Mild weather isn’t great for our business, but it’s not the end of the world…
Vicky Lopez, director at De-Ice, one of the UK’s longest established and leading winter gritting and snow clearance specialists, comments on the day-to-day things that impact the business she co-founded
Our operators, or gritting teams, only ‘get to work’ when the weather dictates – it needs to be cold, or – even better – snowing.
It would be fair to say that the majority of people think our business only thrives (even survives) when there is ice and snow, but we have to plan for every eventuality – even mild winters…
This winter hasn’t been without its weather events, but – so far – it has been mild. During one period in February, we didn’t deploy any gritting teams anywhere in the UK, which is unheard of for this time of year.
However, this doesn’t mean we have taken our eye off the ball at any point. With the unpredictable British winter weather, we have ensured contingency plans are in place for when it does take a turn for the worse. We need to be there to make sure that our clients’ premises, from hospitals and banks, to retail parks and business parks, are gritted and therefore protected and operational during adverse conditions.
When we might be experiencing a ‘quiet time’ in the world of gritting, we don’t just sit back looking at the weather forecasts, we use the additional time to attend site visits and networking events, and continue to build relationships with our customers to ensure we understand fully their needs and requirements.
When the weather does hit, De-Ice is able to access stock piles of salt, built up during the summer months. We also have access to a network of trained operators – all of whom can step in at the drop of a hat. We have worked with some of the same gritting operators since the business was established. At the end of the day, it is about making sure we are prepared and ready to go. Our ever expanding stock of available winter supplies and specific products mean we are always on hand to keep Britain moving during those difficult and tricky to manage freezing periods, and when it’s not so cold we are waiting in the wings to provide a much valued service to our customers.
The one area that does have the biggest impact on our business is our staff. If you have staff that are sick or on long-term leave this can have a huge impact to the day-to-day operation.
Paying tax and NI is a costly business, and – for many business – there simply may not be enough funds to replace the staff on leave. This – in turn – puts more pressure on the other members of staff.
Small businesses can vary in size from one-man bands to companies employing hundreds of staff, therefore the impact of an employee on sick leave will vary greatly.
We do all we can to ensure the health and wellbeing of our staff. Following the flu and swine flu pandemics in 2009, and, given we are a business so focused on the winter, we started a programme of offering staff the flu jab and we cover all associated costs.
IT systems that fail can also have a detrimental effect on the performance of a business. For a company like ours, clearly IT downtime during our busy peak, winter period can cause real issues.
Everything in our business is systemised – the gritting jobs are sent down to PDAs, based on the weather reports. And, our operators rely on this information; it is all time-critical.
We do have a disaster recovery programme in place, but our IT suppliers accept the fact that if there is a system failure during this critical period, they need to be on hand to rectify this as soon as possible. There is only a finite amount of time to fix the problem. It is vital that our teams are out gritting and protecting our clients’ premises, when the weather dictates.
Growing the business has proved a real challenge. It’s about putting in place the right building blocks, and getting the right customers on board. At the end of the day, we’re no different to any other small business.
We have had to invest first to build and provide the services that we do today, but – I won’t deny – this has been a real challenge. We have had to create bespoke systems, and ensure that we undertake the right planning and preparation, which – at the end of the day – is about providing the best levels of service.