Snow removal RFP best practices: Building a scope of work
By Kevin Smith

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There are two traditional formats for defining a scope of work for snow removal: performance-based versus a statement of objectives. In a performance-based format, goals are set. For example, keeping lots clear and safe, and allowing the service providers to determine how they go about achieving that as the expert. In a statement of objectives, expectation is set. Plowing at 2 inches, deicing when conditions are slick, performing a certain number of site inspections, and the provider is held accountable to perform at those levels.


In what season do you plan for your facility's snow removal?
  • 1. Spring
  • 2. Summer
  • 3. Fall
  • 4. Winter

As a service partner, my choice may surprise you, but I prefer a clear set of expectations as to what is needed and at what point. The reasons are simple. From a bid perspective, there is a better chance that all bidders' prices are at the same expectations. Form a service standpoint, where expectation from a local manager to a corporate contact can be different, defining what needs to be done — and more importantly at what point — makes it much easier to achieve satisfaction across all stakeholders.

What is the impact of cost versus brand? This is undoubtedly the most common topic of conversation we have with our clients. Everyone wants their sites to be bare payment and ready for business. But what is the cost impact to achieve that goal?

When you begin to define what level service you want, remember that cost runs parallel to that expectation. If you want trucks parked outside when the first snowflake lands, there's a price to pay for that. We believe there can be a healthy balance between cost and brand that allows you to achieve your goals while still controlling your budget. The trickier part is balancing the expectation of the local sites in relation to this goal. As mentioned earlier, defining your expectation within the scope of work is the first step.

When should the local vendor show up to begin service? There are three traditional service triggers within the industry: 1-inch, 2-inch or 3-inch triggers. Let's discuss the differences.

The 1-inch trigger is certainly the most aggressive — and as such, the most costly. This requires the crews to arrive when 1 inch of snow has accumulated and continue to service at 1-inch intervals throughout an event.

There are some things to consider regarding this trigger. For a small-box location, banks, restaurants, convenient stores or other portfolios where the properties typically run in size from 40,000 square feet or less, services are typically route-based. Thus, delivering services at 1-inch intervals is nearly impossible as the time is takes to cycle through a handful of locations will prevent a crew form meeting that expectation.

Simply put, while on paper it seems like the platinum level of service, it is unlikely that any local crew could meet that guideline. For big-box locations, where crews and more importantly equipment are often dedicated, it is more realistic to achieve this goal. But, again, maintaining at this level often requires significant equipment, which comes at a cost.

A 2-inch trigger is the industry standard. It provides a consistent level of service, is achievable for any size property, and as an industry standard, it is the level of service most local vendors will be familiar with. Most companies are servicing at this level.

A 3-inch trigger is a budget-saver, but it does come at a price. The conditions at the property become more dangerous, the impact on your customers is real, and even the risk to your own employees is increased. At this level of service, bare pavement is difficult to achieve, and post-storm conditions often are more challenging due to packed snow and ice. At this level, brand is negatively impacted.

Regardless of the options selected, it is critically important to ensure that the stakeholders buy off on the level of service, so the ramping up of your awarded supplier or suppliers is seamless and does not have to overcome service expectations in the field.

Now for the dirty word in the industry in the past 3-4 years: deicing. Deicing is what many clients feel is the item that mostly impacts their budget negatively, and they continue to struggle to control this year after year. The good news: if you selected seasonal as a pricing model, you can tell your providers to deice away with no worry on your bottom line. For everyone else, the question becomes how to manage risk versus cost.

To begin with, let's discuss expectations. We all want our sites to be as safe as possible, but no one wants to pay for deicing services every three hours, and you shouldn't have to. However, to put limits on when your vendor can deice (say once every 24 hours) has the potential to remove your risk burden from your supplier to your own company.

Putting in controls to regulate the number of deicing services can work, with the right structure. I am a firm believer in limiting the number of deicing services to say every 6-8 hours with the following caveat. Require your providers to continue to monitor conditions regardless of this restriction and also require them to contact you and request additional deicing services if they feel conditions warrant it.

This limits their ability to overservice (and ultimately overbill) while still leaving the ultimate burden on them to monitor site conditions. Part of the benefit of consolidation is moving the risk onto your suppliers. This type of language can successfully achieve that while still controlling your overall cost. By assessing and suggesting when additional work outside the scope is needed, your suppliers will continue to carry the risk burden.

Regarding product type, there are truly only a handful of industry standards. Traditional salt or a combination of a salt/sand mix is used on parking lots and is the most effective solution for that service. For sidewalks, a choice of calcium chloride (the industry standard) or magnesium chloride (more prevalent over the last 4-5 years) is a less corrosive and more common product type.

While manufacturers will certainly approach you about their "magic salt" and other uniquely named products, selecting a commonly used and effective product like salt and calcium chloride will meet your service needs while not inflating your costs.

Another question that comes up is pretreating. Without engaging the merits of proactively treating lots and sidewalks (and there is value), it ultimately comes down to current conditions and more importantly what conditions will be like during an event. We recommend this type of service be a required discussion point within the scope of work where the burden is on the supplier to request this approval prior to an event. This allows you as a client to review on a storm-by-storm basis, and more importantly on a market-by-market basis, as to whether you want the service to be performed.

Hopefully, just some of these tips will help you and your team build a best-in-class scope of work for your snow-removal program.

Kevin Smith is chief operating officer at Ferrandino & Son, Inc. He has 11 years of experience in facilities services and exterior maintenance, has written many articles and white papers, and has produced podcasts and webinars on "best practices" within the industry.