MARSHALL - When it comes to snow in Minnesota, it seems it's either feast or famine, local businesspeople said this week. An unusually warm and dry winter so far has had a negative effect on sales for some Marshall businesses.
"It hurts everyone," said Jim Swenson, owner of Action Sports in Marshall. Temperatures have gone as high as 50 degrees this December, and there's been no real accumulation of snow. The change in weather has hurt sales of snowmobiles and snow-related merchandise, he said.
"For several years, we didn't really rely on it snowing," Swenson said. But in the past couple of winters, sales of snowmobiles had been boosted by heavy snow, and it was thought the trend would continue this year.
Photo by Deb Gau
With an unusually warm December, snowmobiles haven’t been as popular as they were the past couple of years, local businesspeople say.
"The weathermen had said this was going to be the worst winter ever," Swenson said.
"It's definitely not normal," Bill Ziegenhagen, owner of Marshall Small Engine, Inc., said of the weather. Sales of snowmobiles and snowblowers were down for his business as well. "But we've all lived in Minnesota. We know that things can turn on a dime."
The interesting thing about this season, local businesspeople said, is that the forecast of a more extreme winter meant lots of fall business.
"It was really good probably a little after Thanksgiving," Ziegenhagen said, partly because people may have been anticipating more snow.
Lyle Patzer of Patzer's Hardware Hank said sales for snowblowers and other snow-related items had dropped this winter, but the pre-season was very strong, with lots of people gathering winter supplies or getting repairs or maintenance work done on snowblowers.
"What we find is that people are waiting for a reason" to buy snow supplies, Patzer said. Without snow on the ground, sales have dropped.
"The shop still stays quite busy, but not as busy as it has been," Patzer said.
Gary Becker of Runnings said that weather has affected sales for some seasonal merchandise. However, while customers may not be looking for snow removal equipment, they're still interested in things like ice fishing shelters or winter clothing.
There are other factors that could help local businesses deal with a slow sales period this winter. For example, Ziegenhagen said Marshall Small Engine's online sales haven't been as affected by the weather, although customers tend to shop online mostly for smaller items like clothing.
"The brick-and-mortar sales are still important," he said.
Swenson said it's also important to keep in mind that winter isn't over yet. There is some time for snow to fall during January. He added he was hopeful that local businesses would get through the warm spell.
"We're just going to have to keep our attitudes positive," he said.