Congratulations, you have selected your service partner or partners to manage your snow removal services for the upcoming snow season. You are hopefully fully immersed in the transition process, local crews are being lined up and now you can sit back and think about this: What if you chose the wrong vendor?

Not what you wanted to hear? Unfortunately, for anyone who has been in this business for a while, this is a thought that too often rises up and becomes the truth. I know, their pricing seemed good — I mean really good. Plus, they said they understood your scope of work and what your expectations are. How could they not deliver as expected?

Unfortunately, snow removal is no different than any other trade service. The marketplace is sometimes very crowded, and seeing the proverbial trees through the forest is not always easy. Where even the best of vendors can sometimes stumble, what does that mean for those providers who are at the bottom half of the vendor pool? And 50 percent of all vendors who call you are in the bottom half.

While price is king is today's market, service still keeps the stores open. Unfortunately, finding out during that Dec. 23 blizzard that your vendor is not prepared or not capable of delivering service will simply be too late — and the impact can sometimes be crushing. Lost credibility with store operations, lost business, and the internal repercussions of delivering a program that failed to achieve its own goals.

That’s the scary news. More importantly, what can be done to prevent this scenario from playing out? We are recommending to all of our clients (and perspective clients) to grab themselves a little bit of insurance. You've partnered with your Tier 1 provider, your primary service partner. But who is your Tier 2?

In today’s world, there is no tomorrow when it comes to correcting total service failure. You need a plan to ensure it’s done right the first time. We are recommending you set up a Tier 2 service provider to give you that insurance that your sites will stay open. What does this mean?

We recommend the following actions be incorporated into your snow removal solution:

  • Contractually assign a Tier 2 service partner to every location. This means agreeing to terms (both in scope and pricing) for them to dispatch and service when requesting a location where the primary vendor fails. Specific triggers should be in place on response time and accountability for managing that site through the duration of the storm.
  • Amend your contracts with your primaries to make them accountable for any charge backs related to you dispatching a backup provider to service a location.

While this at first may seem something your primary will push back on, let me ask you this: Are they planning on having service failure? Are they worried they can’t deliver to brand? If not, a possible charge back should be the last thing on their mind — and not something they would push back on.

Let’s go back to the first item, assigning a Tier 2 provider. How does this work? I typically recommend approaching the service provider you wanted to choose but maybe couldn't because of price. They should have met every other qualification you were looking for as it related to service and service solutions. Their implementation plan should have been on point and their communication processes best in class.

Their approach should be to perform a standard amount of due diligence (with focus on your requirements within the program) and identify local service partners they would engage. If they are truly a partner, there should be no ramp-up cost for you to incur for this service. From their perspective, they should absorb those costs as an opportunity to provide some level of partnership and look at it as an opportunity to work on other trade services in the future.

They will then prepare their operations team to take these service requests, engage their local service partners and have the on-the-ground resources to support if and when the call does come in. When you engage your Tier 2, the question always comes up of what to do after the storm. My recommendation is to make a case-by-case decision on who will remain as the service partner long-term after the event is over.

Sometimes things do happen. A truck breaks down, a crew is overwhelmed, or some other misstep occurs resulting in service failure. But if you are partnering with a national provider on 300 locations, making a permanent change on one site might not be the best option. So weigh all of the facts before moving forward — and know if a permanent change is not made, your Tier 2 service partner will still be there if your primary stumbles again.

What about those charge backs? Nobody wants to admit they could fail, and I’m sure no one wants to pay for that failure, but the reality is a contract is drawn up to spell out what needs to get done, and failing to do so should have consequences outside of just being fired. This clause is not meant to be a penalty to be assigned every time a sidewalk is not shoveled to a manager’s standard. This is meant to protect you as the client when there is total service failure and help is called in.

It is a simple decision for you. No upfront costs, no back-end costs. Simply the ability to purchase some insurance for free, and show your company that there is a way to minimize that risk if the selected vendor is not successful.

When should this be done? I recommend moving forward with this selection right after your primary vendor is selected. It allows your Tier 2 enough time to complete their due diligence that they need to perform and shows your primary vendor that you are taking performance seriously. In years past, most perspective clients thought they had to live with their decisions — especially the bad ones — for the entire winter. But you don’t if a proactive plan is in place to address any program shortcomings.

Have we ever seen a whole-sale change in season of locations due to performance? Unfortunately, yes. However, we have always been better positioned to take that work on in the instances where we were already engaged at some level as a Tier 2.

Snow removal is a business-critical service. While never perfect, there is no room for what I would call complete failure. Leverage your resources and your relationships, and I believe you can build a successful program where price and service can come together.

One final thought on your snow removal program. The question has come up about how to properly benchmark pricing versus your scope of work, especially as it relates to vendors who do come up short. While difficult to expect, there must be a shared responsibility between the client and their service partner when a vendor does come up short.

There are two ways to approach a sourcing event. You can set the price, and then hope to steer the service to that number, or you can set the standard for the level of service you require, and then attempt to achieve your pricing goals. Two very different approaches — with a tremendous amount of risk in the first.