Bock, manager of Birchwood Snow & Landscape and plow
driver, poses with one of the 50 plows available at the
company’s three locations throughout the state.
Photo by Mark Justesen
OZAUKEE COUNTY — Let it snow,
let it snow, let it snow.
That’s what several local businesses are pleading for as a
surprisingly mild December and January have made Wisconsin appear
less of a winter wonderland than usual.
After early season storms dropped several inches of snow in late
October and early November, most of Ozaukee County received only six
inches in December and one inch through the first part of January.
In an area that typically sees nearly 50 inches of snow annually,
the lack of precipitation is alarming for snow removal businesses
and hardware stores.
Snow removal companies often double as landscaping services and earn
revenue throughout the year, but balmy temperatures in December and
January can potentially put a financial strain on the owners and the
plow drivers they employ.
Joe Kassander, owner of Birchwood Snow & Landscape in Cedarburg,
negotiates contracts with large commercial and industrial businesses
for snow removal and salting and receives a flat fee each year from
its clients no matter how much snowfall occurs. But Kassander is
concerned that his drivers are not getting the hours they need.
“If there’s an economic impact on all this it’s more on the
employees,” Kassander said. “We pay our guys time-and-a-half or more
to plow because it’s an inconvenience to them and their families
that they may have to leave in the middle of the night. They’re
missing out on pay.”
Others charge for their snow removal services “per push” instead of
the upfront fee, in the case of Badger Snow & Landscape in Mequon.
Badger, run by Andy McClellan, has arrangements with a few large
businesses and about 50 residential properties. When snowfall
reaches one inch, Badger heads out to its commercial clients and
clear out their parking lots. They tend to their residential
customers at the two-inch mark.
Although McClellan said he and his crew have gotten by through some
unforeseen landscaping projects over the last few weeks, the lack of
snow can be irritating.
“To be honest it’s getting to be a little boring,” McClellan said.
“But it’s Wisconsin, and everyone knows that soon it’ll be snowing
like crazy and everyone will be talking about that. You definitely
need to stay even-keeled and understand that it’s coming.
Financially, it would be very nice to get some snow. There is only
so much you can do at this time of year.”
Two local hardware stores have also been feeling the effects of this
strange winter: Ozaukee Ace Hardware in Grafton and Tennies Ace
Hardware in West Bend. The snowstorms in October and November helped
them get a head start selling bulky items like snowblowers, ice
melters and salt, but recently it’s been more challenging.
“In November and December if it doesn’t snow then people will still
decorate and we sell Christmas lights,” said Pete Kalies, owner of
Ozaukee Ace Hardware. “If it snows early they probably won’t
decorate but they’ll buy the snow equipment. Come January the
Christmas season is over and it’ll start to hurt if we don’t do much
in January and February. Hopefully some of these weather predictions
will start to come true.”
Kalies worked in the landscaping industry before operating the
store, and he can relate to the snow plowing contingent that might
be feeling the sting.
“We had some landscapers saying they were still landscaping and
raking in December even after they had their first snow plowing of
the season,” he said. “They’re putting the plows down, putting them
back on, then off again. They’re jumping back and forth which is
tough. The whole key is to do more than just one thing. You really
need to diversify.”
Todd Tennies, who heads Tennies Ace Hardware in West Bend, says his
store’s current snow-related inventory is relatively the same
compared to past winters, and his location recently restocked after
experiencing a busy November.
“We like winters where snowfall can be four to seven days apart,
which we haven’t had much of lately,” Tennies said. “When you have a
prolonged snow forecast it allows to you sell snow blowers over an
extended period of time. One big storm can help, but you need to
have more after that.”
Tennies elaborated on the ripple effect that a warm stretch can have
on a place such as Wisconsin. In addition to the plowers and
hardware stores, this weather can impact vehicle repair shops and
outdoor recreation that relies on consistent snow.
“The more snow, the merrier we are,” he said. “A snowstorm has such
a significant impact and it’s good for business.”
And it appears Wisconsin winter is heading back to normal as snow is
on the horizon for much of the North Shore — accumulations for this
week could total more than six inches.