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SMALL BUSINESS CHALLENGE -- The Tuck Shop Outpost The Tuck Shop Outpost owner and designer Lyndsay Borschke displays some of the unique "neighbourhood" themed clothing at her Yonge Street shop in Toronto, Ont. on Wednesday, November 4, 2015. (J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail) (J.P. MOCZULSKI For The Globe and Mail)
SMALL BUSINESS CHALLENGE -- The Tuck Shop Outpost The Tuck Shop Outpost owner and designer Lyndsay Borschke displays some of the unique "neighbourhood" themed clothing at her Yonge Street shop in Toronto, Ont. on Wednesday, November 4, 2015. (J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail) (J.P. MOCZULSKI For The Globe and Mail)

small business

Warm winter causes headaches for seasonal businesses Add to ...

For many Canadians, an unseasonably warm winter is an unexpected treat, but it can be difficult for seasonal businesses with sales that rise – or fall – with the temperature.

That’s the case at Tuck Shop Trading Co., a Toronto-based clothing brand and retailer.

“We sell outwear, predominantly toques, so when it’s not cold, people are not thinking about going to buy a toque,” says Lyndsay Borschke, the company’s president and designer.

The weather isn’t just affecting her retail business; wholesale orders are down as well. That has her promoting products that normally wouldn’t get as much of a push in the winter, things like T-shirts, sweatshirts and shawls. She’s also changing the toques themselves.

“We brought in a cotton toque, as opposed to an acrylic or cashmere, because it’s a bit lighter weight,” she says. “We have to adapt with what’s going on around us.”

Because Ms. Borschke designs her products herself and they’re made in Canada, a new product can be in the store within six weeks.

“We’re pretty nimble,” she says.

It’s not just warmer than usual in Toronto; the city has received around a quarter of the snow it usually gets by this time of year.

“It’s been a crazy season,” says Ben Zlotnick, the owner of Aden Earthworks, a Toronto-based landscaping company that does snow removal in the winter. “We haven’t had to really go out.”

Aden draws much of its business from contracts with building owners and property managers, who pay a flat rate no matter how much it snows, so the impact on business is relatively minor.

“We still have all of our expenses,” Mr. Zlotnick says. “We have to be fully prepared, fully stocked and ready to go.”

Things are a little tougher for Mr. Zlotnick’s other business, Eden, an app for booking snow removal and lawn maintenance on-demand.

The app, which launched in December, is a two-sided marketplace that puts users in touch with contractors near them. But its business model is based on taking a cut of those transactions, so no snow means no revenue.

“We want it to snow, that’s our business,” Mr. Zlotnick says.

In Montreal, the winter has also been warmer than average, but it’s been punctuated with several cold snaps. For Montreal-based grocery delivery startup E-panneur, colder temperatures are good news.

“The weather does have an effect,” says Géraldine Holliday, the company’s co-founder and CMO. “Especially last weekend, when the temperature went to minus-20, minus–25, it increases the demand.”

She says older customers who have difficulties navigating icy sidewalks and parents of young children are particularly motivated by the changing temperature. Ms. Holliday says she doesn’t want E-panneur to be just associated with cold weather, though. Her goal is to keep those customers even when things warm up again.

Things are looking a little different in the Rocky Mountains, where even warmer weather and a lack of snow disrupted the previous ski season.

“We were holding our breath a little bit this year,” says Mike Liverton, the CEO and founder of LeaveTown, a Canmore, Alberta-based vacation rental website that focuses on the Rockies.

So far, this season has been better than expected. “From mid-November, we started getting good snow,” he says. “The season opened, generally, throughout Western Canada with some of the best snow in 10 to 15 years.”

Warmer temperatures at lower altitudes have also helped, keeping the roads to mountain destinations open, he says.

Poor ski conditions in Ontario and Quebec – another effect of the warm winter – have also boosted business in the West. The low dollar isn’t hurting either. It’s keeping Canadians in the country and attracting Europeans as well as Americans, says Mr. Liverton. Overall, he estimates that visits to Western Canadian ski hills are up by 20 to 30 per cent.

Just a little to the west in Whistler, B.C., the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort reported that, as of early February, visits there were up 21 per cent from the year before.

But local business owners have been working to make good weather a bonus, rather than a necessity, says Joey Gibbons, the president and CEO of Gibbons Whistler, which owns several bars and a brewery in the resort community.

“Resort-wide we’ve really worked these last few years to not be so weather dependant,” says Mr. Gibbons.

He’s doing that by launching events, like a beer festival at the end of the summer. “We turned a dead weekend in September into our second-busiest weekend of the whole summer,” he says.

The goal is to make it so that “people aren’t checking the weather to go to Whistler, they’re checking what’s going on at Whistler,” Mr. Gibbons says.

The Globe and Mail Small Business Summit is bringing together the brightest entrepreneurs in Canadian business to share insights during an inspiring day of keynote talks, workshops and networking. Walk away with new ideas and actionable tips on securing financing, acquiring talent and expanding sales. The event takes place on April 26 in Vancouver, April 28 in Calgary and May 3 in Toronto. Click here for the full speaker list.

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