ReWorking Michigan examines our evolving economy, as the people of the Great Lakes State explore new ways to make a living and build a future.
Our reWorking Michigan Monday report looks at the snow removal business.
For someone who's unemployed and has a truck, snowplowing might seem to be an idea worth exploring.
At Harrington's Lawn and Power Equipment in Dimondale, the parking lot sports a row of plows for sale.
Scott Bowerman calls himself the "do whatever" guy at Harrington's. He came here from Manistee County, where they get a lot of lake effect snow every winter, so he knows the plowing business. As a kid, he would ride around with his father, plowing snow.
Bowerman says there are a few things to do before you even choose a plow. He thinks you should start with liability insurance. He's just heard of a business that wanted a plow operator to get $2 million in liability insurance before landing a contract.
After that, you need to get some accounts, and the competition is stiff.
"It's kind of a cutthroat industry as far as pricing goes for plowing," Bowerman says. "You've got to make sure you can get your accounts. If you get your accounts set up and everything, then sure, plowing's a great idea. It's an easy way to make money, just as long as you've got the snow. If you don't have the snow, you're sitting! That truck's sitting there with a brand new plow, that's not making you any money."
Then, Bowerman gets to the heart of the matter: the plow itself.
"Starting off with a medium-duty seven-and-a-half foot wide blade, straight blade, you're looking at around the $3,500 range," Bowerman says. "That would be installed, with tax, out the door. No hidden fees or costs; lights, controller, all that stuff comes with it. And you can get up to anywhere close to $6,000 for a plow. It's just a matter of how big you want to go."
Some people who do this find work for a commercial operation, earning an hourly wage. Others, like Tyler Royston, strike out on their own. He started his own business, Royston Lawn and Landscape, seven years ago, when he was only 16 years old. He says he had dreamed about his own business and saved money to get started, but his parents helped.
Along with seed money, Royston says a successful snow removal business requires motivation.
"You have to be willing to get up in the middle of the night," Royston says. "All sorts of weather you have to deal with, like ice, rain sometimes, heavy snow. You have to have a good chunk of cash set aside to be able to buy decent equipment, because you don't want to buy anything that you get a lot of down time with, because down time costs you quite a bit of money."
Royston agrees that the economy has forced prices down. Despite the competition, he says he has more accounts now than ever.
"Everyone's out there to make a buck," Royston says, "and a lot of people go and undercut people just to get the work, especially with a lot of unemployed people out there right now. (There are) A lot of people with no insurance going out and undercutting people who have insurance and pay a higher cost, and that gets pretty frustrating."
Without a doubt, snowplowing can be hard on you. The hours can be lousy and the conditions can be treacherous. Still, Tyler Royston has no qualms about the fact that the worst weather is what's best for his business.
"Nope," Royston says. "It just means more money. I like it."
And with the snowy season approaching, Tyler Royston and others like him are rigging a plow to the front of a truck, and hoping for the worst that Mother Nature can throw at us.
For more on economic evolution in the Great Lake State, visit WKAR.org/reworkingmichigan