The first major snowstorm of the season hit the northeast, bringing with it traffic delays, school closings, and snow removal blues. For business owners, snow days can have a devastating impact on their business, depending on your industry (if you run a ski lodge or have a snow removal business, you’re probably ecstatic right now). If you own a business where winter storms mess with the natural flow of things, what can you do to make the most of a bad situation? Take a lesson from your local mail carrier.
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
Those words, which appear above the New York City Post Office on 8th Avenue, are mistakenly thought to be the Postal “Motto.” They’re actually from Book 8, Paragraph 98 of the Persian Wars by Herodotus, yet the well personify the dedication of mail carriers to completing their assigned routes and making sure we get our mail. Basically, for a postal carrier, weather is no problem. What does all this have to do with your business? Something Rafael Diaz, a manager with whom I worked and admired for his no-nonsense, real-life business sense, related always stuck with me. He said his father told him ‘If you’re not willing to do what a postman does, you can’t expect to earn what he does either.’ According to payscale.com, a postal carrier earns $35,000 – $60,000 (approximately). Therefore, if you want to earn at least that much, you must put in at least the same level of work – which means getting down to business when the weather outside is frightful.
Here’s the bottom line: You can’t let snow (or rain, heat, and gloom of night) slow you down. However, although you still have to work hard, nothing says you can’t work smart at the same time.
Making the Most of Bad Weather
How you handle bad weather has a lot to do with your industry. For some people, they have to be out in the cold. What can help in that situation?
When You HAVE to Go Out
First, make sure your attitude is correct. I remember an interview T.J. Hoisington conducted with Hap Klopp, the founder of The North Face Company, and their CEO for some 20 years. He quoted a Swedish saying that’s so appropriate: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.” Instead of hating the weather (which is pointless since your feelings won’t change a thing) dress for it. Invest in clothing that will keep you as warm as possible. Then focus on the positives. If you don’t like the weather, it’s a good bet anyone else that has to be out in it feels the same. That means you’ll likely have less competition, or competitors with a bad attitude. Either way, that makes you a breath of fresh air when you call on customers and prospects. When doing outside sales some years ago, I visited a business in a rainstorm that had so much wind the rain was almost hitting you horizontally. When I walked through the door the owner looked up and, with an amazed look on his face, asked “what are you doing out in this weather?!” I smiled at him and said, “Why, I came here looking for you!” It was true; I was happy to find anyone on a day like that because there were fewer customers in the store and fewer salesmen vying for the owner’s attention. It was a great opportunity to sit, talk, and build rapport. And yes, I did make the sale.
Additionally, look at your options. Even if you’re in a blue-collar industry like plumbing, electrical, and the like, you may be able to put off certain calls for another day and devote the coldest days for paperwork (come on, you know you put that stuff off for as long as possible). You can also use the time for connecting with customers. A few phone calls go a long way towards building relationships and may yield unexpected results in the forms of referral business. Whether or not you net any leads, however, time spent connecting with customers is time well spent, so use days with difficult weather conditions wisely by extending that personal touch.
When Work Keeps You In
Some businesses don’t require that you leave a building. In those cases, customers come to you, or you provide services within a confined space. Weather may not slow you down personally apart from traveling to the physical location. Nevertheless, it may have an effect on your business. For example, this article by Jonathan Graham appearing on the Boston Herald website shows how cold weather affected auto sales across the nation in December 2013. Dealing with customer patterns in cold weather is tricky. Here are some suggestions on bringing in new business during the cold.
In an article on attracting customers in January, the folks at Myron.com went back to tried and true methods: Sales & Promotions. They suggest the following:
- Turn returns into chances to offer promotional giveaways
- Use sales and incentives to boost customer traffic
All of the above has the added benefit of boosting brand awareness according to the article. Underlying everything is the idea of turning a normal activity (returning unwanted holiday gifts) into an opportunity to interact with customers in a more meaningful way. If we extend the concept further, you can take a normal desire (in this case returning gifts, but it works equally well for things like keeping warm and well fed) and use it to offset the reluctance to venture out. Granted, you should never encourage unsafe activity. However, if a person is bordering on the line of whether or not to satisfy a desire or simply wait-it-out, you can tip the scales in your favor.
Timing and an understanding of your target market is also important. For example, you would expect stores selling things like ice-melt, heaters, and shovels (your local hardware store for example) would do well when snow and inclement winter weather hits. In fact, most do as many reports indicate. However, sometimes there’s a delayed effect. This article by Alexa Block shows that in Rapid City, SD, the rush on winter supplies usually takes place a few days after the bad weather hits. Under those circumstances hardware stores need to plan accordingly and not be surprised at the delayed reaction to the cold. Knowing this allows an owner to use the initial days of a winter cold front to build anticipation for the coming rush, perhaps even speeding things up. Here is where a good social media presence, email list, and possibly a custom mobile app will come in handy (see my Twitter and B.O.B. Facebook pages for help with the first two, and contact me for info about mobile apps).
We can’t control the weather, but we can control what we do about it. With a little planning, you can make the most of winter weather conditions and keep your business going strong – even on snow days.
What are some of your winter weather business tips? How do you manage to keep productive during inclement weather? Share your thoughts in the Comments below and help your fellow professionals accomplish more (and learn from their experiences as well)!
- Suggested Snow Day Policy for Small Businesses (chron.com)