Mild win­ter hurts some U.S. small busi­nesses

Many were forced to re­think their cold­weather strate­gies.

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS -

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.

NAM Y. HUH / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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