Old Man Winter wreaking havoc on local businesses


It's been a rough winter for hundreds of local businesses, forcing them to now find ways to try and make up for lost days and revenue after being forced to shut down because of the weather.

Every county in Northern Indiana issued travel warnings three or four days in January, making it illegal for many people to be on the roads.

Inside Dutchman RV in Elkhart County, employees are in "catch up mode" to get back on track after an unusually cold December that led into one of the worst Januarys we've seen in decades.

"When we lose a day of production, it can put us back two or three days," explained Ken Julian, Vice President of Human Resources for RV manufacturer Thor Industries.

Thor is Dutchman's parent company.

A Feb. 4 report reported preliminary sales for the company's second quarter are projected to be $636.3 million down slightly from $636.6 million in the second quarter last year. That same report also shows the company's backlog on January 31 were between 33 and 42 percent - meaning the level of demand for its products is higher than its supply.

"It's a chain effect - it hits the suppliers, which trickles down to us," Julian explained. "It impacts those that are hauling the units so they can't make deliveries. Some of the yards are full of snow so they can't even take our product off our delivery yards."

Thor and some other R-V manufacturers in Elkhart County are considering ramping up to 6 day work weeks once it warms up a little to try and get back on pace with demand.

In St. Joseph County, Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jeff Rea said he's spoken with more than 50 local business leaders about the business impact of closing their doors because of bad weather.

On average, he said manufacturers lost about 9 shifts in January. The owner of one business in the service industry estimates it lost about $130,000 in revenue and employees lost about $7,000 in wages when it was forced to shut down several days because of cold and snow.

The economic trickle-down effect of businesses being closed here definitely resonates beyond our immediate area, Rea pointed out. Many of the manufacturers in our area make parts critical for cars, trucks, medical equipment and other devices manufactured in other cities and states.

Companies also struggle when schools are closed because of weather, which has happened an unprecedented number of times in 2014. Parents who can't find anyone to watch their kids often have no other choice but to stay home, Julian said. Fewer employees hurt production too.

Small businesses are also trying to bounce back.

Sorella Boutique in Mishawaka lured customers with sweets and a sale Friday.

According to the store's assistant sales manager Kathy McGowan, their weather-related revenue loss was 'significant.'

"It did hurt business. You can't really afford to be open and pay everybody when there's nobody here to shop," McGowan said.

But McGowan, Julian and other local business leaders know all they can do is hold on and wait for the weather to break.