Chicago Company Finds Success Using JCB Skid Steers for Commercial Snow Removal

How one snow removal contractor finds success with commercial snow plowing using skid steers

Snowpusher, Inc. outfits its JCB skid steers with plows for snow removal at multi-residential sites like apartment complexes and with pusher blades for large parking lots.
Snowpusher, Inc. outfits its JCB skid steers with plows for snow removal at multi-residential sites like apartment complexes and with pusher blades for large parking lots.

When winter hits skid steers don't have to spend the winter season hibernating inside a garage or a shed. Many owners have discovered these little machines are aces when it comes to snow removal.

Take this job and shovel it

Joe Paweleck of Chicago knows exactly what it takes to remove snow, and lots of it. After working in the snow removal industry for more than 15 years, Paweleck decided it was time to strike out on his own. He launched his own snow removal company, Snowpusher, Inc., during the winter of 2010. The company currently has 10 full-time, year-round employees and employs approximately 180 seasonal workers during the winter months.

“After being around the block a few times, I figured, what the heck, why not work for myself instead of for someone else?” Paweleck recalls. “From past experiences, I knew how other companies approached snow removal, and I wanted to see if I could build a business that improved upon their methods.”

Snowpusher focuses completely on snow removal for commercial sites like truck stops, shopping centers, corporate campuses and factories. From its headquarters located near the intersection of Route 53 and Interstate 90 in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, the company serves customers within a 35 to 40 mile radius. When Paweleck and his full-time staff aren’t removing snow during the winter season, they’re performing necessary maintenance on their equipment and signing up more commercial accounts to grow the business. 

“From what we’ve seen, annual budgets tend to be due in June or July,” Paweleck says. “But really, the bid process is never-ending. We try to focus on signing up accounts that require 24/7 service, like truck stops, for example. Obviously, the more we can work during our five-month season, the better.”

A new generation of equipment

Snowpusher has always used some skid steer loaders in its snow removal operations. While skid steers work well for most snow removal situations, there are times when a larger machine becomes necessary.

“Skid steers can handle almost any type of snow removal except for the times you have to push snow a long distance,” Paweleck explains. “That’s when you need a wheel loader. Even then, we use our skid steers for detail work on the sites that require loaders.”

In 2011, Snowpusher decided to shop around for some new skid steers from a few different manufacturers. That brought them to their local JCB dealer, Casey Equipment/JCB to take a look at JCB’s New Generation Skid Steers. Snowpusher ended up purchasing 10 JCB 260 models for two primary reasons — the visibility from inside the cab and the unique side-entry door that eliminates the risk of climbing in a front window over icy and slippery attachments.

“We had a lot of different options, but the visibility of the JCBs spoke for itself,” Paweleck says. “It helps us do our jobs more quickly, and that allows a higher level of service for our customers.”

Even though he liked the JCB skid steer’s visibility, it still took some convincing to get Paweleck to invest in 10 machines.

“I didn’t quite trust the single-arm boom design at first — what JCB calls its ‘Powerboom,’” Paweleck says. “So, we got our hands on a demo and brought it out to our main yard to see how it would perform, play with it a little bit. We used the skid steer to pick up a very large, very heavy concrete block. That little machine was driving around in circles holding up that concrete block up in the air, and it never once came close to tipping over. I was sold.” 

Paweleck and his team outfit their JCB skid steers with plows for snow removal at multi-residential sites like apartment complexes and with pusher blades for large parking lots. Each machine spends the winter months at its designated site so that it’s immediately accessible when a winter storm hits. 

“We don’t like to trailer our machines from job to job if we don’t have to,” Paweleck says. “By parking them at our larger accounts, we can save a lot of money in fuel and other transportation costs.”

Challenges and opportunities

When asked what makes snow removal such a demanding business, Paweleck points to the innate unpredictability of winter storms.

“Every storm is different, and weather forecasts are only so accurate,” Paweleck says. “While you’d think that the big storms would give us the most trouble, the little one- to two-inch snowfalls come with more uncertainty. What are the ground temperatures? What are the air temperatures? Will the snowfall melt right away but then refreeze that night? Should we pre-salt or just wait and plow? We have to carefully consider our options because we don’t want to ‘over-service’ our customers. That can make it look like we’re taking advantage of them.”

Technology also enters into Snowpusher’s business plan. The company attaches GPS units to all its salt trucks. 

“That way, if someone says they were injured by slipping and falling on one of the properties we service, we have proof that we were there and applied salt to that exact area,” Paweleck explains. “It’s one of those little things we do that can help both us and our customers avoid costly insurance claims.”

For consistency and reliability, every season, the same Snowpusher employee always clears the same pre-designated customer locations. Before the season starts and snow begins to fly, Paweleck’s team creates a color-coded map and walks their operators through their designated sites. To ensure quality service, Snowpusher has “tailgate talks” with each operator once every three to four storms to see how they’re doing and to answer any customer requests or concerns.

Snowpusher is also savvy about how it invests in equipment. The purchase of the 10 JCB 260 skid steers in 2011 was spawned by the IRS’s Section 179 Tax Deduction, an incentive that the U.S. government created to encourage equipment investments. This tax code basically allows businesses to deduct the full purchase price of qualifying equipment and/or software purchased or financed during the tax year. That means that Snowpusher was able to deduct the full purchase price of its skid steers from its gross income.

“We’ve taken advantage of that incentive every year since,” Paweleck said. “In 2015, we actually purchased 24 new machines. It’s almost like we’re able to use them for free throughout out the season. You have to stay on top of those types of programs — they can really work to your advantage as a small businessperson.”

What’s next for Snowpusher? The company is considering entering a previously untapped market.

“We’re thinking about how we can begin servicing single-family homes,” Paweleck says. “The key is being able to service large blocks of residences — not just one here or there, scattered throughout the city. We’re always looking for new opportunities to streamline our operations and serve more customers. I really enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to save money, make money and grow our business, one step at a time.” 

Skid steer snow removal tips

If you’re new to using skid steers specifically for snow removal, here are some tips from JCB:

  • If you’re working in tight, confined spaces typical to residential areas (think sidewalks and alleys), consider outfitting your skid steer with 7:00 x 15 tires. These tires can take skid steers down to a 53.9-inch width, making it possible to access these areas where you’d otherwise have to use a shovel or a snow blower.
  • Larger skid steers or compact track loaders can be fitted with large buckets, snow blades or snow pushers to cover larger areas such are parking lots at grocery stores, malls, hospitals, commercial developments and apartment complexes.
  • Machines can be equipped with high flow hydraulics to power snow blowers to "blow" the snow up and out of the way more quickly. Many other types of machines do not have the combination of size, power, speed or hydraulic flow/horsepower to accomplish as effectively as skid steer loaders.
  • If you want to be as productive as possible, don’t skimp on the creature comforts. Having a machine with an enclosed cab is a given, but heaters/defrosters, road light kits and rotating beacons enhance both comfort and safety, making it possible to work longer hours in cold, dark conditions.