Chicago winters are harsh. Snowfall is frequent and winds off of Lake Michigan add an extra chill to the air. But Greenwise Organic Lawn Care has found a way to add a touch of “green” to even the whitest winter day.
Greenwise, founded in 2006, is an eco-friendly lawn care, design/build and snow removal company based in Evanston, Ill.
The company takes a non-traditional approach to snow removal, says Michael Kormanik, marketing director and snow removal crew dispatcher.
“Here in Chicago, there’s just an attitude of do what you need to do to get through the winter, and then worry about the consequences later,” he says.
“So you just see the road salt getting dumped on everything, just landscapes getting torn up by plows and hardscapes getting damaged, and it just wasn’t really what we would consider the best way of doing things.”
Greenwise entered the snow removal business in 2008 as a way to expand business year-round in the snowbelt.
The company primarily serves residential clients in and north of Chicago, but the company is slowly expanding more into the commercial side of business. Right now, business is split about 70 percent residential and 30 percent commercial.
Tools of the trade.
Greenwise trucks use biodiesel fuel, which is a renewable fuel source. Additionally, they do not use traditional rock salt which, while cheap, can damage lawns, sidewalks and tender pet paws.
“In the snow removal business, because it’s more of an emergency service, traditionally, there’s not a lot green about it,” he says.
“But then we took a look at it and thought, well, even if we’re making some changes and making it more sustainable and more environmentally friendly, it will make a difference.”
He points out that traditional rock salt use can dry out soil and prompt Mother Nature to intervene and try to remedy the situation.
Organic difference, same price
After some initial trial and error, managers at Greenwise Organic Lawn Care determined they could operate a green snow removal service – and at a profit.
Today, snow removal makes up 11 percent of the company’s $2.3 million in annual revenue says Michael Kormanik, marketing director and snow removal crew dispatcher.
“Even with organic lawn care, you don’t need to cut corners to still make a profit, and you don’t need to do things irresponsibly,” he says. “We’re growing every year.”
Labor-wise, Kormanik says the company uses more manual labor to remove snow than traditional companies. However, these employees mostly work year-round.
About 30 employees of the company’s 50 make up the snow crew at Greenwise – which operates routes in a strategic and cost-effective manner.
Rock salt is cheaper than the de-icer product Greenwise uses, but the company uses far less product. In the end the cost evens out, Kormanik says. Avoiding the use of heavy equipment means there is less chance for damage and repair to a property or landscape.
“It’s almost along the lines of the measure twice and cut once sort of the thing. If you do it right the first time, you’re saving money right there,” he says.
Her remedy? Often dandelions, which are a natural soil aerator – but are often considered weeds.
Instead, Greenwise uses a more environmentally friendly deicer product. Crews will shovel snow as much as possible rather than use snow blowers. When teams are more attentive when removing snow, less deicer is needed.
Flexible service plans.
Some clients only want snow removal when there is a lot of snowfall.
They often opt for a 10-pass package. If it snows a little and they do not want the crews out, they can call and alert Greenwise not to come to their residence.
Other clients do not want to deal with any snow removal on their own – no matter how little – and pay a flat fee for a season-long pass, which offers unlimited snow removal.
“Any time we come out and there’s more than an inch of snow, we do the clearing,” Kormanik says. “They pay a flat fee, and we come out as often as needed.”
Last season, there were 23 incidents in which more than an inch of snow fell. And most incidents were higher, around 3 to 4 inches.
“That was definitely a money saver for folks last year,” he says.
Building a client list.
Many of the Greenwise snow removal clients are the same clients that hire the company for lawn care or design/build work, Kormanik says.
Additionally, maintaining a high rating on Angie’s List has been a positive for promoting the company, as have client referrals netting customers a $50 credit in “green bucks” toward a future service. The company also offers one free visit for clients who pre-pay for services before November 1.
On the business side, Greenwise can better manage cash flow, and plan ahead for the necessary supplies, equipment and manpower needed for the upcoming snow removal season.
“We went into the summer (last year) knowing that we had snow clients already signed up and committed, and then we start in the early fall just reminding people that, as much as you don’t want to think about it, you live in Chicago, and there’s going to be a winter,” he says.
The snow removal service at Greenwise mirrors its customer service philosophy for lawn care, where communication is paramount.
“One of the reasons why people would come to us if they weren’t a client already was they had a bad experience with the service they got from other snow removal companies, and a lot of that was really just the communication,” Kormanik says.
“They didn’t know if they were a client still. Sometimes they’d sign up, and they would never hear from the snow company.”
Greenwise offers service alerts via email to clients to let them know the snow routes are activating soon and when they can expect to receive service.
Another alert tells them crews have left the building. Email alerts are also sent out in advance of the arrival of a front of inclement weather.
The company also has a snow removal phone number that is answered 24/7 during a snow event. Lastly, being flexible helps keep clients satisfied, he adds. Kormanik says they have also personalized their service at Greenwise.
If a client is nine-months pregnant and needs to go somewhere, the company will work with the client to try and prioritize service. Similarly, service may be prioritized for a church or pastor on a Sunday morning.
“Here in Chicago, when it snows, it snows, and it’s not just a little ice on the ground,” he says. “It locks you in, and people have to be places.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.