Mr. Brickman

Architecture & Design

Proactive Snow Removal Planning for Hotels: An Ounce of Planning is Worth a Pound of Cure

By Scott B. Brickman, CEO, Brickman

Snow removal presents a significant challenge for hotel executives. After all, guests measure the experience of their stay from the time that they pull into the parking lot to the time that they leave. If your guests have difficulty navigating your parking lot due to a poorly-plowed surface, it will have a profound negative impact on their stay. Business travelers can be late to meetings, and recreational travelers may leave with a bad feeling about their hotel experience. Even employees may be affected, resulting in less efficient operations and low morale. All said, snow removal can be the source of many headaches for everyone.

So how can you, as a hotel executive, minimize the impact of snow on operations? The first step is to make snow and ice removal a top priority year-round, not just when the weather starts to turn cold. Hotels that experience the best snow removal efficiency are those that begin lining up contractors in the summer and fall. These hotel executives recognize that the best snow removal teams require a comprehensive knowledge of their parking lots - and traffic patterns - before it is buried under a mass of the cold, white stuff.

By negotiating a contract in advance of winter, hotel executives give their contractors and building superintendents an opportunity to build a communications strategy before such interactions become critical. At the start of the relationship, the contractor and superintendent can exchange emergency phone numbers and establish snow and ice removal procedures that can be fine tuned over time. Although each hotel will craft a plan that meets its individual needs, it is important to communicate expectations up front to avoid frustrations and potential future billing disputes.

One area of discussion needs to be how plowing will occur during a prolonged snow storm. If, for example, snow is coming down for an extended period of time, should your contractor make multiple trips to your site? If yes, it is important to agree on the scope of work ahead of time. Another important consideration is how to address the messy issue of removing snow under cars. Typically, plows will clear aisles of a parking lot quickly, but the snow can slide under parked cars. When those cars leave, hotel executives need to decide if they want the contractor to return to remove the excess snow.

If you need plows to come back, will you be billed again or will it be considered part of the original job? These are the type of "what-if" scenarios that need to be negotiated up front before signing any contract with a snow removal specialist. Clearly, the way your snow removal contract is structured will have a profound impact on short and long-term costs.

Once you are ready to take a proactive approach to your hotel's snow removal strategy, there are a few important steps to follow. First, you will need to prepare a list of potential contractors. When assembling your list, you should try to include a few different contractors and closely review past performance on hotels similar to yours.

Credible firms should be willing to provide individual references and names of specific properties they have plowed before. It is also appropriate to inquire about whether or not the company is a member of SIMA (The Snow and Ice Management Association), the industry's premier trade association. These measures will help you evaluate the contractors' reputation and level of expertise.

After you have narrowed your list to a handful of snow removal contractors, you can start the process of drafting an RFP. One of the biggest challenges in selecting a snow removal contractor is making sure that you are actually comparing "apples-to-apples."

There are three main ways that snow contractors structure contracts, each of which have two separate names: hourly (also known as time and materials), per season (also known as lump sum) and number of inches (also known as per push). When you write your RFP, make sure that you specify which terminology and type of contract you prefer to make your analysis easier to understand.

When you receive the proposals, think critically about each. If one contractor appears to offer service at a significantly lower price than the others, there is probably a good reason. The snow removal industry is rife with contract loopholes that can be easily misunderstood if not scrutinized closely. Make sure that you look for clauses such as "per inch up to 3 inches then per hour" to make sure you know exactly what you are getting for your money.

Once you have completed your cost analysis, take some time to develop a comfort level with your potential snow and ice removal team. Walk the property with each contractor and ask specific questions to gauge their knowledge and passion for their work. Is rock salt a better solution for your hotel parking lot than liquid magnesium? What types of chemicals will be used on sidewalks and other areas of heavy foot traffic? What types of lasting impact will the chemicals have on the property? Effective contractors will be patient, knowledgeable and willing to work with you to establish a comfort level and trust.

At the end of the end of the day, snow and ice storms can be inconvenient and temporarily create problems for your guests and staff. But with a little advance planning and a proactive snow removal plan, you can keep the headaches to a minimum. After all, when it comes to proactive snow removal, an ounce of planning is worth a pound of cure.

Scott Brickman is CEO of Brickman, the largest commercial landscape maintenance firm in the U.S. Brickman provides landscape maintenance and snow removal services to a wide variety of hospitality and hotel clients across the country. Mr. Brickman joined the Company in 1986 and in 1998 became a Director of the Company and was appointed Chief Executive Officer. His tenure with the company includes serving as a project director and a regional manager, and prior to 1998 he had responsibility for the Company's Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast operations. Mr. Brickman can be contacted at 301-987-9200 or scottb@brickmangroup.com Extended Bio...

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