There’s an ice cream store in the small town that I live in, and I’ve often looked at it during the deserted winter months and wondered -
HOW ON EARTH do they survive closing their doors for 5 months of the year?
Can they really make that much during the busy season to stretch it through?
Do they have to hire new employees every. single. year. or...how does that work exactly??
Not being a seasonal business owner myself, I needed an expert to answer my burning questions.
That’s where Ryan Quaal comes in. He owns Black Diamond Power Washing in Baltimore, Maryland. And just like my local ice cream store, they also shut their doors for 5 months of the year.
We’re diggin’ into how to manage a seasonal business and remain profitable:
- Managing a seasonal business during the busy season:
- The difference between staying busy and staying profitable.
- Pricing your services for a seasonal business.
- Managing a seasonal business during the slow season:
- Hiring a team to work for and support a seasonal business.
- Marketing a seasonal business.
- Best resources to level up your seasonal business during the off season.
Managing a seasonal business during the busy season
Question: During the busy season what are the top things you do to prepare for the upcoming slow season?
1: Remember, busy doesn’t always mean profitable:
When we’re really busy, we keep a fully booked schedule for weeks out at a time. But, I have learned to make sure that those jobs, whether they’re big or small, are simple in nature.
I’ve come to realize that there’s some jobs that are going to require a lot more work and that’s when efficiency goes down. If you’re busy but certain jobs take a lot longer than expected or need more materials than expected - that’s going to hurt.
So I like to take on jobs that I know we can crank through and be highly efficient because the majority of our profit comes in the first 4 months of our season. I’ve learned this the hard way, busy doesn’t always mean profitable but this is one way you can be both busy and make a profit.
If we do get more complex job requests, I try to push them to the Fall when we’re slowing down.
2. Price your services according to the season:
We offer a superior service to our clients, and because of our reliability and reputation we can justify being on the higher end for pricing.
To book with us during peak busy season we charge even more because the demand is so high.
But, let’s say we have a potential client who is price sensitive. We’ll suggest they book with us in the Fall (a slower season for us) so we can knock off a percentage to keep them happy and continue to fill out our schedule during the slower season.
If the Fall comes around - like this Fall - we already booked out all the jobs we could do for that season. But, if a customer is willing to wait through the winter, then we offer an “early bird special”. We’ll give them 10% off and schedule their job as one of the first projects of the following year. This way we already have 3-4 weeks booked up for next year, and I have work I can rely on.
We also take down payments from clients to keep money coming in through the slow season if they want to book in advance of the Spring.
Managing a seasonal business during the slow season:
Question: How do you hire a team, given the seasonality of your business?
Hiring is really tough.
When it comes to hiring for a seasonal business like ours, we usually hire students because they have semestered scheduling. We’ve been fortunate that word-of-mouth has worked well and I’ve been able to retain a few year-over-year.
Question: What do you do to retain staff season after season?
- I understand they’re working really hard, sweaty, long days outside. I have to be able to compensate them fairly. These guys can make a good amount of money; I pay more than many other competitors.
- I buy their lunch every day.
- I give them bonuses for the holidays, like 4th of July, Memorial Day and Labour Day.
- And I offer flexible scheduling, and that’s something that a lot of employers won’t offer. If they have a lacrosse tournament or want to go to the beach or whatever, I try to make it really flexible for them which a lot of jobs won’t do.
Question: Do you have any full-time staff that stay on year ‘round?
I have a couple guys that are project managers. We’ve worked with each other to get out of it what we each want to get out of it.
And, while we’re closed for 5 months of the year, the receipts don’t stop when we close. For instance, we maintain accounts like NiceJob since it helps us bring in sales, plus have other non-negotiables like taxes and insurance. It’s important to manage your money correctly when the majority of our revenue only comes within a few months of the year. So, I have a CFO - he’s an accountant and helps me with the finances.
Question: Do you do any marketing in the off-season to prepare for the upcoming busy season?
My main strategy is to get as much work lined up before actually opening. From the past season I have lined up 3-4 weeks of work to start the new season. And this forward planning helps me stay profitable and also helps to reduce the need to advertise as heavily.
That said, It seems to me, no one is really thinking about power washing and deck restoration until it comes back into their minds in March. And that’s when I’ll do an advertising push:
- Physical marketing: We do a lot of flyers and signage around town. We work in a really consolidated area - 90% of our business is within a 3-mile radius, 2 zip codes. So we can efficiently distribute those.
- Digital marketing: leading up to the busy season I will do some Facebook advertising which directs people to our website. We have a website designed for lead generation.
- Referral marketing: We have a 5-star rating on Google and Facebook which helps attract new customers and I display the reviews for my business on our website. I will also put it on the customer; I will give the customer a discount if they can refer us to any of their neighbours. It saves us money on travel time and the discount for the 1st customer gives them incentive to at least throw it out there to their neighbours. And that works really well.
Question: In the slow season what’s the #1 thing that you’re focused on?
The off season is the reset.
During the busy season we’re working 10-12 hours days at minimum. I don’t do a whole lot other than keeping the wheels moving during the busy season.
During the off season I study. I listen to podcasts and read and learn a lot about sales and marketing this way.
This is my time to learn everything a successful business owner should know to run a business. It also gives me time to get motivated and set new goals.
- The Home Service Expert Podcast
- Quick Talk Podcast
- Home Pros Success Podcast
- And then a really good book that I’ve read is The Ultimate Sales Machine - a pretty famous book for all types of people in business.
So, there it is. Seasonal businesses, whether an ice cream shop or deck restoration and power washing company - can absolutely manage the swings of each season and remain profitable.
Thank you to Ryan Quaal for being our case study and sharing some of his strategies to stay profitable year round.