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Hot weather greets attendees at 15th Snow & Ice Symposium

Although the temperature hit 85 degrees in Buffalo on Wednesday, the conversation within the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center was as cold as ice.

Snow industry professionals, ranging from those involved in small businesses to large commercial corporations, descended on Buffalo for the 15th annual Snow & Ice Symposium. The event kicked off Wednesday with preconference workshops from 1 to 5 p.m. and a general membership meeting and "welcome bash" later in the evening.

The symposium, which was held in Buffalo twice before, in 2003 and 2008, runs through Saturday and includes a two-day trade show, speakers, educational sessions and networking events.

Martin B. Tirado, executive director of the Snow & Ice Association, said more than 1,000 people registered for the four-day event. Most of the attendees are from the United States and Canada, but some traveled from as far away as England and Denmark.

"You see the networking and camaraderie that contractors have when they get together," Tirado said.

Two preconference workshops -- "Sales & Marketing for the Snow Contractor" and "Budgeting & Estimating Workshop for Snow" -- were offered to attendees Wednesday.

"I'm impressed to no end at how many people are here," said J. Paul Lamarche, who led the budgeting and estimating workshop, to the several dozen people in attendance. "Here we are on the hottest day of the year. Holy cow."

Lamarche has been running JPL Consulting, which offers budget and estimating systems for retail and service trades, since 1984 and has authored eight books related to the snow and ice industry. He encouraged those in the room to focus on numbers to survive in a difficult economic time rather than trying to do too much.

"You can't do everything," he said.

But that doesn't mean the company shouldn't be profitable. In the Buffalo area, which Lamarche calls the "35 weeks of the year" region, snow and ice businesses should be making $1,000 in sales per day for every employee.

Brothers Dave and John Alexander, owners of D.A. Alexander & Company in Livonia, Mich., have been in the landscaping and snow-removal business for more than 30 years. But this is their first trip to the Snow & Ice Symposium.

The event will allow them to take a look at new snow technologies, such as plowing equipment and anti-icing chemical applicators, they said.

"It either qualifies that you're doing something well or you learn something new," Dave Alexander said.

And although Michigan is prone to "big snows" rather than the frequent pounding that Buffalo endures each winter, the snow-removal routine stays pretty consistent, the brothers said. But that doesn't make it any easier.

"There's a lot more to snow removal than people think," John Alexander said.