Machinery removing snow piles from parking lot

To Find Good Wintertime Vendors, Start Hiring Now [Q&A]

Preventing winter weather hazards begins when you least expect it — in the summer. Learn how to avoid cold weather risks.

Even if the snow is long gone and temperatures are soaring outside, facility managers shouldn’t take their focus off of winter hazards. To create a safe working environment, it’s smart to vet and hire winter vendors well ahead of colder months.

We spoke with Phil Donahue, Manager U.S. Facilities and Maintenance for Staples, for tips on how to find vendors, prepare for extreme-weather safety, and build solid contracts before an emergency strikes.

Q: When is the ideal time to start looking for winter vendors?

A: The best time to evaluate and work with vendors is when your campus is fully visible and all your landscaping is in full bloom. This provides vendors with a good view of the environment and what they’d be working with.

The earlier you start, the better off you’ll be when October or November comes. The request for proposal (RFP) process can sometimes take two or three months. Once you get bids, you still have to evaluate candidates and make your final selections. Keep this in mind when setting your timeline.

Q: What types of vendors should you have on call during the winter?

A: Well, obviously you should have a snow management company that handles both pre-storm setup and cleanup during and after a storm. When snowfall reaches a certain point, your contract will engage the team to shovel, plow and move snow to another area, if necessary.

It’s also important to have vendors lined up for weather events such as ice storms, hurricanes or high-wind storms. A snow vendor won’t remove fallen trees or branches, for example, so check that your landscaper has this capability during the winter. Moving companies may also come in ahead of a storm to help put away items that could become airborne, such as umbrellas.

Q: What qualities should you look for in potential vendors?

A: While cost is certainly a factor, you should also consider experience and quality. Ask about other companies the vendor services in the area and how long it’s been in business. Look into what other customers have to say about it, either by asking for references or networking with other facilities managers.

It’s also important for vendors to be flexible — the last thing you want is somebody who is going to pick apart the nitty-gritty of your contract during an emergency. Ask for references about this and how vendors handle busy times. You want to hire companies that don’t cut corners.

Your procurement group can also help look at how potential vendors are doing from a general business standpoint and check on their financial health.

Q: What elements you should include in your contracts?

A: Your contract is the base document that should be established and reviewed prior to the season to refresh everyone’s minds. It should include plow maps, shovel maps, priority parking lots and how many inches of snow will trigger teams to respond onsite. It should also detail whether your vendor is responsible for putting down salt during ice storms or other events. For the most part, everyone should know what they have to do, what they’ve signed up for and what your expectations are.

Also, make sure contracts require solid pre- and post-season site inspections. Sometimes vendors will plow over a landscape island or knock some blocks out, so you should require them to make those types of repairs before you let them off the hook for that contract.

Q: If you have an established vendor relationship, what is a red flag that it’s time for a change?

A: When they’re unresponsive. Teams can pretty much be on autopilot during the normal course of the winter, but if a situation comes up and you need something actioned right away and there’s no response or a delayed response, that’s a problem. Communication is huge, not just with snow vendors, but with all vendors. You have to make sure you’re talking to one another so there is no miscommunication. When managing a corporate campus, you can have thousands of people in one building who you need to make sure are safe and can get to and from work without any issues. If your vendor makes achieving this goal difficult, that’s a big red flag.