For meteorologists, scientists, weathermen like Jim Cantore and millions of others, this winter has been absolutely dreadful. And, although spring is on the horizon, much of the country is still covered in snow. In fact, the nation’s 21st winter storm – Ulysses – just wrapped up this past weekend in North Carolina and southwest Virginia.
When it comes to the impact weather has on businesses, most industries, including retail, manufacturing, construction and auto, recognize the ebb and flow of weather as a significant part of their plans. For retailers, weather forecasting models can impact everything from merchandising decisions to shipping and receiving, and even sales and staffing.
Looking back on the past few months, it’s evident the 2013-14 winter season has been a serious thorn in the side for the nation’s largest industries. In the Federal Reserve’s recently-released “Beige Book,” a summary of commentary on current economic conditions, “weather” was mentioned 119 separate times to describe November and December alone.
Just how severe was this winter?
- Ohio had used almost a million tons of salt for its roadways as of late February, compared with 630,000 tons used on average each winter
- Erie, Pa., became America’s snowiest city with a population over 100,000, recording a whopping 123.9 inches of snow
- According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, December and January averaged over the contiguous 48 states were the third-coldest months in the last 30 years
- As of January 31, there were 1,073 different snowfall records set across the country at various times
- The meteorological winter, beginning December 1 and ending March 1, marked Chicago’s coldest winter in 30 years.
As for the latest results from retail, industry sales in January fell 0.4 percent from December 2013, according to the Department of Commerce, led by a drop in auto sales and in categories like clothing, furniture stores and restaurants, sectors largely depending on foot traffic. Seasonal hiring in February showed retailers took a more cautious approach to staffing their stores during the brutally cold month.
But for some retailers it hasn’t all been bad news:
- Ace Hardware has reported it is having its best winter in more than a decade thanks to increased sales of snowblowers and shovels;
- Maine-based retailer L.L.Bean has sold out of its famous waterproof boots
- Sales for company Delivery.com are up 30 percent compared with last year as more people looked for ways to get their laundry, dry-cleaning and grocery shopping done without leaving home
- Carmex, maker of their namesake cult-favorite lip balm, says its sales are up 9 percent over the past eight to 10 weeks
- Pawz Dog Boots, which makes fun, colorful booties for dogs that protect them from salt and snow, says sales have more than doubled.
Looking ahead, it’s too soon to say if NRF’s outlook for 2014 needs to be adjusted based on recent sales reports; the impact from the severe weather could have just been a blip on the radar, so to speak. When the ground finally thaws and consumers can start enjoying spring-like weather, we will re-evaluate consumer spending. Until then, we can only hope that winter is done having its fun with us.