Punctuated by polar vortexes, freezing temperatures and days-long traffic jams, this winter has been a difficult one for businesses of all sizes. Icy weather has kept employees from reaching the office, prevented deliveries from being made, encouraged customers to stay home and forced the cancellation of a broad range of events and activities.
The promotional products industry has not been spared either. A number of regional associations had to reschedule events due to weather concerns. The Sunbelt Promotional Products Association (SPPA) postponed its January 28-29 show in Birmingham, Alabama, moving it to March 17-18; The Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York (SAAGNY) postponed its SAAGNY Winter Showcase, pushing it from February 13 to February 21; and the Three Rivers Advertising Specialty Association (TRASA) rescheduled its TRASA Spring Expo from March 4 to March 31.
Industry companies also reported closures and slow business attributable to the winter weather. David Rones, president of PromoMatting By Americo in Cartersville, Georgia, says, “We lost four days of productivity during the storms and had employees stranded for five to 15 hours in traffic. We worked overtime and weekends to get caught up. This is the busy season for mat companies, however, and the brutal winter was actually good for our business. We had a record January and February because consumers and businesses recognize the need to replace their mats after the snow/ice/rock salt melted away.”
Mark Jenkins, MAS+, sales director at Pioneer Balloon Company and chairman of the PPAI Board of Directors, adds, “Probably the most noticeable effect in our promotional division has been a slowdown of product use within our retail and consumer promotional markets, namely the family restaurant and car dealership end users. The extreme weather conditions have had a direct impact on retail traffic. Consumers have hunkered down and are spending less at brick-and-mortar stores. Promotional products distributed or used in these settings are bound to be affected.
“While many corporate events have been cancelled or less attended throughout this quarter, we won’t likely see those affects until later, as the promotional merchandise was ordered in advance of the event, and will most likely be used for future dates or promotions,” says Jenkins.
Unexpected costs incurred by the weather have also slowed promotional products sales. Chris Goes, owner of Goes Lithography in Delavan, Wisconsin, notes, “With the increased snow plowing, roof raking and fuel bills to heat the buildings and homes of buyers, the winter has gobbled up the promotional cash.”
Promotional products businesses with more diverse clientele have not been hit as hard. “We are fortunate to have a national footprint, so the impact of storms and cold weather in one part of the country don’t really impact our sales overall,” says Terry McGuire, senior vice president of marketing at distributor HALO Branded Solutions. “And any sales disruptions from storms tend to come back as the bad weather dissipates. While it’s still very early in the year, we are still on track to have our best year yet.”
McGuire also notes, “Clients seem very understanding of the modest shipping delays we’ve experienced on a few orders.”
As a result of the weather, many retailers are hedging their forecasts for February’s sales figures. Thompson Reuters is expecting retail same-store sales—a metric that removes recently opened or closed stores from the figure to provide an accurate year-over-year measurement—to rise a very modest 1.9 percent for February, compared to 4.8 percent last year. Auto sales have also been hurt by the winter weather, according to Autodata, with a 3.1 percent dip in sales in January. Online retailers are feeling the winter as well as business disruptions, difficulty making deliveries and other factors hitting the bottom line.
The cold and ice reached particularly far south this winter, disrupting municipalities, transportation infrastructures and local governments that were not prepared for their effects. Not surprisingly, companies in the northern U.S. weathered the winter better than their southern counterparts and had practices in place to minimize its impact on business.
“We have contingency plans for orders and employees that allowed us to maintain production and ship orders on time,” says Viktorya Maryan, director of marketing and communications at Toddy Gear in Chicago, Illinois. “The harsh winter weather brought on many courier delays, but we were able to minimize their impact. The cold and snow forced a few appointments to be rescheduled, and everyone is set up to work from home, so no one misses a beat. We are a Chicago-based company that has experienced the effects of the bitter cold, record-breaking snowfall and heat wave conditions in the past. It’s nothing new to us.”
Phil Sibinski, MAS, president of multi-line rep firm PJS, Inc. in Hudson, Wisconsin, says, “When bad weather hits here, and it hits often, we have learned to leave earlier than normal; drive much slower; grit and grin and get through it; and ‘try’ not to let it affect business. I sincerely appreciate that there are parts of the country that are not accustomed to foot-deep snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures, and I sympathize with their plight and inability to function. This winter will go down as one of the coldest in 35 years, and one of the 10 worst since records have been kept, and to tell you the truth, it just seems like another winter to me. I guess it just proves you can get used to anything!”