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Free salt is worth 
its weight in gold
Asphalt businessí giveaway gives 
winter-weary residents reason to smile

By TIM SCHILKE - GM Today Staff

March 5, 2008

Itís easy to admire brilliant marketing. But itís difficult to say whether Sean Wolf, the owner of Wolf Paving in the town of Summit, recognized his own brilliance in advance, or whether he was the fortunate beneficiary of an unpredictable media firestorm.

When Wolf decided to give away 20 tons of rock salt last week, Iím not sure he could have realized the full extent of the free advertising and goodwill his actions would bring to his custom asphalt business. For two full days, it was impossible to turn on a television or radio news broadcast without hearing about the Wolf Paving salt giveaway, references which were almost always prefaced with the phrase, "locally owned custom asphalt business based in Oconomowoc." The first round of news focused on the companyís plans, and the second round focused on the giveaway itself, with plenty of quality video footage of happy smiling salt recipients.

Running the numbers, Wolf Paving received approximately 100 free one-minute television ads, and 200 free 30-second radio ads, for the small price of 20 tons of rock salt. And the cost of all this coverage was relatively minor. Over the past three years, the average price of a ton of rock salt, purchased in bulk, ranges from $30 to $50. Assuming some price increases due to the severe winter and salt shortages, itís possible that 20 tons could have cost the company as much as $2,000. Thatís a small price to pay for tens of thousands of dollars worth of positive coverage in Milwaukee media outlets.

Like I said, itís easy to admire brilliant marketing, and I wouldnít be surprised to see Wolf Paving tally an unprecedented asphalt season in 2008.

Would this approach work for other local businesses, or was this a fortunate sequence of events which came together at the end of a long, frustrating winter? Iím not sure of the answer, but Iím waiting for Best Buy to test the theory by giving away 20 tons of flat screen televisions.


Speaking of salt, the city of Waukesha has issued 473 tickets through last weekend to people who did not adequately shovel their sidewalks. They also had to take action to clear snow from the sidewalks of 113 homeowners who didnít comply with the ordinance. Considering the winter we have experienced, and the general snow-related depression and apathy gripping the entire region, Iím not sure if the city has completely thought this through.

If a homeowner does not clear snow from the sidewalk, they receive a bill for snow removal from the city at a rate of 50 cents per sidewalk foot. Thatís not unreasonable at all. In fact, for a typical 50-foot sidewalk, that amounts to only $25. During some of the more severe blizzards we experienced this winter, I would have gladly paid $25 to have my sidewalk cleared. In fact, kids in my neighborhood wanted to charge me $50 for the same job during the blizzard of early February.

According to the Waukesha city ordinance, "For the first offense no citation shall be issued and no fine imposed." That leaves only the cost of snow removal for first offenders. To summarize: No ticket, no fine, 50 cents a foot in snow removal fees. Iím not advocating large-scale civil disobedience or anything, but on a last resort basis during a once-per-generation snowstorm, Iíd be awfully tempted to conveniently become too busy to shovel.

Note to city of Waukesha - public works department: Please donít blame the messenger, I have an obligation to point out a good deal when I see one.

Itís also interesting to note that there is an exception in the ordinance for the common ice dam situation that plagued many residential sidewalks and driveways during mid to late-February. The ordinance recognizes that we live in Wisconsin, and sometimes it may not be possible to chip away ice that can accumulate quickly this time of year from rapid temperature fluctuations. If the ice cannot be removed, the owner needs to keep it covered with ashes, salt or sand, according to the ordinance, until such time that the ice can be removed under warmer conditions.

So homeowners literally cannot be ticketed for the unremovable chunks of ice that were so common on sidewalks during February.

(Tim Schilke is the author of "Growing up Red" and lives in Grafton. His column runs Wednesdays in The Freeman.)


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