Rob Sabo

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December 20, 2010
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Shoveling out: No business like snow business

For Carl Kurashewich, owner of Tahoe Workz Snow Removal in Incline Village, a white Christmas means he'll be away from his family on Christmas day.

Kurashewich has supplemented his income the past 15 years by providing snow removal services throughout the Incline Village area. While most Incline Village residents are hunkering inside cozy houses during furious Sierra snowstorms, Kurashewich and his brother work 16-hour shifts plowing driveways sometimes more than once a night during heavy dumps. White Christmases mean he's operating a snowplow instead of unwrapping presents with his children.

"It is definitely a job we do not take lightly," he says. "We have many clients that count on me to get out of their driveways."

Kurashewich, a painting contractor during the summer, has found a solid revenue stream in the winter months, and other area construction-oriented businesses such as landscape maintenance and paving companies also shift their focus to snow removal when the white stuff is flying.

Randy Pitts, owner of F&P Construction, has been doing snow removal since founding the business in 1991. F&P plows the parking lots of 38 shopping centers in the Truckee Meadows, as well as several industrial businesses in Stead and at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center.

The work has helped many of his operators boost their December paychecks, and with the lack of grading and paving work in the region plowing has become even more important, Pitts says. Snow removal used to account for about 5 percent of the company's revenues, but that figure has risen to 10 to 15 percent.

"We need it even when we have a lot of grading and paving," Pitts says. "When dirt is too wet to work it keeps our guys going it has probably saved our guys a few happy Christmases because of not being laid off for winter."

Cory Bettinghouse, owner of Cory's Lawn Service in Reno, branched out into snow removal about four years ago as a means to avoid relying exclusively on the savings account he built through busy summer months.

Bettinghouse started snow removal services modestly a shovel and the strength of his back but now he owns five snow blowers that he uses for residential customers located in northwest Reno and the foothills of Mt. Rose.

"There is no growth in the winter, so there is no work," Bettinghouse says. "Snow removal just made sense for the area I worked in. Even though it is not consistent, it still provides extra income. I save in the summer, but it helps to make a couple extra bucks here and there instead of just sitting on a bank account and hoping to survive until I get to the spring season."

Smaller snow removal companies such as Tahoe Workz focus on building a client base of residential customers, but larger grading and paving companies such as F&P Construction, with its fleet of loaders and backhoes, pursue larger commercial contracts with shopping centers and other businesses.

Much of their winter business comes from commercial real estate property managers, F&P's Pitts says. Laurie Trudell, senior real estate manager for CB Richard Ellis, says companies such as F&P are critical to the success of CBRE's industrial tenants.

"We don't have any staff or building engineers or heavy equipment, so we outsource to local snow removal companies at our various properties," Trudell says. "If our tenants can't get trucks in for shipping and receiving, it impacts their business. It is very critical to keep lots plowed."

CBRE splits up snow removal contracts between three large construction companies for large industrial tenants and several smaller snow removal companies for smaller properties, Trudell says.

"It is important that everything is plowed as soon as possible, and we can't depend on just one contractor to have it all cleared by 7 in the morning."

Pitts says that after experimenting with snow removal in Fernley and Carson City, F&P now focuses solely on the Reno-Sparks area because the logistics of getting equipment in place proved too difficult it simply was too hard to judge where storms will hit and their severity, he says.

He also makes sure his snow removal operators all work in closed-cab machines with heaters.

"We tried using some open-cab machines, and guys froze to death. You have to have good heaters if you are calling them at 1, 2 or 3 in the morning and getting them out of bed," Pitts says.

In addition to a small fleet of operators, Pitts has several foremen on the road during snowstorms to check on shopping centers and re-checking those that already have been plowed to make sure they still are clear. F&P usually moves equipment in groups so that five or six machines can tag-team a parking lot before moving on to the next one.

"There is a lot more to it than pushing snow around," Pitts says. "But it keeps paychecks coming in and keeps my equipment moving."

Kurashewich says that without the added revenues provided by snow removal about 35 percent of his yearly gross he would have to live elsewhere. The exterior painting season at Lake Tahoe usually ends in November, and the snow removal season runs from December through April.

"It is huge," he says. "I wouldn't be able to survive here without a source of income in the winter."

About 90 percent of Tahoe Workz Snow Removal's clientele are repeat customers who pay a flat fee per season to keep their driveways free of snow for six months. Tahoe Workz gets some business through referrals, and adds about eight to 10 new customers each year.

Bettinghouse says he's experimented with several different payment options, but he found it's best to just remain on call during snowstorms.

"If I know there will be six inches, I might as well head out because people will be calling me throughout the day," he says.

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Northern Nevada Business Weekly Updated Dec 20, 2010 12:00AM Published Dec 20, 2010 12:00AM Copyright 2010 Northern Nevada Business Weekly. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.