How to take action when a competitor falls?

When a business you have been competing with, stumbles or falls, you can do a lot to position yourself in such a way as to pick up some new customers. A member of the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum had this situation happen to him where a competitor who offered snow plowing, simply shut down at the start of the Winter season.

He wrote “a few months back we were having a discussion about competition. I was sharing with you a story about my neighbor at the end of the street, who operated a landscaping business. His excavators and other equipment hadn’t moved most of the summer. I hadn’t seen much of him except a few times when we ran into each other at the mail box. Out of the blue he had his son ask my son if he thought I would buy him out. This discussion came up again later at a equipment demonstration I was doing for for a local tractor store where he had shown up to see the equipment line up.
Anyhow he has been in the business a long time. His machines are very capable but man they look tired. His trailers look like they went through the war. The one piece of equipment that looks beautiful is his truck truck but it has no lettering.

So at about 3 this afternoon I started getting calls for snow removal. I found it strange they were all from the area I live (same subdivision). I had 6 calls in two hours while I was outside putting the plows on the tractors as we have a storm coming tomorrow. I sub all plowing out unless it’s within a mile of my house then I send one of the tractors. I’m not interested in putting plows on the trucks as I don’t think they are built for it so I let others beat their trucks to death and worry about the maintenance costs.

I don’t advertise in the area where I live as there are four guys in the mini excavation business so I stick to the area where we do 90% of our work, about a 30 min drive from my house, next to no competition.

The 7th call I get today was from a lady. She said she had been speaking to my neighbor and he informed her he was getting out of the business and suggested she give me a call. She only lives one street over too so I said yes we will match your current price for the first plow and inform you if there is going to be a change. Well holy smokes I am at call number 19 and it’s only 7:00 and the storm isn’t until later tomorrow.

I do feel bad for my now defunct competitor. But if he had taken some simple steps like, keep the gear looking eye pleasing, market himself, and do good work, he would never have found himself in this situation he is in now.

Anyhow looks like tomorrow evening we will be busy, I had thought we were kicking back for the year and spending some time in the shop but if this keeps up I along with three staff will be hard at it.”

This is very interesting because as we saw in previous discussion another snow plow business owner was dealing with a similar issue, where a local snow plow company was going out of business. Then we were talking about how he should go about attracting the customers from them.

Here you are dealing with this now and when you tell the customer you will match your current price for the first snow plow, can you tell us the logic behind this and why it’s a good idea to do this?

When the customer says, the previous company was snow plowing my driveway for $x amount of dollars. Do you follow up with her and ask how long her driveway is? Do you go and visit it first before you agree upon a quote or do you just figure, yea I will do it for that price for the first time, just to get your foot in the door. Then once you are there and plow it for the first time, you can then figure out what you need to charge to offer them the service in the future?

“When a new snow plow customer calls I ask four questions:

1) Is your driveway gravel or paved? (We have 6 foot blowers on the back of the tractors, 7 foot plows on the front) we blow paved and plow gravel.

2) How long is your driveway (I know how long it takes us to clear the typical driveway in our area).

3) What is your address I know my area very well, is the prospect en route to another we already do? If so it’s gravy money and so far they are all within 10 min of my house.

4) What was the previous company charging?

Since it’s so late to be shopping for snow plowing services, I can pick up these clients quickly by offering the service at their previous current rate for the first plow. It is a marketing ploy for me, it shows I care and I do. However at the same time when I say for the first plow, it lets them know or sets the expectation their might be an increase. We will do good work even if it was a low ball price by the previous snow plow company but it will cost to have us come back.

After the first plow we ask the client if the job we did met their expectations. I do the same with mowing as well. Some people will not say anything unless asked and if there is a tree you forgot to trim around, that could be the difference between a referral and losing an account. Walk the property with them, I understand it takes time but this is your day in court. This starts your relationship with the customer. It also gives you a chance to up sell at the same time. For instance you might be able to say something like ‘those mulch beds could use some additional mulch, I have a team coming by here next week, for $xx.xx we can beef them up.’ Always remember to show you care.

I am going to visit all 21 of my new snow plow customers this morning. I already have a route schedule added and split between two of the tractors. They are all on route to two private lanes we already service. It’s kind of like a nice Christmas present. 5 hours work tops, which will come out to around $680.00. Operational cost are about $16.90, staff $ 75.00, my time zip. I will be working in the shop. My staff arrives at 5 a.m. to ensure people can get out. We will see how the day goes but I might send them out at 10 am. I will email all clients (as we charge every time we go out) earlier this afternoon asking if they want to be cleared before midnight and again in the morning. I will know when I leave what they should be charged and wrote a form letter that will be sent via email to those that have to have an increase, BUT if I see lawn care work we can do next year I will send a second letter. Your plowing rate should be $35.00 rather than $25.00 however we know you probably had a budget for this season and our company will honor the rate you were paying as we see a number of services we could offer you in the Spring and our company is in the business of building relationships. I trust you will see this as a step in the right direction.

We do not get into hand shoveling. Depending on the layout of the property, the staff might offer to blow the walkway, this is an additional $15.00 flat fee. It is totally up to them to offer and get the clients ok before proceeding and the walkway has to have either patio stone or brick. No gravel walkways will be blown or plowed, just to much risk.”

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Lawn Care Business Books And Software.
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