Winter is coming and that means the inevitable slowdown in construction is not far behind. Depending upon specialties, some construction companies fare better than others during the winter months, but slight declines in overall business are common during the industry's offseason. What remains uncharted territory for many in the sector is the combination of a winter slowdown and COVID-19, the latter spelling troubling times ahead as the case count rises across the country.
According to ConstructConnect, a network of contractors and construction projects, the changes in seasonal temperatures "is the biggest and most important factor in construction." Although the spring and summer months carry its own set of issues, winter impacts almost every aspect of a project, whether it's the timeline until completion or material shortages and/or delays.
"The end result is that on average, winter building projects will take more time to complete," T.F. Harper, of T.F. Harper and Associates LP, wrote in an article. "A project that could be completed in 16 weeks in the warmer seasons would likely take 20 weeks in the winter months."
And then, there's the COVID-19 pandemic. When the virus reached the U.S. last March, many construction credit professionals said they experienced decreased business as projects were shut down and delayed. More than eight months later, business credit professionals remain uncertain of what lies ahead and how it will affect future business. At Mutual Materials Co. in Washington state, credit manager Paulyne VanderSloot, CCE, CICP, said "building is going on as usual" at the hardscape and masonry supply company. Despite hearing about pandemic-related slowdowns in other industries, VanderSloot said she has yet seen similar signs at Mutual Materials.
"As far as COVID-19, our sales have gone up from last year," said VanderSloot, who noted operations could change given Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee's recent decision to close down the state once again in early November. "We still have branches and customers in other states, but our CEO is always on top of things to make sure employees and customers are safe no matter where they are located."
Winter will likely add to ongoing struggles because it is often a slow period, the credit manager added. Less outdoor home projects and less orders from big box stores are typical this time of year.
Credit professional Roberta Ortiz-Montoya said Wagner Equipment Co. in New Mexico, is also staying afloat amid the pandemic, despite some projects being put on hold due to restrictions on public land use. The company specializes in Caterpillar equipment, sales, parts and service and also experiences slow business during the winter months.
"The combination of the normal winter slowdown and COVID-19 does create a new hurdle," Ortiz-Montoya said. In addition to operating in cold weather, COVID-19 makes it "difficult to do business over the phone when our industry depends a lot on face-to-face contact." At this time, she said the company is moving forward with current projects and will start up delayed projects once more areas are open for business.
—Andrew Michaels, NACM Editorial Associate