In order to make green in the Green Industry, both dealers and landscape contractors alike depend on the weather. The problem with that is that the weather is never dependable.
The typically unpredictable weather has proven to be even more so this year, with light snowfalls, an early spring, out-of-season tornadoes and extreme droughts. As dealers adjust to changes in workloads with every forecast, some are seeing an increase in sales and service while others hang tight trying to keep staff busy.
There was heavy snowfall late in the season in Oregon, but it was a very different story on the East Coast, with very light snowfall throughout the season. For Joe Busalachi at Buffalo Small Engine Repair in Buffalo, NY, snowthrower service was down 50%. As a result, he has a lot of parts still sitting in stock and was forced to lay off a part-time employee.
"The workload was definitely light. We had our regulars that came in, but after that there was nothing," says Busalachi. "We sat around for two or three months cleaning and organizing."
To drum up business, Busalachi sent flyers and posted a coupon on their website. Despite their efforts, without snow to clear, they still only saw the regular customers who came in for annual maintenance.
Early spring and tornadoes
As the snowthrower sales remained slow, they made way for an early spring that brought tornadoes, as well as equipment sales and service. Record-high temperatures were experienced throughout March in many areas of the U.S. The signs of spring triggered equipment maintenance and sales as consumers readied for the season ahead.
"The only nice thing that came from the lack of snow was that spring came early," says Busalachi. "Lawnmowers came in for repair and helped offset the bad winter we had."
Tornadoes also hit earlier in the year than normal, with fall being the typical tornado season. Many dealers saw an increase in chainsaw repairs as volunteers and municipalities came in to clear debris from storms that hit Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Kansas.
"The counties and state highways came in to do a lot of the work," says Sandy Nunn of Ray's Lawn & Garden in Sellersburg, IN. "We sold a few chainsaws and had a couple volunteers that came in to buy chainsaw supplies, but it wasn’t what we thought it would be. There was so much help from volunteers to get it done that we never saw a rush."
Sales of equipment didn’t meet some dealer and manufacturer expectations. Nunn's supplier set her up with a shipment of chainsaws that they took back at the end of the weather event. As homeowners dealt with the destruction, cleanup wasn't a thought in their minds.
"With the tornado we expected to get a big influx of chainsaw and generator sales and we didn’t have that," Nunn shares. "It was so devastating that going out and cutting a tree was the least of peoples' worries."
Sales run dry
Following the mild winter and early spring, many areas were hit by extreme droughts. As the drought took over, sales slumped once more. While the dry weather was good for contractors working in irrigation, equipment used for maintenance got little use, leading to a lack of new equipment purchases.
"Our local economy is tied to Lake Lanier in an emotional way," says Jeremy Elliot, with Georgia Outdoor Equipment and Garden Center in Oakwood, GA. "When people see the lake is down as low as it is, their hopes and outlook are squashed. When the lake is up at full pool, they are more apt to spend money."
Dealers in areas that are hit year after year by drought conditions have adjusted their orders accordingly. A few less units at the start of the year can mean less to store at the season's end.
"The drought has affected our sales big time in the last three or four years. We have learned to order lighter from our suppliers," says Dick Wulf, front-end manager of sales at Georgia Lawn Equipment with locations in Newnan and Griffin, GA, where they have seen some rain this year. "Sales this year are ahead so far over the past two years."
While equipment sales remain slow for most in the drought-stricken areas, service departments are still seeing regular maintenance and minor repairs. The only upside is the lack of urgency from customers who have to deal with shop delays.
"The service department has remained busy and we are far behind. People still bring stuff in for service but they aren’t treating it urgently," explains Geneene Bremer, assistant manager at Hoyer Outdoor Equipment in Brookport, IL. "We appreciate the breather from them in the service department, but unfortunately it doesn’t help the cash flow any."
Florida has seen some relief as Tropical Storm Debby soaked much of the state over a week in late June. While the northern part of the state saw extreme amounts of moisture, the southern part of the state was hit by multiple tornadoes. Like much of the weather, dealers will have to wait and see how sales and service will be impacted once the moisture fades away and a possible early fall hits.