January 19, 2018

Like Uber, but for snowplowing

Roger Kisby / NEW YORK TIMES PHOTO

Roger Kisby / NEW YORK TIMES PHOTO

The New York Times

ALBANY, N.Y. — Snow piling up on sidewalks and driveways tends to elicit groans from the homeowners tasked with shoveling it, but it’s a welcome sight for James Albis.

“It’s like white gold on so many levels,” he said. “I get excited.”

Frustrated by his experiences with plowing companies and tired of clearing snow himself, Albis, who lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut, launched SnoHub in 2016. The on-demand service, which started downstate and in Connecticut, connects people in need of snow removal and contractors equipped with snowplows through an app.

More than 12,000 home-owners and 1,500 contractors have downloaded the app, and SnoHub has now expanded to Albany, Rochester, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and Providence, Rhode Island.

“It’s a whole new snow experience,” said Albis, a father of four. Albis’ resume includes working for the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics, forming various startups and teaching business classes at Westchester County Community College.

Customers enter their address, which appears in a map on the app, and select the services they want. Options include clearing front, back and side walkways, driveways and in front of garage doors. They’ll also put down salt on walkways or driveways. Customers can also order services for a relative or friend and input their address.

They are then given a price estimate based on the length of their driveway, inches of snow and salt services before requesting a snowplow driver. A driveway up to 100 feet in length with up to 6 inches of snow costs $59, with another $10 tacked on for every additional inch of snow. Thirty percent of the total for each job goes to SnoHub.

Residential snowplowing or removal costs an average $27.50 per hour in Albany, according to ProMatcher.com. For a typical driveway and sidewalk, it costs $46.89 per visit on average.

After putting in their request, customers are matched with a driver. They can see the driver’s location and estimated time of arrival on a map and can contact the driver through the app.

Drivers have to provide proof of insurance and a driver’s license and make it through a background check to become a contractor. They are responsible for equipment and can either use their own snowplow or rent snowplows through a company SnoHub is associated with.

Wait times are based on driver availability, routes, the number of customer requests and other factors. SnoHub can remove a ZIP code from service availability if they are over-requested. The app sends customers a notification every two hours asking if they’d like to continue waiting or cancel their request.

After a job is completed, customers get before and after photos of their driveway and can leave feedback for their contractors.

Albis said he worked with 10 plowing companies before deciding to develop SnoHub. Drivers arrived at random times, including in the wee hours of the morning, the pricing structure was unclear, many companies required paying with cash and sometimes drivers had to return, he said.

“It was convenient for them, but what about me, as a homeowner?” he said. “I wanted something more convenient, transparent and efficient.”

The company may expand to the Midwest and the West Coast, but for now Albis is focusing on attracting more homeowners and drivers and continuing to update the app. The notification feature alerting customers every two hours is a recent addition.

“We’re trying to put convenience in the palm of your hand,” he said. “It shifts the power back to the homeowner.”

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