SnoHub, an app for on-demand snow removal services, is arriving in Ann Arbor this winter after a successful season on the East Coast. The Uber-like service connects homeowners who need snow removed from their driveways to contractors with trucks, plows or even just shovels willing to clear snow during their free time.
SnoHub CEO James Albis, a Connecticut-native, said he came up with the idea for SnoHub after negative experiences dealing with snow removal, more particularly with snow removal services. While some homeowners shovel their own snow, others choose to hire a snow removal contractor who likely has equipment like snow blowers, winter service vehicles or plows to clear snow from driveways, roofs, sidewalks and decks. But Albis found some problems with the system, including a lack of reliability and transparency and the need to pay in cash or check.
“If you’re a homeowner, a new homeowner, an existing homeowner, you’ve got a lot of things to attend to, one of those being snow-clearing, particularly if you live in a Snowbelt city,” Albis said. “When it comes to this type of service, you’re relying on a workforce that isn’t pretty business-savvy. There’s no rhyme or reason to how or when they show up. So even when you have a contract with them, the level of transparency is zero.”
Albis designed SnoHub as a mobile technology solution to an inefficient industry, comparing it to services like Airbnb or Uber. The company first targeted individuals with trucks and plows to be contractors, and is now looking to expand testing in the Midwest. One of his goals was to make sure customers can rely on SnoHub to send the appropriate workers and equipment, from students with shovels to snow plow businesses with trucks.
“As a contractor, this is part of your onboarding process,” Albis said. “You delineate what type of worker you are. So whether you’re a snow plower, shoveler, snow blower, you just tick that off and you take photos of whatever types of equipment you have, upload that to our backend and we’ll approve. Customers can order and specify that they don’t want a snow plow guy ripping up their lawn.”
Business sophomore Garrett Wilson works for SnoHub as its digital media director. He said SnoHub is now trying to recruit more contractors to supplement the high demand of homeowners. In particular, SnoHub is looking for shovelers to attend to smaller driveways unable to handle the huge plows of winter snow vehicles.
“We noticed last year that a lot of driveways weren’t exactly fit for a pickup and a plow a lot of times,” Wilson told The Daily. “You know, smaller driveways or smaller houses, they’re more fit for just somebody with a shovel. And additionally, it provides another way for us to get contractors to get into the SnoHub ecosystem, people that maybe are interested in the concept but don’t exactly have a pickup and a plow on them. What we introduced this year is SnoHub Shoveling. So say you’re a student, a college student at Michigan, you can sign on to the app. It literally takes five minutes and then you can accept jobs the same way that other contractors do.”
Wilson emphasized how easy the app is to navigate, and how the contractor job can be a great part-time gig for military veterans, firefighters or college students with free time.
“You’ll sign on and you’ll get job notifications from all around,” Wilson said. “And you can just accept the job and walk to the house or you Uber or you Bird or whatever you do. All you do is snap a before picture, you shovel, you snap an after picture, you get out of there and you get paid in three days. So it’s just another way for us to get more contractors involved and to suit customers’ needs better.”
LSA and Business junior Jennifer Chen thought SnoHub was an innovative venture, but wondered about the sustainability of the business during summer months when snow would not be a problem for homeowners.
“What are you going to do when there’s no one else requesting the service?” she asked.
Albis addressed a similar concern of sustainability, saying he intends to use the SnoHub platform to start other similar ventures.
“I have a pickup truck, but the utilization of the bed of that pickup truck is zero in the spring and the summer,” Albis said. “So we can use that, whether it’s to move a piece of artwork, move a piece of furniture across town, by using the same technical stack that we have right now for our app in the spring and the summer.”
Chen thought college students might find SnoHub attractive, especially as home renters. She pointed out how some students already use similar apps for other day-to-day services.
“College students are busy and they don’t want to do it themselves, or they might not know the resources on how to get snow removed efficiently,” Chen said. “So maybe asking for the Uber-like service might be really helpful. And there’s already a lot of services that do laundry for them. I think college students are more interested in getting other people to do the work for them.”
On the other hand, Chen was unsure about whether or not the students she knew would want to work as contractors.
“I think there might be some interest but it would be a very minimal amount,” she said. “Because we’re also college students, we’re very busy. And there might be some liability involved, like, we’re also college students, we don’t want to obviously get hurt. And it’s a very time-consuming business … So I think it might be difficult to fit into a student’s schedule.”
Wilson, however, sees SnoHub and the contractor job as perfect for college students needing extra spending money, and who want to get involved in the gig economy.
Albis echoed Wilson, highlighting the increase in gig jobs and contractors in industries. For the snow removal business, he saw an opportunity for job creation for many to work in a field that doesn’t require a great amount of skill.