While the summer months are traditionally slow for some businesses, other local proprietors are enjoying a seasonal summer rush that will see them through a long winter.
Operating a seasonal business requires a different perspective, but local business owners report that they essentially treat their seasonal endeavor as a year-round practice. After the summer’s rush, many of them will take advantage of a winter downtime to make improvements to the business, attend industry seminars or conferences, and recruit new employees.
Financial advisers say that managing a seasonal business can be more difficult than managing a traditional one. Often, business owners have short time periods in which to make very critical decisions.
Meadows Farms Nurseries, which has locations throughout Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., does a large percentage of its business in the first half of June, as well as during the three previous months. “We are definitely what I’d call a seasonal business,” said Bobby Lewis, vice president, noting that business volume is also related to weather conditions.
During June, when Meadows Farms depends on big sales weekends for sales revenue, one stormy Saturday can result in a disconcerting drop. “I’ve often kidded about putting domes over the properties,” Lewis said.
Meadows Farms has nearly 20 locations, and all but two close during the months of January and February. That means Meadows Farms — like other seasonal businesses — has to carefully guard its summer windfall in order to meet expenses during an essentially dormant winter.
“Our top managers are on salary year-round, even though we are closed for those couple of months,” said Lewis. “Aside from them, we do use a lot of seasonal help.”
At Nightmare Graphics, President Sam Andelman barely has time to talk as the presses and embroidery machines churn out thousands of items, ranging from baseball uniforms to triathlon hats.
Summertime means rush time for Andelman and, to handle this uneven business cycle, Andelman lays people off virtually every January. “We let employees know before the Christmas holiday whether they’re going to be coming back immediately at the beginning of January, and then we start calling them back as needed,” he said.
Nightmare Graphics typically closes between Christmas and New Year’s, he said.
Staff who are laid off for long periods of time can begin collecting unemployment but, since last year layoffs lasted only about three weeks, most returned to work.
Despite the uncertainty each year, Andelman has high retention within his workforce. “I probably have 10 employees who have been with me for 10 years or longer,” he said.
Not Traditional Retail
If you analyze Josh Levinson’s business, Charm City Run, by quarterly revenue, it’s easy to figure out why the sales graph shoots up when spring arrives. The running and walking specialty store, like many businesses, experiences lows in January and February.
But March, the beginning of running season, is so strong that it alone ratchets up the first quarter to make it respectably even with the others.
“We’re definitely not traditional retail,” said Levinson. “If we don’t have a good December, it’s not the end of the world for us.”
During these years of a weak economy, seasonal entrepreneurs are going through their peak cash reserves more quickly than usual, said industry management consultant Hollis Minor.
Minor, president of The Minor Group, said that it’s more difficult than it sounds to operate peak sales for part of the year, then plan effectively for three to six months of down time. If a seasonal entrepreneur wants to grow the business, then some spending — on new inventory, better marketing, more employees — is bound to happen.
But, she said, there’s a fine line between the kind of spending needed to grow a business and the kind that cuts into cash reserves so deeply that the business sinks from dormancy to death.
“It’s incredibly difficult to know that threshold,” said Minor.