The apps that brought snowplowing service to driveways at the press of a button can now bring relief from another back-taxing chore — leaf raking.
Many consumers wanting a quick response to an immediate need have moved from the Yellow Pages to internet searches and onto apps. In the Twin Cities region, they are just starting to see competition among app-based services that offer snow removal, lawn mowing and leaf raking. Like ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, the yard-service app firms rely on local contractors to do the work.
Kathryn Hubert spent a couple of hours raking leaves last weekend in her heavily wooded 1.5-acre lot in Plymouth. Realizing that she and husband were buried with little time to rake and bag, Hubert searched online and called three companies but didn’t get any responses. She then tried the Plowz & Mowz app on her smartphone.
On Monday while she was at work, the contractor bagged and removed the leaves and e-mailed pictures once the job was complete. “I was thrilled to have this managed by pushing a few buttons and it’s done,” she said.
“We just moved from the West Coast, where our yard had sand, rocks, drought-tolerant plants and one tree,” she said. “I spent the weekend in a panic. We don’t want to be the new neighbors who don’t clean up their leaves.”
Syracuse, N.Y.-based Plowz & Mowz offers the services in 30 cities around the U.S. “The majority of our Twin Cities business is lawn mowing, but people use us for snowplowing and now leaf removal too,” said co-founder Wills Mahoney. The service does well in upper-middle-class markets where residents are familiar with Uber, he said.
Eden Lawn and Snow, based in Toronto, will launch its app for Twin Cities snow removal service on Nov. 1. It will add lawn mowing and raking services next year. “We’ll plow your driveway, but we can also do sidewalks and steps,” said Ben Zlotnick, chief executive of Eden.
Plowz & Mowz only does driveways but plans to add sidewalks and steps next year.
Devin Stohlberg of Northland Lawn Service in Plymouth said his business is up nearly 40 percent since he became a contractor with Plowz & Mowz.
He’s taken two dozen calls for leaf raking in the past two weeks for jobs that range from $80 to $200. “Now that most of the leaves have fallen, my phone rings all day long,” he said.
Stohlberg, like all contractors working with the apps, installed the app on his phone. He gets an alert when someone in his preselected job area of 5, 10, or 30 miles requests a job. The request goes out to all the contractors who signed up in the area. The first one to click the job gets it. “Sometimes it only takes seconds before a job is gone,” he said. “It helps to get up early in the morning.”
His take ranges from 70 to 90 percent of the amount charged to the customer. The job is billed as soon as the service is completed. Contractors receive a direct deposit of funds within two days.
Critics have wondered if the app service is taking away business from providers not affiliated with the app, but Stohlberg doesn’t think so. “I have a lot of regular customers who will never use an app,” he said. “And a lot of landscaping companies don’t mow lawns or rake leaves.”
It may cause some consumers to second-guess their snow removal contracts. A Minneapolis customer pays about $150 to $200 a month November through March for snow removal on a double-wide driveway, sidewalks and steps, according to Charlie Britt, owner of the Grounds Crew in Savage.
“In two years we haven’t seen any effect from the apps yet,” he said. “We think we can service the customer more quickly and efficiently with a regular predetermined route.”
Plowz & Mowz has about 375 landscape companies signed up but declined to say how many customers have used its service. All contractors have at least $1 million in general liability insurance and are required to have professional-grade equipment. Customers and contractors rate each other, similar to Uber.
Eden has signed up 100 local contractors for snow removal. It plans to serve the entire metro area as well as Chicago, Milwaukee, Boston and Philadelphia this fall. “We’re ready for the first snowfall,” Zlotnick said.
The app biz, though only a few years old, is already expanding and tweaking services to augment its base. Eden will brush snow off vehicles. Plowz plans to add shrub trimming and removal. Both are beginning to offer compostable leaf bags in cities that require them.
“If there’s money to be made in it, we’ll consider it,” Mahoney said.