All Doug Hein wanted for Christmas was snow. It didn't come.
So, you might have noticed that Chicago's winter program hasn't quite fully loaded yet. We didn't have a white Christmas. It snowed briefly on New Year's Day, but it didn't stick. While some of us are enjoying the breezy, unseasonable jacket weather going on here, some folks are losing money because of the lack of white gold falling from the sky.
No, I'm not talking about the snowplow industry -- though they're probably hurting, too. No, we reached out to Lakemoor, Ill.-based BK Boat And Sleds, local company that's been forced to get creative to stay profitable in this lovely September weather we're enjoying in January.
Doug Hein, co-owner of the shop, helped start a pretty hilarious Snow Report Blog that documents all the things he and his co-workers are doing to stave off cabin fever and insanity during this dearth of precipitation. The videos will run everyday until winter kicks in, and while they're enjoyable on one level, they're also a clever way of grabbing attention when customers aren't exactly storming the doors. (If this sparks your interest in running your own YouTube videos, check out this incredible piece by YouTube's Baljeet Singh for some site called Inc. Well)
I gave Hein a call to help cheer him up on a sunny, bright, and money-losing day.
Enjoying the weather?
Doug Hein: Yeah, right. It's nice and sunny today.
You said snowmobiles make your year, but do you have a percentage amount you could share?
Doug Hein: I would say about 65 or 70 percent.
Has it always been that way, or has it fluctuated over your five years?
Doug Hein: Everything's grown, but as a percentage that's held pretty steady. In the summer it's boats or ATVs, stuff like that. I'd say usually right around Thanksgiving it switches to sleds, and it's just all snowmobiles all the time until the last snowfall.
Did it do that this season?
Doug Hein: This current season it started earlier. A lot of it was with the almanac calling for a big snow this year. It was just a buzz early. I'd say end of October? It set us up right. We went into sled season pretty heavy, but the snow never came. [Laughs.] It changed things quickly.
What do you do to stay afloat when you're missing such a huge chunk of your business?
Doug Hein: The nicest part is we do a lot of shipping. We ship all over the world. There's snow somewhere. We ship to the few spots that do have snow. There's local guys coming in that are just bored, taking their sleds apart to get ready for when it does snow. But usually, yeah, it's just a revolving door with people coming and going.
My God, you sound so sad.
Doug Hein: [Laughs.] We've got time now, so we're playing around with it.
That's where the snow blog comes in, I assume. How successful has that been in terms of attracting attention -- other than my calling you?
Doug Hein: I guess we kinda started right at the first official day of winter. We were a month into our regular season at that point and there was no snow. We were kinda coming up with something along the lines of a protest, like, "We're not gonna do this until it snows." But then we did the first snow report, and just kinda stuck with it for a couple days. Then people were asking for it. We've got so far where we couldn't not do one anymore.
Has it had any impact in terms of sales?
Doug Hein: At this stage it's more of an attention thing. [Laughs.] There's still no snow so no one's really purchasing parts. We've had increased traffic to our website and on there is where the blog is at. We have seen some sales increase through that, but, yeah, it's pretty much just more attention and then once it does snow we're already in people's brains. We just hope it'll stick around that way.
What else are you doing to keep yourself sane?
Doug Hein: Snow reports are definitely No. 1 on the list. And then we still have some sleds coming in, people who are just pretty much giving up on the season. We ship quite a bit, and then now with the temperatures the way they are now, we've actually had more boat parts here.
What advice would you give to people in other fields faced with a dry spell like this they can't even control?
Doug Hein: Right. It's the one thing we can't control, the crazy weather. I guess this is kinda stuff that you obviously dread going into, but keep looking forward at the bigger picture. You'll make it through.
David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.