, and I wanted to get more involved.

Fast-forward four years, and I’m very proud of the work that SIMA members and staff have undertaken to further the goals of reaching out to this key group. I wanted to share with you some of our accomplishments so far, with the optimistic viewpoint that even greater things are still to come:

Outreach timeline
  • Spring 2010: SIMA staff and board review a statistical survey of facilities management professionals to better understand the needs/challenges they face related to snow & ice service providers.
  • Summer 2011: SIMA finalizes three high-quality videos focused on sharing information with those who are seeking to hire snow management service providers, and launches the new Hire a Pro section of the SIMA website.
  • Fall 2011: SIMA hires Phill Sexton as an industry liaison as part of his duties as director of education and outreach.
  • Winter 2012: SIMA restructures its committees and creates the official Outreach Committee, whose core purpose is to organize the efforts of the association related to this audience.
  • Summer 2012: The annual Snow Strategies Forum features an entire day focused on the relationship between snow management professionals and facility managers, including a four-person panel of facility management executives.
  • Fall 2012: SIMA Outreach Committee releases the Best Practices Checklist for Snow & Ice Management, a free resource for both facility managers and snow professionals to evaluate a snow organization.
  • Summer 2013: The annual Snow Strategies Forum in Washington, DC, brings contractors and facility management professionals together for facilitated discussion and information sharing.
  • Fall 2013: SIMA Outreach Committee forms the Ambassadors program and announces the industry’s first Ambassadors, charged long term with sharing snow & ice best practices and information to the facility management industry.
  • Summer 2014: SIMA holds the Salt Summit & Think Tank in Detroit, with the Think Tank session focused entirely on creating long-term solutions for challenges that occur in the procurement, contracting and service implementation of snow services. SIMA releases a new full-color marketing brochure called 5 Tips for Hiring Snow Management Services, available in print-ready format for members at no charge.   
Laura Ingram, CSP, is director of operations for Ingram Enterprises Inc. in Lincolnshire, IL. She is chair of the Outreach Committee and a member of the SIMA Board of Directors. Email her at laura@ingramenterprisesinc.com.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Reflecting on a great year & looking to the future









'Overall, it’s been a very successful year and one I’ll certainly never forget. We accomplished a lot and made significant progress toward our goals.'

By Mike Anderson, CSP
Wow, what a year! I was asked to write about this past year in my role as SIMA board chair. I would describe it as different, busy, challenging, tough, exhilarating, frustrating, tiring, rewarding and definitely memorable.  

Most of our members work in areas that either set or came close to setting records for snowfall and cold last season. After two mild winters, it was nice to finally have a lot of snow. I love the excitement. I welcome the challenges. I appreciate the satisfaction of working “a perfect storm.” You have to love this business to make a career out of it. It’s not for the weak or timid. You have to be strong and have laser-focused determination and boundless energy to do it well. I can’t even tell you how many all-nighters I pulled this winter. We all lost a lot of sleep working tirelessly toward our goals. 

Education at the forefront 
You could definitely feel that excitement at the 17th Annual Snow & Ice Symposium in Columbus, Ohio, in June. An almost record 1,730 people came from all over the world to share their stories, ask questions, and get help with their problems. I kept hearing that this was the best Symposium ever. I’ve attended every one of them since 1999, and I agree! Vendors were very happy, and many want larger spaces next year. The buzz and energy level in Columbus was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

One problem many of us dealt with earlier this year was the salt shortage. We were presented with unique challenges and forced to make tough decisions. At SIMA, we recognized and responded to the members’ need to better deal with these challenges. Instead of an annual Snow Strategies Forum, SIMA held the first Salt Summit in August. The response was so great that it sold out early and we booked a second Salt Summit for September. SIMA continues to stay proactive and provide exceptional value for the small cost of membership. 

Moving north and west
One of my personal goals this year was to reach out and work toward expanding SIMA’s membership in Canada and west of the Mississippi. In case you missed it, we booked our first Symposium north of the border in beautiful Montreal for June 2017. I’m confident we’ll get lots of new Canadian contractors to become members once they’re introduced to SIMA and see how much it can help them with their snow & ice businesses.

