February 21, 2013

Bad weather means tough call for retailers: open or close?

When bad weather strikes, most people hibernate inside if they can.

When bad weather strikes, most people hibernate inside if they can.

Businesses, in turn, must decide whether to open their doors, given the lack of customers and the hazards of workers getting to and from work.

As slick, snowy roads prompted official cautions about travel this week, some store managers decided to close.

Others, though, knew their customers would be coming because of the bad weather – to stock up, to shovel out or to have fun.

Jeanette Clement, marketing manager for Cabela’s, says that in the days before storms move in, items such as generators and warm weather gear often sell at a faster rate.

“We also see a large increase in our preparation items like dry food and ready-mix meals,” she said.

At grocery stores, customers tend to stock up on basics, said Sheila Lowrie, Dillons spokeswoman, in an e-mail. You likely have heard the list before: milk, bread and eggs – with maybe some ground beef and canned soups tossed in the basket, as well as personal favorites.

“Many customers also have comfort foods like chili, chicken noodles, or pot roast in mind for dinner when the weather turns cold,” Lowrie said. “Oftentimes, customers are also shopping for kids snacks and Red Box DVDs, since many schools and day-care centers are closed.”

All Dillons stores operated under normal business hours during the storm, she said.

To prepare for the onslaught of customers, Dillons logistics and distribution centers start their preparations even earlier.

“Since the beginning of the week, we have been tracking the winter storm and making arrangements for special deliveries to be sent to our locations,” Lowrie said. “In Wichita, we’re fortunate because our grocery distribution center is in Goddard and our perishable distribution center and dairy are located in Hutchinson.”

Many small businesses and locally owned retailers were closed Thursday because of the weather. Wichita Independent Business Association president Tim Witsman says it’s a tough call for business owners.

“Part of it is how dependent people are on your services. ... It’s a balance between your responsibility to your employees and their safety and your responsibility toward the people you serve,” Witsman said.

For some shoppers, the snow gave added reason to head to the store.

Sleds were “flying off the shelves” at Ace Hardware, 4183 E. Harry, said store manager Genine Leggat.

The store’s supply of ice melt sold out Wednesday morning as commercial businesses and apartment complexes stocked up, and shovels were also in short supply.

By Thursday, with snow nearly a foot deep and kids out of school, customers were asking for sleds.

“On snow days, when there’s big piles of snow everywhere, there’s going to be people sledding off the sides of the highways,” she said.

At Cabela’s, Clement said customers also were buying sleds, toboggans and inflatable snow forts.

“For our customer base, it’s in our nature to be outdoors,” she said. “And when there’s bad weather outside, we’re going to make the most of it and have the most fun possible.”

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