February has been a boon to private plow drivers, including an 18-year-old who made $35K in Seattle
Feb. 23, 2019 Updated Sat., Feb. 23, 2019 at 12:47 p.m.
More than 25 inches of snow have blanketed Spokane in February, which means big business for snowplow operators.
While Spokane County and local municipalities are responsible for clearing roads, it’s typically up to businesses and homeowners to clear their driveways, sidewalks and parking lots.
That’s when they call snowplow companies for help.
Mike Duarte, 22, with Living Water Lawn & Tree Care demonstrates one of the company’s many snow plow trucks on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in north Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)Buy a print of this photo
“Overall, it’s been a quiet season until February hit and then it seemed like we were doing a whole year worth of service in one month,” said Timm Turnbough, branch manager for Senske Services, which offers snow removal for commercial businesses. “We probably have done more (snowplowing) this year than in past years in the short amount of time.”
Coeur d’Alene resident David Holston, 18, said he earned $35,000 in a week plowing snow for businesses in Seattle during the record-breaking storm that dropped more than 20 inches at SeaTac International Airport this month.
Holston, owner of a lawn care and snow removal business, was in Seattle visiting his mother, who had undergone surgery. While Holston was at the hospital, he received a phone call from a friend suggesting he bring his snowplow on a return trip to Seattle to earn some extra money during the storm.
After posting a Craiglist ad, Holston received dozens of phone calls from businesses and residential customers requesting snow removal services. Over four days, he plowed more than 15 sites – some of them twice.
Holston said two weeks ago it wasn’t even a thought that he would earn money plowing snow in Seattle and attributes his success to God, citing the Bible verse Luke 12:31 as a theme for his plowing trip.
“As far as the $35,000 I earned in 4 days, I plan on tithing 20 percent of it, buying lawn equipment and saving the rest to buy my first house debt-free,” Holston said in an email.
Snowplowing is a growing industry that generated more than $19 billion nationally in 2018, according to IBISWorld, a market research firm. A majority of revenue comes from commercial businesses, including owners of offices and retail buildings.
Spokane County has 32 registered snow removal businesses, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue.
Senske works on an annual contract basis with commercial properties and when snowfall reaches a particular level, the company sends one of its 25 plow drivers to clear the area.
“We usually take on a few new customers during the year, but try to service year-round customers first if we have room left in our schedule,” Turnbough said.
Turnbough said there wasn’t much recovery time for plow drivers and mechanics between the back-to-back snowstorms earlier this month.
“But we’ve been able to chip away at it and keep everyone serviced,” he said. “Another challenge is, we’ll get a site cleaned off and the next day, the city plows the streets and covers the municipal walks.”
Mike Fairburn and his wife, Lisa, launched Living Water Lawn & Tree Care in 1991. The company, which offers landscaping as well as snow removal services for commercial and residential properties, has more than 6,000 customers.
“We have a lot of customers that are getting older and one of our goals that makes us happy about what we do is we get to help people stay in their homes,” he said. “One of our biggest businesses is our lawn and tree business, but the past two years, it’s been a complete reverse.”
Fairburn said companies typically charge $125 to $160 an hour for snow removal, depending on the property.
Living Water Lawn & Tree Care employs about five plow drivers, who work around the clock to clear snow for customers.
“Last week there were times when our guys were out for 12 hours,” he said. “After so many hours, it gets a little surreal out there. I think one of the things people don’t think about is it’s really hard work. The guys and gals that do it, they are out (snowplowing) while everybody else is inside.”
Fairburn said he’s hoping the busy February snow season doesn’t impact the company’s landscaping operations in the spring.
“It’s been a big February, but it holds back what we want to do in March and April,” he said. “So it’s kind of a mixed blessing. We just make the best of it.”
Kelly Kane and business partner Heath Irvine have operated CT Sprinkler for close to three years. They launched a snow removal service for customers this year.
Kane said because sprinkler installation is seasonal, the addition of snow removal services is a natural expansion.
CT Sprinkler primarily services residential properties and apartment complexes by clearing sidewalks and driveways using shovels and a four-wheeler equipped with a blade.
Kane aims to expand the snow removal portion of the business in the future.
“It hasn’t been a hard season, but should next year be a more significant winter, we’ll definitely be expanding,” she said.
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