I’m pleased to say two of the three newly elected board members are from the areas where we want to expand. Kent Peddie, CSP, is located in Ottawa and does about 80% snow and 20% landscaping. Carl Bolm, CSP, is a snow-only contractor based in St. Louis and was honored this year as the 2014 Snow Business CEO of the Year. Carl has been to every Symposium since 2002 and has taught at several of them. The third incoming board member, Laura Ingram, CSP, works for a snow-only company in the Chicagoland area. Laura, a former math teacher, heads SIMA’s Outreach Committee. All of the new board members are strong individuals with reputations for honesty and integrity. I could see any of them as the future SIMA chair. 

Giving thanks and passing the gavel
This is a great opportunity to thank the three outgoing board members for their outstanding service to SIMA: Jim Hornung, CSP; Daniel Gilliland, CSP; and Brian Churchill, CSP. Jim and Daniel each served a term as board chair. These three men and the great SIMA staff have made enormous contributions to help bring SIMA to where it is today — stronger than it has ever been financially. 

Overall, it’s been a very successful year and one I’ll certainly never forget. We accomplished a lot and made significant progress toward our goals. In October, I hand off the baton to Jason Case, CSP, who will take over as chair. Jason is hardworking, intelligent and definitely a winner. I have no doubt you’ll be in great hands this next year. It’s been fantastic! Let it snow!  

Mike Anderson, CSP, owns Snow & Ice Pros in Highland, IN. Contact him at mike@snowandicepros.com.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Snow Safety Week returns










'It’s exciting now to think that we are entering our third year of producing Snow Safety Week.'


By Brian Birch, CAE
A few years ago, SIMA CEO Martin Tirado threw me an idea he’d been tossing around. It was “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel at the time, and he said simply: “We should do something like that for the snow industry.” It was an interesting thought, but neither of us took any notes or went any further with it at the time.

Like all good ideas though, this one kept popping back into my head. As SIMA has shifted to a more specific focus on industry safety, the “Shark Week” concept hit me full blast. “We should do a Snow Safety Week!” I said to my 2-year-old son at the time. He wasn’t too excited with the brilliance of this statement.

It’s exciting now to think that we are entering our third year of producing Snow Safety Week. We again will work with our publishing partner at Moose River Media to accomplish this task. We also welcome back our official Safety Sponsor, BOSS Snowplows, that continues to support safety initiatives through SIMA. Over the past two years we’ve created definitive tips, videos and images tied to snow & ice management safety. 

Visit www.GoPlow.com, hover over the Operations tab and choose “Safety/Training.” Here you will find more than 80 articles specific to safety and training, thanks to initiatives like Snow Safety Week.

Snow Safety Week this year is October 27-30. The week will kick off with an industrywide free webinar: “Snow Fighter Safety: How to Battle the Elements While Maintaining Your Health.” The webinar will be archived at SIMA’s Resource 24/7 Training Center. Stories will be published online at GoPlow.com, and Plowsite.com will moderate several discussions. Safety is so important in this industry. I encourage you to take advantage of the resources we’ll provide during Safety Week.   

Snow Safety Week stats
  • 2-3 - New content items related to safety will be published per day.
  • 15,000+ - Snow professionals will be engaged via online information and messages tied to Snow Safety Week.
Brian Birch, CAE, is chief operating officer of SIMA. Is there a safety-related topic or concern that you think we should cover during Snow Safety Week? Please email your ideas to Brian@sima.org.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Report from the Salt Summit





















'The outcomes of the meeting were both powerful and clear: changes need to be made immediately for the upcoming winter season.'

By Martin Tirado, CAE
On Tuesday, August 26, over 100 snow and ice contractors, property/facility managers and manufacturers/suppliers met in Madison Heights, Michigan to work together on a critical issue. The issue discussed was how can we, as the professional snow and ice management industry, better manage, control and apply salt and other snow & ice melting materials? The outcomes of the meeting were both powerful and clear: changes need to be made immediately for the upcoming winter season.

