Counting the cost of the snow - businesses face a £15m hit from Beast from the East
PUBLISHED: 16:04 28 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:22 01 March 2018
It may make look beautiful lying on rooftops and dusted on trees, but heavy snow can have a big impact on businesses, even weeks and months after it has thawed.
While youngsters may be counting their luck at days off school, firms will be counting the cost as meetings are cancelled, workers cannot get to the office and productivity drops.
Figures from the Centre for Retail Research in Norwich show East Anglian businesses could lose out on as much as £15m, with some shops reporting a drop in customers of 40%.
But despite the gloomy outlook many smaller businesses chose to look on the brighter side of the Beast from the East.
Dr Mike Brock, lecturer in economics at University of East Anglia, said the economic impact of heavy snow could be divided into the direct and the indirect.
He said: “Direct impacts include if you have closed down or if you run a shop in the city and you don’t get the footfall because no one is coming in. You may also have to compensate workers who have not been working.
“You also get longer-term and indirect impacts. Have people suffered an injury slipping on the ice which prevents them from working or have they had an accident and need to pay for the car to be fixed?”
Dr Brock said in countries where they were used to heavy snow there was infrastructure in place which meant productivity did not drop, whereas in the UK there was a much larger impact.
“One thing that has the biggest impact on productivity is uncertainty,” he said.
“If you don’t know if your meeting is going ahead you have to take time to find out if you can get there and make other arrangements which is sub-optimal for efficiency.”
Despite this technology has made working remotely far easier in recent years which helps to improve productivity.
It may not all be bad news as many shoppers may simply delay their trips until the snow has melted and businesses could see a rush in the coming days, Dr Brock said.
The Centre for Retail Research said while food retailers could benefit from people stocking up, non-food shops have seen a fall in customers with many avoiding unnecessary journeys – and said it had received reports of shop owners rationing staple supplies.
For independent businesses in Norwich, the whiteout led to delayed deliveries and a fall in passing trade, but many owners remained in high spirits.
At Norfolk Discount Plumbing and Electrical on Plumstead Road, the shop’s display bathtub was transformed into Norfolk’s finest bobsleigh for hire – and owner Ian Gent laid on a tongue-in-cheek offer on suntan lotion.
He said the few customers who had made it past the Plumstead Road shop had been asking for a ride in the bobsleigh, rather than risking the steep incline of Kett’s Hill in their cars.
“You’ve got to smile in these situations, and if you can make someone else laugh that’s even better,” said the 52-year-old.
“We were expecting three or four deliveries, and I don’t think they’ll be turning up. We were supposed to be doing deliveries today but I’m not going to risk sending staff out in this weather.”
Further up Plumstead Road, at Archers Butchers, the team of 10 had the shop open bright and early – but were expecting a quiet day.
Owner Jamie Archer said only one delivery had been cancelled so far but he felt it was important to remain open for customers nearby who couldn’t make it to a supermarket.
“We’ll struggle for deliveries today, I think, but it’s a good opportunity to get ahead with prep work for the weekend,” he said.
Rebecca Savage, owner of The Cafe Club on the corner of King Street and Rose Lane, said business had been slow because of the lack of passing trade.
“I’ve had no deliveries yet and I’m assuming it’s difficult for them. I’ve not had any bread or groceries, but I have enough to get by.
“We’ve had a few customers, but not many. The people of Norwich have got to get their coffee from somewhere.”
While many traders on Norwich Market kept their shutters down, butchers’ stall Bakers of Norwich was open for business.
Jordan Skeet, manning the counter, said a number of customers had come in search of joints of meat for cold-weather comfort food like stews.
He added: “Because the buses have stopped, that has affected us because a lot of our customers use them.”