Warm offers in a cold business
Combine a man with heavy equipment, a big winter storm and a desperate homeowner with a driveway to clear, and you just may have some interesting propositions.
When El Ni-o reared its head last week and Tahoe residents were buried in 4 feet of snow at lake level, independent snow-removal contractors discovered just how lucrative their business can be for these storm chasers.
One frantic homeowner suggested a tantalizing date — with the prospect of carnal knowledge — to one of D&L Paving and Snow Removal’s drivers, said operator Chuck Segers.
“It makes you laugh. We get offered pretty much anything,” he said. “And we still have people calling us.”
A woman called Segers on Christmas Day at 2:30 a.m. for help in getting into her driveway.
Some backhoe operators were tempted to stray from their regular routes last week, as weary snow shovelers saw a way to dig out.
Segers, a city plow driver for 15 years, refrained from disrupting his route because he wanted to ensure his regular customers were handled first. He juggles about 40 clients, with parking lots dominating driveways.
“They offer whatever if I stray. But I was overcommitted as it was. This was probably a 10-year snowstorm. I’ve lived in Tahoe for 40 years, and I’ve rarely seen it come down so hard, so fast. It was a scramble,” he said.
One man under duress waved $1,000 at Segers for his average 20-minute plow, but Segers said he stuck to his route.
The heavy equipment operator figured he plowed 100 hours in five days and raked in $20,000, charging $100 an hour.
It’s feast or famine for these snow-removal indies, whose hurry-up-and-wait existence makes life stressful. Relying on one machine adds to the pressure, too.
“I think that’s what happened last week. A lot of people didn’t get service,” he said.
With 19 years under his belt, Steve Harding of Tahoe Sand and Gravel has come to accept the ups and downs of the business.
“It all happens at once. We’d be better off if we worked steady,” he said.
The offers of cookies and drinks have become a nice touch, but Harding also tries initially not to stray from his regular route. Aside from the miscellaneous requests he picks up along the way, Harding manages 66 clients. They’re split between residential and commercial accounts.
“People get slightly panicky. But most are nice about it,” he said.
And winter is far from over.
— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at email@example.com
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