Business Articles - Sales

Seasonal Slowdowns: What Should YOU Do?

It happens every year. Spring and Summer are packed with jobs to the point where you stop answering the phone. Then school starts and you wonder if you remembered to pay the phone bill since it no longer rings. The answer is not always simple, not for service professionals in general, and not for you the individual. However, seasonal upticks and downturns have been around since the hammer and nail, and there is always a way to get through the winter.

There are many different types of businesses and problems they encounter because of their size, agility, and coverage area. Here's a different look at the problems encountered by different companies and ways for them to survive the changing seasons.

Mouths to Feed

This business has many employees, and they have the kind of talented crew that they have to keep on the payroll or they will be lost to another company. This business can't afford to lose their guys, and they can't afford to pay the crew to do nothing. So they've got to keep moving even when it's slow.

This can be difficult for remodelers because often their most talented guys don't want to run a snow plow or clean gutters all winter. They consider themselves to be craftsmen, and they'll do nothing less. Even more important, you don't want to pay them a top wage for that type of job.

Expanding coverage area is always a smart move, as is dipping into different projects, even if these jobs don't give you a chance to showcase all of your talents. "Kitchen expansions and home additions were our bread and butter, but we turned to building garages and basement finishing, and even put up a few fences, installed a two-story deck and built a gazebo just to keep the pipeline full, " says Dave Lupberger, former DC-area remodeler and current ServiceMagic Home Improvement Expert. "If nothing else, it kept the crew in shape and was a good change of pace."

Don't be afraid to get creative, put a few more clicks on the work truck or redefine your work category. If your guys won't stay to do that work or if it doesn't make financial sense to drive further, you might just have to absorb the loss.

The Ski Bum

The ski bum is a contractor who's strictly seasonal, like a crab fisherman, a hay baler, or, well, a ski instructor. This contractor has a certain season, perhaps a house painter, landscaper or deck builder, and once the season is over, so are the jobs. Now a ski bum is not opposed to working during the cold months, but his business model is based on busting tail during the warm months and kicking back during the cold.

Ski bums need to travel light, as with George Kidder of Colorado Woodworks in Fort Collins, CO. George doesn't think of himself as a "ski bum" but he hires on 1-4 college students from Colorado State University each summer after classes end. He does the work himself during the rest of the year. "It's mainly for the kids because it's flexible work. But they are flexible for my business as well." He treats siding, roofs, decks, builds decks, paints houses, and some minor interior work. There's a great deal of demand during the summer, given the vicious Colorado sun and snow, but not as much for the rest of the year. "This job is why I take my vacations in the wintertime," George said.

The good thing about college students is that they don't expect work once school starts back up, so George doesn't have to worry himself with forelorn teenage faces when the Chinook winds come in and blow away their paychecks.

If you are in a category that forces certain seasonal trends on you, perhaps hiring people on short contracts, like a college student, will help grow your business during the high times, but you won't have to worry about letting them go every time the leaves fall.

The Bo Jackson

Remember Bo? He played baseball for the Royals in the summer and football for the Raiders in the Fall. The Bo Jacksons need to keep moving, maybe because the market demands it, but usually it's because these types of contractors just have a great deal of talent in many areas. It's not a demotion if they remodel during one season and build fences during another. They enjoy having different things to do everyday, and a seasonal slide is just an opportunity for them to use other muscles. The trick here is knowing where to go.

Even a seasoned veteran might not be aware of all the opportunity that exists around his business during different times of the year. ServiceMagic currently serves over 500 tasks, and if the core of your business turns into a slug during certain months and you carry the appropriate licensing and insurance, you can shift into other high-demand tasks that you are just as capable of performing. Even still, you can raise your marketing budget to get a higher volume of leads.

The problem with the athletic type of residential contractor is that too often they get focused on the work they can do or the work they are doing, and they don't focus on the work they should be doing. In other words, if you are capable (and willing) to do many different tasks, how do you choose which to do? Most pros choose based on who calls first, after all it's a hungry season. Instead, this pro needs to adjust their thinking to look for the most profitable or most enjoyable work for them. Sure, you can do anything, but would you rather do what you love, or at the very least, do what makes the most business sense?

Granted, all these armchair theories make sense, but when you are starved for work, you would build pine box derby cars for the local Boy Scout race just to eat.

The Brass Tacks

The big takeaway is to plan ahead for work during the slow times. There are some ultra-savvy contractors out there who can convince homeowners to wait a few months when materials are cheaper (and when work is slower). If that's not you, do some thinking about a strategy that will work best for your business when the pipeline goes dry. Otherwise, you'll find yourself fighting for scraps like all the others who didn't cut enough wood before winter.

By Matt Myers

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