Monday, February 25, 2013

Lessons from Nemo (The storm not the fish)

By Phill Sexton
Now that the snow has settled after Nemo, a huge Nor’easter that hit New England earlier this month, we have an opportunity to learn from yet another crippling ‘storm of the century.’ Since starting in the snow & ice management industry over 20 years ago, my own personal study proves these types of life altering, business halting events occur much more often than is discussed in the national media. Think about the history just since 1993. It includes ‘100 year’ type events that have been called ‘Blizzard of ’93, ’96,’99, 2001…2004…, Snowpocalypse 2010 and 2011, Snowmageddon and now Nemo. When I look back over the last 20 years, these types of major snow or ice events have happened almost every year somewhere. Major storms like these can reinforce the same lessons that are in the Best Practices checklist, which service providers and consumers can both learn from.  

Budget and plan for the worst (and save the money when it doesn’t snow). Many times, consumers of snow & ice management services ‘roll the dice,’ particularly in typical low snow markets, only to end up spending more money in one or two large snow events than they would have if they had paid a reasonable readiness / preparedness fee or seasonal fee with ‘floor and ceiling’ price protection. Paying for snow & ice management should be similar to how insurance is purchased.  

Storm response planning. What if it snows more than the average? In the case of winter storm Nemo, I was plowing myself non-stop that Friday night and all day Saturday.  Around 4:30am Saturday I started receiving calls from SIMA members in New England closer to the coast looking for help because plows just couldn’t handle the volume of snow coming down any more. I had conversations with quite a few contractors, and the same questions kept coming:
  • “Where can I find a loader (or 2… 5… I heard a request for 10)?”
  • “How much should I charge for a larger loader?” 
  • “Where can I find more hand labor?”
  • “The people I have worked two shifts and are too tired to keep going, where I can find more people?”    
These are questions that need to be proactively discussed and answered in partnership with clients before the season begins, not after the first 15 hours of what might be a 30+ hour historic and crippling snow event. Many times, discussions about preparedness don’t normally happen because of reasons like these:  
  • “It doesn’t usually snow like that around here”   
  • “My boss will never allow me to budget that way”
  • “You’re crazy, that is more than double what you charge me per hour for a plow” (because we didn’t explain it would take less than half the time with larger equipment therefore less costly).
I’ve lived and heard all of these excuses so I appreciate and understand the challenge. Now I beg you go try again right now…tomorrow, before you and the clients forget how bad it was and how much less it would have cost if they had agreed to a worst-case scenario plan. How do all of you out there in the industry start this difficult discussion with your clients and prospects?

Phill Sexton is the Director of Education & Outreach for SIMA. Contact him at

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