Mild winter hurts some U.S. small businesses
Many were forced to rethink their coldweather strategies.
The recent big snowstorm in the Midwest and East last week was a respite for some U.S. small business owners, after a generally mild winter that has nipped into the revenue of many companies and forced them to rethink their cold-weather strategies.
Retailers who sell winter clothing or snow shovels have had fewer customers this season. Plumbers who expected to fix frozen pipes have had less work, and people who make money removing snow have had idle equipment. On the flip side, better weather means more business for companies that cater to people who want to be outdoors.
The period from December through February was the sixth-warmest winter on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. government agency that compiles statistics about the weather. The average January temperature in the lower 48 states, which excludes Alaska and Hawaii, was 33.6 degrees. That’s a few degrees above the 20th century average. And February was downright hot in some places — nearly 12,000 local warm records were set or tied, including a 99-degree reading in Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, snow was sparse in many places. Chicago, which has often had 1 foot or more in February, was virtually snowless last month. The temperate weather meant dog owners didn’t need warm coats and protective booties for their pooches. Hope Saidel, co-owner of the retailer Golly Gear in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, had half the normal amount of sales during January.
“When we heard the 10-day forecast was going to be up in the 60s, we thought, this is not going to be good,” Saidel said. “It was devastating.”
Saidel quickly changed her strategy to focus on warm-weather items like leashes, harnesses and bicycle baskets that can carry small dogs, and moved the coats and booties away from the front of the store. That helped salvage the season.
The warmer weather saved homeowners from frozen and burst pipes, but their good fortune has curtailed business for Ted Puzio’s plumbing and electrical company in Roanoke, Virginia. The average low temperature in the area this winter has been several degrees above normal, according to the government figures. Southern Trust Home Services, whose business is entirely residential, also isn’t getting as many service calls as usual for heating system repairs.
Puzio’s overall business is growing, but he notices the shortfall from the plumbing side of the company.
“We’re not getting the bump-up we typically do,” Puzio says.
Atlantic Westchester, a Bedford Hills, New Yorkbased company that services commercial heating and air conditioning systems, makes more money when it’s colder and heating systems have to work harder. But this has been the second mild winter in a row, and President Bud Hammer estimates revenue is down 15 percent from a typical season.
To make back some revenue, the company has sought work at buildings that hadn’t maintained their heating systems during and after the recession that began nearly a decade ago.
Hope Saidel, co-owner of Golly Gear, an accessories store for small dogs, and her dog Teddy take a break recently at her store in Skokie, Ill. The Chicago area’s temperate temperatures during the winter meant dog owners didn’t need warm coats and protective booties for their pooches.