AT any given time, about 23% of the earth's surface is covered in snow.
And then came the winter of 2002-03.
For the residents of many parts of the Eastern Seaboard, there was never a time between mid-January and mid-March when snow didn't cover the ground.
In Rochester, New York, historically the snowiest large city in the US, total snowfall for the winter was 135"-35" above normal, the most in 25 years, and the seventh-highest total ever. Snow was on the ground for 105 days — 28 days more than normal and the fourth-most in 60 years.
In North Osceola, they had 319", boosted by 50" on the weekend of Jan 11-12 during a cold air-amplified, lake-effect blizzard from Lake Ontario.
The first snowfall in New York came early (Nov. 1) and the last came late (April 7).
Last winter was a monumental headache for many residents, but it was a dream come true for those who manufacture and distribute snow and ice control equipment.
A Trailer/Body Builders survey of 17 leading manufacturers showed that only one expected sales to decline from last year. Over half cited last year's heavy snowfall as the primary reason why they believe sales will increase this year.
The estimated sales increases for all equipment range from 3% to 50%. After experiencing an average decline of 4% in sales last season, those companies are forecasting an average increase of 17% this season. Those averages correlate very closely with the median figures (0% change last year from 2000-01, 15% increase this year).
“There is some pretty well-grounded history, and some trends from the past,” Warren's Joe Ezell says. “Anytime you have a lot of snowfall, the next year typically is one where distributors and dealerships who went through all of their old stock have to retool and get stock back on the ground. We're betting on it, so we're building more stock. We've increased stock by 25%.”
Root's Bill Root says that the customers whose budgets wouldn't allow them to buy equipment last year probably will have to buy it this year because of wear-and-tear issues.
Snowman's Lori Altheide concurs: “Snow removal is a service that has to be performed, regardless of the economy. People can hold onto their equipment, their capital investments, but if they get the snow events, they'll wear out their equipment and need more to get the job done.”
Says TruckCraft's Roy O'Neil, “We think everybody burned their stock last year.”
Sno-Way's Mike Stevens sees the flip side. He is forecasting a moderate sales increase, but only because the company is expanding its product line by adding three new tailgate spreaders.
“Last year, the general economic conditions were such that you had end users that were reticent to purchase something new,” he says. “They figured, ‘Well, one more year with this equipment, since I may not have a job next year.’ Dealers are still cautious this year. They are holding their money instead of putting it into seasonal products.”
Boss' Rick Robitaille is encouraged by increasing pickup truck sales and an economy that seems to be emerging from the doldrums.
“If the economy is positive and people are optimistic, that makes a big difference,” he says. “And I think people are optimistic right now — cautiously.”
Buyers Products' Brian Smith, whose company was able to show a sales gain last season because it added an SUV tailgate spreader, believes another good season is in store because the company was able to reduce the cost of producing its spreaders and therefore lower the price.
“Price always helps,” he says, “and it's the same quality product.”
Survey participants also were asked to describe the most important trend they face in their segment of the market. A sampling of the responses:
Robitaille: “Truck size. If gas tends to keep going up (in price), we think truck sizes will start going down. Class 1s could become more important than they are now.”
Ezell: “The technology associated with snow and ice control — the calcium chloride systems and ground-speed-oriented systems.”
Fisher's John Murphy: “Keeping up with vehicle manufacturers. They're turning their designs over much more frequently now than they ever used to. We had a GM mount that used to fit from the 1973 model year all the way to the 1987 model year. Since '88, we've had three different mounts. Keeping up with OEM changes — both structurally and electrical — is a challenge.”
Meyer's Ron Silvernail: “New-vehicle technology. In the old days, you could buy a Jeep and you didn't have to worry about the GVW. You put a plow on it.”
Best's Salvatore Lazzano: “Right now, everybody's going for quick and easy mounts. They want something quick to install and uninstall, assemble and disassemble. They're not going for durability. They're going for the easiest installation and takeoff.”