The reality we are all facing is that salt supply for snow contractors is both limited in availability and of increased cost to obtain for use in the upcoming 2014-15 winter. Bulk rock salt is still extremely effective in melting snow and ice. With its broad usage by both the government and private sectors, when we have heavy winter storms like in the winter of 2013-14, supplies get low and production mines have a difficult time keeping up with demand. (View the Detroit Free Press article covering the event and more on high rock salt prices here).



So what do we do now? After morning speakers provided some background on liquid applications, chemical temperature effectiveness and establishing best practices for application rates, attendees spent the afternoon discussing solutions is small focus groups. This peer-to-peer interaction is powerful, as often times the best learning comes from discovery of what other companies are doing to solve the same challenges we all have. A complete report of the results is forthcoming, with some of the immediate takeaways being:
  • Consider using liquid applications, both applied to bulk salt supplies and as pre-treatment to reduce the amount of salt used and enhance its effectiveness.
  • Be diligent in training your operators on knowing how to properly calibrate spreaders, and know the optimal application rates needed to get the job done.
  • Communicate with your property and facility managers on chemical effectiveness, air and surface temperatures and proper application rates. Over-application is not a sustainable solution. 
  • Maximize the use of truck and plow snow clearing.
  • As the contractor, position yourself as the expert in your field.  
Interested in knowing more and attending this program yourself? Due to the high demand of the Salt Summit, SIMA, along with our sponsor SnowEx, is holding a 2nd program on Thursday, September 25. Registration information is available here.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Now hiring: Snow & ice workers










'We have a workforce development challenge in the exterior building services industry, with snow & ice services in a particularly difficult situation.'

By Martin Tirado, CAE
"Now Hiring." That statement is on a large sign posted at the headquarters of a prominent local snow and landscape contractor in the Milwaukee area. After talking with dozens of SIMA members at the Snow & Ice Symposium, the sign could easily be posted by just about any snow company in North America. The sign should be a welcome one for job seekers since this work often includes pay well above minimum wage, steady work, and the opportunity for career advancement. The trouble is that the workers snow companies need aren’t applying. 

Winter work limits the talent pool
We have a workforce development challenge in the exterior building services industry, with snow & ice services in a particularly difficult situation. We know the challenges of maintaining a reliable workforce: snow & ice work is unpredictable, requires working in some of the worst weather conditions, and when the snow hits we are on call with all of our customers at the same time. This equates to high employee turnover or a workforce that just isn’t interested in working in this field. 

SIMA visits the Capitol
At SIMA’s Legislative Day on Capitol Hill, we talked to our elected members of Congress to address the challenge of workforce development. The potential minimum wage increase is not a factor, since SIMA member companies are already paying higher than any proposed wage increase. Immigration reform is part of the equation, since there is a noncitizen workforce that has helped us and can continue to do so. Unfortunately, immigration reform is a complicated legislative issue, which results in a cumbersome regulatory environment to put noncitizens in the workforce and on a path toward citizenship. Most small businesses do not have the time or infrastructure necessary to deal with the red tape.

When sidewalk crews are offered in the range of $20 per hour and businesses cannot find workers for these positions, there’s a problem. Recently passed bipartisan legislation appears to be setting the correct direction to help companies. Implementation at the state level and having a direct impact on small businesses will need work and assistance. 

Where can you help?
Offering opportunities for vocational and other training is critical, since there appears to be a need to get more people involved in horticulture programs after high school. If you’re in a cold weather climate, these horticulture programs need to offer training in snow & ice management, and this is where our industry can have a direct impact. 

Another workforce option that needs change is incentivizing people to go to work. It’s not easy for small businesses, particularly in snow & ice, to operate. Oftentimes, the regulations related to unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, OSHA and others make the employer guilty until proven innocent. I encourage you to look to your local and U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their positions on labor and see where you can help.

Legislatively it’s going to take some innovative thinking and action to create solutions to our labor challenges. SIMA is representing our 1,600 member companies and thousands of employees in this effort. With your help, we expect to see some results. 

Martin Tirado, CAE, is chief executive officer of SIMA. Contact him at martin@sima.org.