With sunshine and consistently warmer weather, the days of below-freezing temperatures and weekly snowstorms may seem like nothing but a distant, unpleasant memory. But many small businesses across the country are still recovering from the long-term effects of ice and snow damage, business interruptions and other weather-related incidents.
While some brick-and-mortar establishments experienced physical building damage from this past winter's weather, many of them simply lost out on a lot of business due to an inability to travel to work. Even if business owners could open their doors, reduced customer traffic and interest brought about a major dip in sales across several industries.
"The duration, intensity and extreme temperatures into March altered and changed consumer psyche in ways that have not been measured before," said Chris Paradysz, CEO and founder of marketing agencies PM Digital and Paradysz. "In stores, people didn't show up. Online, despite increased traffic and impression shares, conversions to buy were down significantly. Weeks of [bad weather] forced consumers into hibernation and sapped their interest in buying. They shopped and looked but didn't pull out their wallets. Retailers, travel services and restaurateurs all felt the impact of this, despite the lack of economic, news events or consumer confidence shortfalls that would typically cause it."
The issue with these types of losses is that they're often not covered by a business's insurance policy if there's no physical damage. Many small businesses in the Northeast learned this after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and winter-weather shutdowns and business interruptions have brought about similar insurance issues this year. [4 Steps for Creating a Disaster Recovery Plan]
"Businesses are the least prepared for storms where there's not a lot of direct physical damage," said Chris Frederick, dispute resolution and forensics director for CPA firm Bennett Thrasher. "Their insurance policy doesn't always address claims that deal with power loss, or if people can't get in."
Kyle Aldridge, senior manager at Bennett Thrasher, noted that with service interruption insurance, your policy may have very specific sets of circumstances under which your losses will be covered. For instance, some providers may implement a qualified waiting period, where any losses incurred won't be covered until after an incident has continued for 24 hours or more. Both Frederick and Aldridge recommended speaking with your insurance agent to review your policy and educate yourself on exactly what is and isn't covered.
To make up for lost sales in the first quarter of the year, many small businesses are turning to strong marketing strategies to draw in business.
"A large portion of our merchants suffered as a result of the bad weather this winter," said David Goldin, CEO and founder of alternative business financing provider Capify (formerly AmeriMerchant). "If your business had it rougher than most this winter, this is your chance to recoup the losses by aggressively marketing your business."
Goldin advised businesses to approach their spring and summer advertising campaigns with more intensity than usual. However, consumer interest may not hold steady despite these increased efforts.
"Since the weather has thawed, we've seen some accelerated spending on marketing, but it's not the optimum time of the year for performance," Paradysz told Business News Daily. "Emails have increased in frequency, and significant discounting and special-event sales are occurring earlier than usual. While there has been some bounce back, these bursts of consumer excitement have been just as inconsistent as the weather."
Preparing for the future
According to a recent Business Risk Index published by Travelers Insurance, risks associated with extreme weather and natural disasters rank high on the list of concerns for today's business owners. One way to mitigate these risks is to optimize your company's mobile connectivity so you can get as much done as possible if you can't make it to work.
"Make sure your mobile setup is simple and doesn't require IT assistance," said Mike Gold, president of cloud IT service provider Intermedia. "It should be no more complicated than putting in an email address and password. Make your office phone accessible via your mobile device by investing in a softphone app for making and receiving calls using your office number. Keep your email, calendars, contacts and files synced, to help keep you organized and connected, so no matter where you are stuck working, you can get the job done."
Another step a business can take is to create ready-to-use marketing campaigns that can be launched at the moment they're needed.
"Weather experts are predicting that extreme conditions will be the new normal, and consequently, brands can no longer afford to implement the same marketing strategies that [rely on] weather consistency and moderation," Paradysz said. "Marketers should build campaigns that anticipate consumer needs and concerns when inclement weather hits. Driving customers to store events through personalized messaging and phone calls, or providing incentives beyond the products themselves, can compel customers to leave the comforts of their own home more so than a promotional email or Facebook ad."
While you can't control the weather, you can control how and when you engage with your customers, Paradysz added. "It's up to brands to invest in the right audience insights and communications efforts to consciously pull their consumers out of a weather-induced slump," he said.
Originally published on Business News Daily.