McDERMOTT COLUMN: Wet, windy, cool spring puts damper on fairweather businesses

The chit-chat over beers and burgers this long weekend inevitably will turn to the weather. It’s supposed to be pretty pleasant through Memorial Day and beyond.

That wasn’t the case earlier this spring. And the return to normalcy, meteorologically speaking, can’t come soon enough for outdoor-oriented businesses that do their best when the wind and the rain stay away.

Wednesday’s downpour marked the latest incremental setback. The skies opened just as Boeing Co. was kicking off a two-day investor conference on Kiawah Island. It’s safe to say more than one pricey round at the Ocean Course got rinsed that morning, never to be retrieved.

The unseasonably harsh conditions have buffeted other weather-sensitive businesses, especially retailers, compounding the litany of other challenges they’re facing, such as the Jan. 1 federal payroll tax hike.

Target, for one, reported a 29 percent drop in its first-quarter bottom line, citing in part the unusually cool spring.

Home Depot said strong profits were offset by soggy demand in the outdoors department, as rain and wintry weather deterred shoppers from buying plants, fertilizer and other gardening goods in the Northeast and South. Lowe’s singled out the weather in reporting disappointing results.

“Temperatures were cooler and precipitation greater than normal for much of the quarter resulting in a delayed spring selling season,” CEO Robert Niblock told analysts last week

In Charleston, the conditions were less-than-ideal for selling power ski rides, tubing excursions and other watery outdoor outings, said Mark Fiem of Tidal Wave Sports on the Isle of Palms.

“The spring was not so prosperous,” Fiem said about 10 days ago.

Aside from the rainstorms, an unusually high number of gusty days sucked the air out of Tidal Wave Sports’ parasailing business, which typically is a big revenue source each spring. Not this year.

“When it’s too windy, you can’t do it,” Fiem said.

It’s all put a damper on a strong start for the state’s visitor industry, said Duane Parrish, director of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism.

“Our numbers going into mid-February were 8 percent ahead. By mid-April, we had lost that entire gain,” Parrish said May 17.

While demand for local hotel rooms has held up, the unseasonable run of rain, wind and cool temperatures “socked” many fair-weather firms that cater to vacationers.

“I can tell with the state parks system,” Parrish said.

The state’s tourism chief sees a sunnier side to the passing stretch of inclement weather.

“It creates pent-up demand, and you can get a bounce-back from it in late May or June,” Parrish said.

Fiem agreed.

“Things are definitely looking up,” he said.

The weather seems to be cooperating. Finally.

Reach John McDermott at 937-5572.

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