While snow-weary Ontarians are ready to rest their shovels, Red Deer’s Larry Cunningham is hoping for a few more big dumps.
Cunningham owns Snow Removal Systems Canada Inc. and operates three snow melting machines designed to take tonnes of gravel-laced snow plowed off streets and parking lots and turn it into water that can be dumped into local sewers. The gravel is left and can be dumped out of the melter when done.
After seeing the huge snowstorms pummel southern Ontario recently, Cunningham said he took a gamble, loaded up one of his $400,000 machines and headed east.
Unfortunately, he got to the London area a little too late to swing into full action. But he did manage to melt for a day with the City of London and he got a lot of valuable media exposure.
The reaction was encouraging enough that he left his machine out in Barrie, Ont., so he is ready to go when the next storm hits.
Cunningham got into the snow melting business in the fall of 2009 after selling an oilfield pumping heating business. A petroleum engineering technician with 35 years in the oil industry, he was attracted to snow melting technology because it was similar to his own area of expertise.
He invested in Bellingham, Wash.-based Snow Removal Systems Inc. and has built three machines, two of which are based in Red Deer. They can handle 100 tonnes of snow an hour.
The weather wasn’t kind for the snow removal business last year with little snow in Western of Central Canada.
He’s now waiting for more snow this year.
He has a contract with the Calgary airport and some industrial sites in that city.
Locally, he has businesses interested in using the technology rather than having their yards full of plows and dump trucks. The Town of Cochrane has also expressed interest.
“We’re still waiting for snow. We’ve got a little bit now, but it’s still not enough.”
Experience has shown that the best business approach is to offer snow melting services rather than trying to sell the machines.
“Last winter, we were only set up to sell the units. And that doesn’t happen in an emergency. Nobody wants to buy something long term.”
But by becoming a service provider, he can offer a rapid response to snow problems.
He has toured a few states in the U.S. last spring to show off the technology. He has also recently been talking to someone who provides equipment for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is in charge of responding to major disasters.
Cunningham is optimistic with the direction his company is going. He has two Red Deer employees and a partner in Ontario.
London provided valuable lessons and he gained contacts in Ontario and the machine in Barrie is parked at a dealership through which the units can be sold. He left a pickup truck and his work clothes out there as well.
“If we see a major snow storm, I’m not even going to wait for somebody to call me. Basically, I found if you can be there, you can get work.”