PEKIN -- For most people in central Illinois, this winter has been a miserably cold and snowy experience, but for the young owner of one Pekin landscaping business, this winter has been a dream come true.
Mitchell O'Shaughnessy turned 21 years old Feb. 25, and his business, Dreamscapes Landscaping, turned 5, and for the past few months Mother Nature has been gifting O'Shaughnessy inch after inch of snow. What is to most people an inconvenience at best and a danger at worst is to somebody with O'Shaughnessy's enterprising spirit a gold mine. Though it has not been easy money, by any means.
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"It's been crazy," O'Shaughnessy said. "I haven't had a normal sleep pattern in months because we've had so much snow."
It came at just the right time, too.
Snow removal typically serves as an extra source of income for Dreamscapes that allows O'Shaughnessy to keep his employees working and earning income during the landscaping offseason. He said that because he can never count on snow to fall, he does not budget to receive any snow removal income annually. And for the past two winters, the small amount of snowfall has provided very little income.
This winter, though, Dreamscapes' 130 snow removal accounts have injected a lot of income, which will allow O'Shaughnessy to expand his operations.
"The last two years there was nothing. Fortunately, I hadn't invested too much in the equipment, yet. My overhead was low enough that we were OK with just a couple snows," O'Shaughnessy said. "The nice thing about those years was we were able to plan and be farther ahead, ready for spring quicker. This time two years ago I was ready for spring. The mowers were tuned up, the machinery was ready, tools were sharpened. We're not ready this year. We're not ready yet. We are behind, but it's a good thing because we've done so much snow removal. We've been plowing it seems like every day."
The snow was needed, too, because O'Shaughnessy invested heavily in a brand-new pickup truck and a Bobcat in the fall of 2013.
O'Shaughnessy said his old pickup trucks would not have survived this winter -- and all the efforts it has demanded of him and his small crew. And while he was worried about investing in the new equipment, the risk has paid off big-time as his profits would have been cut massively had he needed to rent a Bobcat for the winter. His monthly payment on the machine is basically equal to the cost of renting one for a few days.
"It was a good gamble. It was great. I'm happy with the choice," O'Shaughnessy said.
The constant snow removal this winter has allowed O'Shaughnessy not only to get ahead on the truck payments, but it will also allow him to offer retail products at his shop at 425 Ann Eliza St., Pekin, which he bought three years ago. He will also be able to make an up-front investment to bring in bulk inventory of stone and mulch for the summer, which is preferable to having to find those things as needed throughout the landscaping season.
O'Shaughnessy has a dedicated five-man crew and a list of people he can call in if needed. His crew can clear their 130 accounts in 20 hours after a 3-inch snowstorm.
The winter has been a grind, though. What most people do not see is that snowstorms turn the nights into races against time to clear all of his lots before businesses open at 8 a.m. Even as the snow melts, O'Shaughnessy is up nights monitoring to see if the melted snow refreezes and requires salt. And for the couple of months leading up to winter, he scouts out his accounts to plan how best to clear snow when the time comes, to note the location of storm drains and to document any pre-existing damage to curbs.
This year, it has all been more than worth it, despite weeks in which O'Shaughnessy has logged 135 hours -- working for himself and for a friend who needed help clearing piled snow from several bank parking lots in the region.
At 21, O'Shaughnessy is at an age where he can function while running on energy drinks and pre-packaged brownies, driven by ambition for the company he started as a junior at Pekin Community High School, where he studied horticulture and landscaping design while clearing snow at night.
Forecasts released Feb. 25 by Accuweather.com show that winter weather will likely last well into March, which means that O'Shaughnessy's winter of profit may last a little longer.