But when those figures are not adjusted, the raw data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that businesses increase hiring and business activity two times a year, in the summer with a peak in June and for the holidays, cresting in November. Regardless of how the broader economy is faring, January is always a low point for business activity.
But knowing what the statistics say and managing a business with a small window for profit are two different things. There is little margin for error. Here are some tips from small business owners who depend on the seasons.
Preparation is key. Helen Yarmak, a high-end fur designer, said her selling season stretched from a few weeks before Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day. To get clients interested in her new designs, she invites them to her studio in Milan during the summer.
But with her business, much of the preparation is based on the availability of top pelts. For example, she said she spent years buying the 80 sable pelts that went into a single coat, which she is selling for 450,000 euros (about $528,000).
“It can take a long time to collect sables,” she said.
Cielo and Philip Masters, mother and son owners of Craftmasters on Nantucket, Mass., a store that has been operating on the island since 1976, spend the winters making their signature belts, knowing they will have no time to make them during the summer. They also work with their artisans to produce perennial favorites, like accessories with scrimshaw on them.
“We prepare for things that are staples, but every year, there are going to be different things that are popular,” Mr. Masters said.
That’s where adaptability comes in. Mr. Masters said that they make or order products during the off season, but they are careful not to order too much of anything new.
“In July, we try to catch on to a trend,” he said. “We have to be really careful about how we see the trends.”
Adapt to clients. At risk in missing a trend, of course, is the financial viability of the store. That adaptability can mean accommodating a client outside of normal business hours.
Kenneth Mark, a dermatologist, has offices in the Hamptons and Manhattan. But a decade ago, he got his medical license in Colorado and opened a winter office in Aspen. Many of his well-heeled clients vacation in Aspen, but he opened the seasonal business for personal reasons: his love of skiing.
Dr. Mark said he spends one week a month in Aspen from December to April. But that means he has to accommodate clients in the New York area — or in Aspen — if they call at the last minute.
“I can’t say, I’ll see you next week,’ if I’m not around,” he said. “It’s not as easy or as glamorous as it sounds. I’m working every single day I’m out there.”
Less than a quarter of his income comes from his Aspen practice, but he said it had helped him to expand his medical practice. Clients from Aspen come to see him in New York in the summer. And being on the slopes has helped market his presence, he said.
“I could be skiing down a run under the gondola and people could be yelling down, ‘Hey Dr. Kenny, I need Botox,’” he said.
Not all businesses can move from one location to another. With SnoHub, Mr. Albis is bound by season, so he puts a premium on accommodating clients.
When something goes wrong, like a truck knocking down a mailbox, for instance, he does not want customers to worry that the plow driver won’t pay for damages. “We control the purse, so we can hold back payment for them for seven days,” he said. “That provides a lot more reassurance for the homeowners.”
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