Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Seasonal sales wilt

Old Man Winter's refusal to leave puts a serious damper on spring-buying fever

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It's the middle of April and at the Canadian Tire store on Regent Avenue, items such as patio furniture, bicycles and garden supplies should be flying out the front door.

Instead, it's snowing and blowing outside and you could roll a bowling ball down the aisles and you might not hit anyone.

Welcome to spring 2013, the season of discontent for winter-weary retailers and shoppers alike.

Old Man Winter refuses to leave and that's putting a serious damper on the usual spring-buying fever. It's also putting the squeeze on retailers who have tons of spring and summer stock to sell and too few people buying it. Especially some of the big-box, high-volume stores that order product months in advance and have new shipments arriving almost daily.

"Our warehouse is bulging at the back (of the store)," said Rob Petkau, general manager of the Regent Avenue Canadian Tire outlet.

"It makes it difficult for staffing, as well," Petkau said, noting the store hired extra workers for the usual spring rush. But the rush has yet to materialize.

He said this past weekend was an exception. It was the closest thing to spring weather Winnipeggers have seen so far this year. But all that changed early Monday with the arrival of a freak April snowstorm.

"Today, it's the opposite of yesterday," Petkau said.

It was a similar story at the Lifesport Shops outlet on Pembina Highway, where store owner Walter Jozwiak had about 100 gleaming bikes waiting to be sold as the wet snow continued to fall. Talk about a downer.

"The only thing we'll be doing today is some bike repairs," Jozwiak said. "We're not going to be selling any bikes."

He said the store has sold some bikes this spring despite the lousy weather.

"April is when sales are supposed to be ramping up and it's been acceptable. But it's been at the bottom end of acceptable," he said.

Rond's Marine sales manager Jeff Snowdon said April hasn't been a complete washout for them.

"People are still shopping for boats and we're still selling boats. But it (the unseasonably cold weather) is definitely slowing it down."

The owner of Vanderveen Greenhouses Ltd., a Carman wholesale/retail operation that supplies hanging-basket plants, bedding plants and flowers to big-box retailers and outdoor garden centres in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, said they usually start shipping out their first batch of plants by the third week in April. But that's likely going to be delayed this year.

"The outdoor garden centres are not even open yet," Kelvin Vanderveen said, adding they've turned down the heat in their greenhouses and cut back on watering and fertilizing to slow down plant growth so their plants don't get too big too soon.

All of the retailers interviewed Monday said they're not pushing the panic button. There is still time for sales to turn around.

"Our kickoff for spring sales is typically Mother's Day," said Chad Labbe, co-owner of Shelmerdine Garden Centre on Roblin Boulevard.

"I'd be naive to say this is not going to cause us some grief. It's going to impact our sales a little bit. But if the weather gets good later in the season, we'll still get the sales."

"Sales are down significantly now, but they're going to catch up," Petkau said. "This year, May and June are going to be so busy. It's going to be hard to keep up."

For some lucky retailers, such as Warehouse One, it's been business as usual. Spring and summer merchandise is still flying off the shelves in spite of the weather.

"Shorts, capris, T-shirts, tanks, even our summer dresses -- they've are all selling well," said Rhonda-Lee Meakin.

"I think our product assortment has a lot to do with it," Meakin said. And some customers also have been telling their staff they're tired of waiting for the warm weather to arrive. So they're updating their spring and summer wardrobe anyway to boost their spirits.

"Can you image what it's going to be like when the weather finally does break?" Meakin said.

 

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 16, 2013 B5

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