It might seem like seasonal business owners have it easy. After all, they work hard for the few months that make up their peak season, then they can shut down and take a rest. Right? Not so. For those who know what it really takes to keep a seasonal business operating, let alone thriving, it’s a year-round task that requires a strong work ethic, sharp management and a detailed, year-round schedule of tasks. Letting any aspect slide could mean disaster for the entire business. Sounds a bit like a conventional small business, doesn’t it?
Here is an inside look at how seasonal businesses have to tackle four vital tasks year-round.
Hiring and Training
Seasonal business hiring is almost always, well, seasonal. While it may take some pressure off hiring to know that the employees will only be with you a short time, for a seasonal business with only a short window to maximize sales, it’s critical that the employees be professional, well-trained, and effective representatives of the brand. A restauranteur at a summer vacation spot knows that his customers will remember the quality of service next year, and whether they come back in the future depends on his employees who are on staff today.
As a result, these business owners have to develop a strong system for hiring and training a number of employees quickly, managing them effectively, and then doing it all again the next year. This system includes starting early–if your season starts in May, you don’t want your competitors to have hired all the talent by the end of April, leaving you in the lurch. You also have to maintain a vigorous training program that can teach people quickly and effectively; there isn’t time for a week of training when your season is only four months long.
Forecasting and Budgeting
Knowing how much money to expect each year is a tricky task even for year-round businesses. Figuring this out can take plenty of analysis and financial know-how, not to mention luck (a hurricane could always derail late-summer beach business). It can also take adding steps to your service delivery. Steve Kopelman, a haunted house designer, reportedly takes polls every year to see who his customers are, and whether they liked the experience. Of course, by the time he gets results, he has close to 11 months to change how he’ll set up again the following season. He also spends hours online researching every other haunted house website in the country to see what his competitors are doing.
There’s also the matter of knowing your capital expenses, and budgeting for them. Your boardwalk surf shop may only be open for six months of the year, but you’ll need to pay rent for all 12. And a haunted house designer has to lease locations, and stay informed of the latest “scare” technology even in June.
During peak season, when revenues are flowing in, making payroll is less of an issue — most seasonal businesses operate like any other business. But once the peak season has stopped, there could be months without a single dollar of revenue. An ice cream shop at the beach or a snowboard rental shop in Vermont is entirely reliant on good weather and visitors during part of the year, but the owner(s) still need to pay expenses, including their own salaries, during the off-season.
As such, seasonal business owners have to be fiercely disciplined when it comes to budgeting, or else they can wind up in dire straits before the next summer rolls around. One surf-shop founder in San Diego told Entrepreneur that he had to learn, “not only to sock away as much money as he can during his peak season of July and August, but also to manage his money during the long off-season.” Payroll and expenses may be smaller while the business’s doors are closed, but they’re not zero.
This task keeps plenty of seasonal business owners up at night, even when their peak season is months away. While the busy period may not start until June, your marketing window opens much earlier. If you’re a vacation-based seasonal business, you may have to nab your customers’ attention while they’re planning the trip, months before they actually arrive. And you certainly want them to learn about you, or be reminded if they’re repeat visitors, as soon as they get off the plane.
As such, seasonal business owners have to be smart and savvy, and work well in advance to ensure that their marketing materials are created on time, and placed in the right locations. This means spending time networking and negotiating with local hotels, neighboring businesses, cab companies, and more. It also means staying relevant through community events, such as free ski lessons for the elderly or ice cream flavor contests, as well as social media posting. A well-executed Instagram feed can remind once-a-year visitors of how much they enjoyed your Praline Crunch and ensure that they plan a repeat visit.
Running a seasonal business is no picnic. In fact, the seasonality may be only a surface trait; it can easily be a year-round operation, with few breaks. In fact, some owners even pick up second businesses during the “off” season, and wind up working double-duty. If you’re one of the brave and hardworking few who take on a seasonal business, we salute you.