Southlane Corp Plows Ahead With Snow-Control Equipment, Materials

SALES of snow-control equipment and deicing materials enabled a company that started out in landscaping to expand into a year-round business.

"We have two seasonal catalogs," says Bob Chism, sales representative for Southlane Corporation near Detroit in Madison Heights, Michigan. "We print 10,000 in the summer and 10,000 in the winter."

Southlane sells a complete package for snow control in the winter and landscaping and lawn care in the summer, Chism says. In the winter, Southlane may sell to a single customer truck-mounted snowplows, material spreaders, and deicing materials. In the summer, the same customer often purchases lawn care products, weed whips, and riding lawnmowers.

A complete package sale includes a maintenance program for the products and equipment purchased by a customer, Chism says. Southlane will perform routine maintenance on a customer's equipment and make repairs as specified in a service contract.

The GM Technical Center purchases a maintenance program and equipment for use year-round at its one-mile-square campus in Warren, Michigan, Chism says. GM pays Southlane $900 per year to service its equipment including snowplows and mowing machines. Most of the service contracts are for at least 24 months.

"Service contracts substantially enhance the dollar value of our sales," Chism says.

Maintaining Large Customers Every two years, Southlane sells 14 mowing machines to the GM Tech Center, one of its largest customers. In the winter, the Tech Center uses more bulk salt than the City of Warren, one of the largest cities in the state.

"What sets Southlane apart from other landscaping companies is that we take care of our customers' summer and winter equipment needs," Chism says. "We have a smooth business transition from winter into summer and summer into winter."

Some of the company's largest customers in metropolitan Detroit include Ford World Headquarters, the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, Chrysler headquarters, and the five campuses of Oakland Community College.

Southlane has 750 smaller customers it sees on a regular basis. Most are either municipalities, colleges, or hospitals. They are located primarily in five counties in southeastern Michigan and are visited by three salesman.

"About 95% of our business is sold outside of our showroom in Madison Heights," Chism says.

Most of Southlane's $6 million to $7 million annual sales are of deicing materials such as bulk salt used to melt ice in parking lots, Chism says. Last winter, southeastern Michigan received 67 inches of snow, which is about 20 inches more than normal.

"Every time we have a heavy snowfall, it's like white gold falling," Chism says.

Heavy Winter Snowfalls Because of last winter's heavy snowfalls, Southlane sold 175 semitrailer loads of road salt. Along with the deicing materials, large customers such as hospitals purchase snowplows, tailgate material spreaders, dump bodies, and other snow-removal equipment.

"Hospitals stay open 24 hours a day, whether it is snowing or not," Chism says. "They need snow removed immediately and must have their own snow-control equipment."

Most of the equipment Southlane sells is installed in three bays at its headquarters and in two bays at its warehouse. Dump bodies and larger snow-control equipment are installed on one-ton chassis by Scherer Truck Equipment Inc in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

Pickup truck snowplows sold by Southlane are made by Boss Products in Iron Mountain, Michigan, and Sno-Way International Inc in Hartford, Wisconsin. Customers have a choice of either a straight or V-plow offered by both companies. Each winter, Southlane sells 300 to 400 snowplows.

The company is a parts distributor for snowplows and spreaders manufactured by Western, Meyer, Fisher, Northman, and Monroe. At its office and showroom in Madison Heights, Southlane has a parts counter for snow-control and lawn care equipment.

TrynEx Material Spreaders Southlane is one of the largest distributors of snow-control equipment made by TrynEx International in Royal Oak, Michigan. TrynEx makes tailgate material spreaders and a truck-mounted broom for light snow removal.

TrynEx and Southlane have a related history. Chuck Truan, TrynEx president, started Southlane 21 years ago and sold the landscaping and equipment supply company in August 1996.

The SweepEx modular broom is one TrynEx product Southlane sells for snow control. The broom is available in 48- to 96-inch widths and attaches to most snowplow hitches on pickup trucks.

"The SweepEx is ideal for light snow removal," Chism says.

Besides the SweepEx, other TrynEx products Southlane carries are SnowEx material spreaders for pickup trucks. Each winter, Southlane sells about 250 tailgate material spreaders.

The SnowEx Mini Pro 575 tailgate spreader has a steel frame that fits into a receiver hitch on a pickup truck or a sport utility vehicle. The Mini Pro 575 can carry almost six cubic feet or 350 lb of deicing materials and spread its load up to 40 feet.

The TrynEx Pivot Pro 1075 has a capacity of almost 11 cubic feet and a frame that mounts on the rear of the truck bed. The frame pivots on one side so the tailgate can be opened.

The TrynEx hopper-style spreaders have heavy-duty, direct-drive, 12-volt DC motors in weather-tight enclosures. The motors have an 8:1 gear ratio for more torque. The round 10-inch diameter spinners powered by the motors are made of a lightweight polymer.

Hi-Way Material Spreaders Southlane sells and installs larger truck-mounted spreaders for snow-control materials such as sand, salt, and granular calcium chloride. The eight-foot spreaders fit into the bed of a pickup truck. A larger model is designed to fit into a dump truck or it can be chained to a platform body.

These spreaders have capacities over 15 cubic yards and are made of 10- and 12-gauge steel or stainless steel by Highway Equipment Company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In the bed of the Hi-Way spreaders, a 16 1/2-inch wide hardened-chain conveyor is powered by an 8.5-hp gasoline engine.

The chain conveyor moves deicing material through an adjustable gate at the rear where it drops onto a spinner assembly that throws it up to 40 feet. An electric clutch engages and disengages the spinner and conveyor using an electric switch inside the truck cab.

Southlane offers its customers a comprehensive equipment package to match the season, Chism says. This business approach has brought a dramatic increase in sales.

Increasing Equipment Sales In 1989, equipment sales were $175,000, Chism says. In 1996, Southlane's sales of equipment, parts, and service totaled $5 million. Sales of snow-control materials and summer products such as bulk fertilizers were another $2 million in 1996.

In the past few years, the company's snow control business has increased to become 15% better than its summer business, Chism says. In addition to its larger customers, Southlane is now selling snow control equipment to 15 truck dealers in the Detroit metropolitan area.

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