Ann Arbor's 'snowconomy' businesses excited to see snow falling
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
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Snowfall started just before noon on Wednesday afternoon in Ann Arbor, prompting expectations of up to half a foot of snow and weather-related profits at some of Ann Arbor’s winter-themed stores and businesses.
“We just called in extra staff this morning and we’re ready. We’re like snow farmers, we depend on the snow,” Sun & Snow co-owner Rob Parent said.
“We have kind of a slow period in the fall and early winter when it’s 45 degrees and raining, no one wants to be outdoors in that weather. But then the you get the first flurry and that carries us through March.”
Parent said that even though a lot of his business comes from people who travel to do their winter sports, just seeing snow outside can remind people to come into the store and get their gear.
“If there’s no snow, they’re not thinking about it,” he said.
“So the earlier in the year that first snow comes, the better. The past couple years haven’t been the best for that, but the three years before that were a blessing.”
Mark Foster, owner of A. M. Services, said the snow is a lifeline for some of his employees who only work when there’s plowing to be done.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty from some of them (about) when they’re next paycheck is going to come,” he said.
“So they watch the forecasts pretty closely and they’re hoping this really gets the winter going. They love going out and taking care of people and their driveways, but they need a little snow on the ground to do that.”
Robert Chase | Ann Arbor News
Now the challenge is making sure that when the snow actually comes there are people there to move it out of the way. With a number of students and regular employees on vacation, Foster is spending Wednesday closely watching the forecast and making sure he has enough people to cover all of his customers.
“More work goes into preparing than actually taking care of it when the time comes,” he said.
“But when we work a full event when there’s a good snow it’s about 60 people going out and about 30 snowplows.”
Foster has about a 50/50 mix of customers who pay by the season and customers who pay per snowfall. He said that every once in a while there’s a year with enough snowfalls that seasonal buyers come out on top, but that people paying per push tend to make up the difference.
“Having more snowfalls is always beneficial for us,” he said.
“Everything comes together nicely that way. For the most part there’s no such thing as too much snow. But there is certainly such thing as too little.”
Stadium Hardware co-owner Mike Kruzel said he needs a lot of snow to make a significant impact on his bottom line. Snowfalls always bring an increase in salt and shovel sales, but those tend to be offset by a drop in other products.
“It shuts down normal building and repair supplies pretty much,” he said.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Kruzel said the only time his business really spikes is if there’s a big disaster.
“A few years ago we had a big ice storm and people’s roofs were getting messed up, so we must have sold hundreds of roof rakes where we might have sold 20 in the 10 years before that,” he said.
“But that’s the exception and you can’t really predict that. It’s weather in Michigan.”
Foster also said predictions only go so far when he’s preparing for the season. In the midst of a storm he’ll be in constant contact with meteorologists in Chicago, but when it comes to broader predictions, he gets mixed messages.
“This year I’ve heard from very credible sources that we’re going to have a lot of snow, very little snow, and average snow,” he said. “It’s always a wait and see type of thing.”
Parent said he uses the Sun and Snow social media pages to let send out snow forecasts and remind their customers that it’s time to shop for their winter gear. The shop does 60 percent of its annual business in a three-month period during snow season.
“We normally have three people out on the sales floor, but on a day when there’s snow or people know that there’s going to be snow, we can have up to eight,” he said.
“This is exactly what we need.”