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Rainy weather: Who’s making money, who’s losing out

Produce farmers are missing their customers. Tree-removal experts have more work than they can handle.

This summer’s near-record rainfall – 5.79 inches in Mecklenburg County since June 23 – has been a boon to some small businesses but crimped the profits of others. And with more rain in the forecast, small businesses are watching the impact on their bottom line.

A look at who’s benefiting and who’s missing out:

The winners

Mosquito control: With every rainstorm come pools of standing water – a breeding ground for mosquitoes, said Mike Rogers, president of Killingsworth Environmental.

Rogers said the rain has sent demand for mosquito control skyrocketing, with customers fearing another outbreak of West Nile Virus, the mosquito-borne pathogen that emerged in seven cases across North Carolina in 2012, including one in Mecklenburg.

As a result. Killingsworth’s gross revenue is up by more than 25 percent this year, Rogers said.

He said recent floods will continue to boost business – especially, Rogers said, because it takes so little water to attract mosquitoes. He said his company once counted 23 mosquito larvae in one bottle cap full of water.

Tree removal: Before this week, Patrick George, owner of Heartwood Tree Service, had never received more than 70 calls in a day for tree services. On Monday – day 16 of consecutive rainfalls in Mecklenburg – he received 140.

“Trees just aren’t as strong this year,” George said. “They’re falling apart.”

It’s happening all across the Charlotte area: A tree fell across a power line at the entrance to Carowinds on July 5, cutting power for about seven hours. Last month, a tree fell across Park Road, crushing an SUV.

For George, profits have ticked up about 5 percent, and work has extended to seven-day weeks, often from sun-up until dusk.

“Our employees like to earn a little extra every now and then,” he said. “But when it becomes a way of life, it becomes grueling – especially because what we do is extremely dangerous.”

He’s even had to begin turning customers away, he said.

“In the short run, this is good for us,” George said. “But in the long run, being in this business is about building relationships. And if we’re turning people away and sending them somewhere else, we’ve lost that long-term relationship going forward.”

Mold cleanup: Paul King was running on four hours of sleep Friday afternoon. He’s president of Charlotte Mold Remediation, which has seen calls increase by about 20 percent since the rain started. Some days, King said, he works from 5:30 a.m. until midnight.

“With this heavy rain, people have a lot more roof leaks, water intrusion – and a lot more mold,” King said. He said while it’s unfortunate people have mold problems, he’s happy business is thriving after two summers of drought.

Now, he said he can be choosier in taking on jobs.

“Sometimes, I have clients that I just won’t be able to make happy,” King said. “Now, if I have a difficult prospect, I can just say ‘No thank you.’ ”

The losers

Exterior painters: At a painting company where 70 percent of business depends on exterior painting, Bob Bass said the rain has buffeted his business.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot of rain to set your schedule back,” said Bass, owner of Pride Painting Inc. “When it rains at night, we have to wait a whole extra day to let it dry out. It’s been brutal.”

Revenues have tumbled 35 percent, Bass said, and when paint jobs are ruined by the rain, it gets worse.

“We have to go back and redo the work, and we can’t charge for that,” he said. “That’s just lost revenue for us right there.”

Potentially more damaging, he said, are strained relationships with customers.

“We have to keep pushing work back,” Bass said. “Most (customers) are understanding, but we don’t always want to be stepping on the toes of our clients.”

Typically, Bass said he hires an additional 10 painters to help with the busy summer season. But with profits down, the money just isn’t there.

“We’re doing more with less people,” he said.

Golf courses: The rain that has brought green fairways to The Golf Club at Ballantyne has come with costs: declining revenues, spotty employment scheduling and sagging golf course maintenance, said Matt Zvanut, head golf professional at the club.

“With all the rain, we can’t cut the grass,” Zvanut said.

In good weather, Zvanut said The Golf Club at Ballantyne typically sees around 110 rounds of golf a day. Now, the course is averaging 50, if that, Zvanut said.

Because rounds typically cost between $60 and $80, the rain could mean losses of more than $3,600 a day.

And with fewer golfers playing, Zvanut said employee hours are being cut between 50 and 70 percent.

“Out of a crew of six each day, probably four are suffering,” he said.

Builders: Charles Blankinship, market development manager for Samet Corp., said his building company is working on five projects. Three of the five are two weeks behind schedule. And with continually wet ground, the work just isn’t able to progress.

“For every day it rains, it’s two days worth of delay,” Blankinship said. “It’s just gotten so hard to keep things going.”

He said employees try to keep themselves busy with paperwork, but many days are without work.

“When it rains, they have to stop working, and they won’t work for the rest of the day,” Blankinship said. “And if they don’t work, they don’t get paid a lot of times.”

Though Blankinship could not estimate Samet’s revenue, he anticipates a drop.

Produce stands: Norman Simpson’s family has been growing fresh produce on a 40-acre farm and selling it on South Kings Drive since 1941. But for the first time in 72 years, Simpson said, his business, Simpson’s Produce, has been hurt by the rain.

The ground on his farm is too muddy, his tomato plants are waterlogged and he can’t get his tractor through the fields. “It’s really been a mess,” Simpson said.

Simpson said wet soil has caused rampant smells and mildew on his farm, forcing him to uproot his produce and start all over.

Severe flooding – including Thursday’s rain that dropped a month’s worth of rain in the morning – has submerged parts of his farm.

“My cantaloupes, watermelons are full of water and now their shelf life will only be a day or two,” Simpson said. “A good cantaloupe could last 10 days.”

Sales at his popular stand have dropped 20 percent.

“The product doesn’t look as pretty,” he said. “Plus no one wants to come to the stand and shop in a monsoon.”

McCabe: 704-358-5197; Twitter: @mccabe_caitlin
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