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Weather: boon or bust for businesses

Marie Havenga • Jan 11, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Although today may feel closer to a boating day than a winter’s day, there's more cold and snow around the bend.

For some businesses, cold and snow can be a boon. And it can also be a bust. It depends on which side of the weather vane you're on.

Mail and other delivery drivers, along with construction workers and roofers, may not be too keen on this winter-weather pattern.

But snowblower, winter-weather gear, and ski and sledding equipment sales are up.

Corey Sanders, a salesman at Bill's Sport Shop in Spring Lake, said sales numbers for his store are anything but flaky. Bill's has sold about 50 new snowblowers in recent weeks, he said.

“We're nearly sold out of our inventory, so that's a good thing,” Sanders said. “Repairs have been steady. It's been really, really good. Even though we don't like driving in it and weathering the cold ourselves, it's good for business.”

Business coincides with snowfall totals. The higher they are, the more cash is coming in.

“The last couple of years have been pretty light years,” Sanders noted.

Todd Hamstra, a general contractor and owner of Hamstra Builders, said he and other local builders try to line up indoor work before the snow and cold set in.

“For guys who are framers, it's a terrible burden,” Hamstra said of knee-deep snow and bitter cold. “When it gets to be about 10 degrees or cooler, it's really hard for us to use pneumatic nailers because the lines get ice in them and freeze up. If you wear too heavy of gloves, you can't feel the trigger.”

Cold isn't the only issue.

“If you're framing a house and you don't have a roof over the top, you get there in the morning and have to shovel it all out of the house,” Hamstra said. “For the last two weeks, we haven't been framing outside. Next week, we'll be back outside to do a little framing because it's going to be warmer. We have to have multiple jobs (indoors and outdoors) so we can weave back and forth.”

Winter weather cuts into his profits.

“I probably make 5 percent less in the wintertime than I do when there's no snow on the ground,” Hamstra said. “Even if it's cold with no snow, you've got gloves on your hands, you're not walking as fast and you're not as flexible as you are in the summertime. It does slow you down.”

Excavators get stumped by winter weather, too.

“When it's this cold out, you can't pour foundations,” Hamstra explained. “You have to wait until it's 15 degrees or warmer so the concrete isn't affected.”

Many excavators also become snow-plowers so they can hedge their bets on the weather.

“When excavators aren't pouring, they're snowplowing,” Hamstra said. “They've kind of adjusted to that over the years.”

Plumbers can see income go down the drain during winter blasts, too.

“My plumber, if it gets below 15 or 20 degrees in a roughed-in home, can't glue the drain lines together because they'll leak,” Hamstra said. “You get so many different variables, it all depends on what you're doing.”

Installing vinyl siding is out.

“You can't cut it when it gets to 10 degrees because it will just shatter,” he said. “You can still hand-nail, but you can't be efficient without pneumatic guns.”

Roofing is still doable, but it's challenging.

“If you have plywood on the roof, you have to wait for the snow to be done,” Hamstra said. “To shingle, it's a lot of snow removal and a lot of restriction because of the mountain of clothes you wear.”

Hamstra is hoping for a warm-up in the near future.

“We have three houses to start in the next 4-6 weeks,” he said. “Right now, we're fortunate enough to be finishing some interior jobs. In four weeks, we're going to have to go outside.”

Business hasn't slowed down for Earth's Edge, said the Grand Haven outdoor gear store’s manager, Noah Osborne. Snowshoe sales and rentals are booming.

“It just depends on the year,” Osborne said. “Actually, it’s been a pretty good season for them.”

Snowshoes aren't the only hot-ticket items. Smartwool socks, Yeti Rambler insulated cups, trucker hats and Patagonia Atom Sling purses are popular purchases, Osborne said.

“Once summer is over, we look forward to snow,” Osborne said. “The crazier the weather, the more people are coming in looking for boots, gloves and snow pants.”

Mike Megna of Spring Lake-based West Michigan Roofing said cold weather makes roofing dangerous.

“We're not doing any roofing today,” he said last Friday, when temperatures clung around zero. “It really gets dangerous. Your mind after being out there for any length of time, you get weak. You just don't think about things like you do when it's warmer out.”

Snow and ice removal takes about an hour, and workers can get back in the truck to warm up. Shingling all day poses problems.

“When you're up on the roof trying to shingle in this, nothing works very well,” Menga said. “... You have to sweep off the snow. Everything moves slower and the materials are more difficult to work with.”

Menga said workers were expected to return to shingling this week as the weather warmed.

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