Back-to-back storms have made it a tough winter for Snowlift LLC in Freeport, which clears snow at malls and airports, said vice president Joseph Ferrucci, 37. Eight hours before a forecast storm, Snowlift summons hundreds of seasonal workers to drive its plows and manage equipment at Kennedy, LaGuardia, Republic, Newark, Teterboro, Logan and O'Hare airports. Because airport space is at a premium, there is nowhere to store snow, so his fleet of snowmelters melts it away. During storms, the crew doesn't leave, lodging in trailers at the airports.
The Ferrucci family got into the snow business in the 1970s when Joseph's father, Michael, had a construction equipment repair business and also worked for Snowlift as a driver clearing at airports. Michael bought the company in 2009, and Joseph began working there as a teenager and joined the business full-time after graduating from Hofstra University.
What's this year been like for you?
The proximity of the storms is actually very tough because by the time you finish up, everybody is exhausted and they want a break. Especially with the part-time, seasonal people -- they have made some money and they're tired, so the next storm they say, "Oh well, I'll see if I can come in or not." It becomes harder to pool [staff].
What's the hardest storm you've weathered?
The blizzard the day after Christmas in 2010. It was tough to get people in. They shut the roads. The forecast was a little bit off. People came in that Sunday, and nobody went home until the night of New Year's Eve.
Your business is so dependent on the weather. How do you create pricing plans that keep you out of the red?
We have a pricing structure where we get a minimal base. It's not much, but in the event no snow falls, it provides a little revenue. It's obviously not enough, and that year would not be a success, but we figure our pricing over an average of five to 10 years. One year you might have three inches, the next you can have 30. We found that the five- to 10-year average for New York is 25 inches, so we base everything on that.
After 9/11 was it harder to staff airports?
Security measures are understandably a lot stricter, so the process of getting people vetted and fingerprinted and ID'd definitely takes a lot longer than it used to. At Kennedy alone, when it snows for full call-out, we can have 500 to 600 people come. That's why we start the process early in the summer.
Any advice to people who want to get into a snow business?
You have to be in it for the long haul. We see people who will buy a plow when it snows heavy one year, and then next year it doesn't snow and they're looking to sell their truck. You can't be in it for one year or two years. There is no quick fix when it comes to snow; it's hard work. You're dealing with equipment and people in the worst of conditions when nobody else wants to be out there.
NAME: Joseph Ferrucci, vice president, Snowlift LLC of Freeport
WHAT IT DOES: Clearing and melting snow at airports and malls;
vehicle leasing and maintenance
EMPLOYEES: 45 full time, 25 on Long Island; 1,000 part time, 400 on Long Island
REVENUE: $5 million to $10 million
An earlier version of the Corporate Snapshot incorrectly listed Michael Ferrucci as vice president. He is president of Snowlift LLC.