If you put any faith in long-range predictions, the coming winter in the northeast will bring record-breaking, bone-cold temperatures and above average mountains of snow. For some businesses — ski resorts, snow plows, ice skating rinks — that’s cause for celebration.
But if you work in an industry that depends on favorable weather for winter work — construction, contracting, landscaping, to name a few — you might presume the impending winter is a time to fold up shop, say goodbye to any serious revenue, and think about a southern strategy or a nice long tropical vacation.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Business experts and company executives in organizations that generally operate outdoors say there are a number of strategies and initiatives you can take to gird against falling seasonal revenue.
Boiling down those strategies ultimately leads to two words: “planning” and “balance.”
“Winter in New England happens and there’s nothing you can do about it,” says Keith Shaw, chief operations officer for Delphi. “But, business-wise, a good winter is really established by good planning in the spring before.”
For large construction companies like Delphi, technology has eased much of the financial burden that winter can bring. Firms can invest in big ground cutters — giant saws that cut through frozen earth — concrete that can be poured in cold weather, special hydronic units to preheat rebar and other frost-resistant material.
“The technology in concrete alone is amazing,” says Delphi vice president, Joe Mastromatteo. “But that’s just one of the tools for attacking the winter. When that weather hits, you need a program in place to deal with controlling the atmosphere, minimizing fuel costs, having the right equipment in place, and the right sub-contractors ready to go. Those are the things that are going to help reduce winter down times.”
Mastromatteo says last winter Delphi used a propane heating system to keep the work environment warm that was adequate, but costly. For the coming year, it has switched to a modern electrical heating system it expects to work just as well and cost less.
“I’ll let you know in a few months how it works, but right now we think we’re going to be saving 20 percent to 30 percent of our winter condition costs,” he said.
With all that advance planning, as well as balancing outside work with interior building and rehab, Delphi says its revenues drop no more than 10 to 15 percent during the winter season with no impact to staffing or employment.
“It all comes down to productivity and how much you can exact over the winter months,” says Shaw. “The carpenters will need to take more breaks to get warm and weather affects how fast workers go.”
Yet many business owners in the northeast make a definite calculation to keep working as much as they can through the winter, he says.
“If they get two months of production in three months, they’re starting March just one month behind instead of three months behind,” Shaw says.
There are few winter obstacles that can’t be overcome with technology and money, but some of the more high-flying and costly options are out of reach for smaller companies and independent contractors. Still, Delphi executives and others say, there’s a lot that can be done to minimize winter disruption.
“Come up with a plan for each client and set realistic objectives for the winter,” Shaw says.
Of course, there is always the “snowbird strategy” to consider — moving operations to a warmer part of the country to wait out the winter. But Delphi’s Shaw says that idea has its own flaws.
“There’s almost as many problems trying to deal with the heat as there are with the cold,” he says.
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