In his second year of simple, small-scale snow removal, Brian Thornton is reaching into new markets – 16 of them, to be exact.
Thornton, who founded Fort Wayne Snow Removal last year in time for winter's snows, has set up similar operations in 16 more cities, mainly larger than Fort Wayne, from Minneapolis to Indianapolis to Philadelphia. In keeping with the model he developed in Fort Wayne last year, the operations are easily scalable, with a minimum of overhead. Instead of buying trucks and blades and hiring workers who may or may not be clearing snow, he hires a few managers who, when snow flies, can direct contractors to clear snow from customers' driveways and sidewalks.
That's the difference in his snow-removal business: It's built around independent contractors who get paid by the property they clear. If a contractor has only a shovel, but they work reasonably quickly, Thornton said, they can make about $18 an hour. A contractor who has a snow-blower could make up to $30 an hour, he said.
Similarly, the service adapts easily to what customers want. When a prospective customer inquires about the cost of a season's contract for snow removal, he specifies which areas he wants cleared. A manager uses satellite views of the property to estimate the square footage and price the job, Thornton said.
Just before Thanksgiving, he'd sold 1,700 contracts in the 17 markets, averaging $350 each.
He's also breaking into bidding on some commercial contracts, too.
The staffing required is flexible, too. “As much as you want to work, we've got work for you. As little as you want to work, we've got work for you,” he said.
Assigning another property to clear every time a contractor finishes one makes it smoother for the workers to set their own paces. He's hoping that giving contractors even more room to set their own paces and work as little or as much as they like will help them recruit more shovelers for the businesses.
“The best place we can find good people to work for us is the good people who already work for us. Everybody has a friend.”