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Snow, ice and maybe profit for small businesses

Created: 10/15/2014 2:21 PM WNYT.com
By: JOYCE M. ROSENBERG

NEW YORK (AP) — What do you do in the midst of mountains of snow? If you're like some small business owners you try to profit from it.

After last year's rough winter and with forecasts of another snowy season, small business owners want to ensure they can operate through whatever's ahead and, in some cases, capitalize from it.

Jeff Oddo isn't waiting for a forecast of snow to order salt. The president of City Wide Maintenance, with 40 offices around the country managing industrial and commercial properties, has contracts to prevent the same bind as last winter. Supplies were depleted long before the season ended and he had to use a form of table salt. Because the salt was finer than the kind typically used to melt ice on sidewalks and roads, it took longer to apply.

"We ended up losing a ton of money last year," says Oddo, whose company is based in Lenexa, Kansas.

The record cold and snow was harder than many people expected. Some businesses scrambled to keep running. Others, like gyms and auto body shops, had an unexpected surge in customers.

Preparis, an Atlanta-based consulting firm, has had a nearly 30 percent increase in demand for its severe weather and disaster planning services, CEO Armistead Whitney says.

CREATING A CONTINGENCY PLAN

Heavy snow and ice last winter made it hard for Jim Aaberg's caregivers to reach elderly and sick clients. Aaberg, owner of a Synergy HomeCare franchise serving Bloomington and Normal, Illinois, wants to avoid uncertainty. He's setting up a command center in his office, and staffers are rehearsing procedures they'll follow in case there's heavy snow. Aaberg also bought a second all-wheel drive car, giving caregivers two to drive in the snow.

The plan calls for Aaberg's client care manager to stay overnight at work when necessary. She's creating a list of caregivers willing to spend the night at clients' houses instead of going home so they can provide early-morning care.

"She will just be ground zero for coordinating with all of them," Aaberg says.

EXPANDING A GYM

Kyle Henning is continuing the expansion of his three Minneapolis-area Anytime Fitness franchises he began last winter in response to a 20 percent surge in business. The colder and snowier than usual winter had people with cabin fever jamming the gyms.

"The winter last year was the best thing for my business that I could have hoped for," says Henning.

The influx of customers led him to expand by breaking down walls for a fitness classroom in the Farmington gym and by bringing in more equipment like treadmills. He's building another fitness room in Burnsville and installing new equipment in all locations.

"When it's dark and cold and there's nothing to do, it works for us," he says.

PREPARING FOR FENDER BENDERS

Greg Zurla's Auto Body shop is expanding its garage and parking lot in case of another bad winter. A surge in accidents last year more than doubled business, says Jerry Zurla, son of owner Greg Zurla and an employee of the Congers, New York, shop.

The shop is moving its painting operation outside the garage. The garage can fit 13 to 15 cars, but after the move it will hold more than 20.

The parking lot, which usually has 15 to 20 cars, was jam-packed last winter with up to 40 at a time, making it hard to move cars and get work done. The Zurlas moved a large shed off the lot to clear room. They're thinking they can't keep another mountain of snow on the lot like last year's that took up about five spaces.

"If it's very crowded this winter, I'm sure we're going to have the snow trucked out," Jerry Zurla says.

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Follow Joyce Rosenberg at www.twitter.com/JoyceMRosenberg

(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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