April is the cruelest month. April, and maybe May.
At least, those are the months when sales dip for Humes Crafts LLC in Manhattan, Kansas, because local craftspeople put away their needlepoint and stenciling projects and pick up their trowels to plant their gardens.
Or maybe it's November. That's the month when the various businesses that comprise Joy and Gaylord Staveley's year-round mountain resort in the Grand Canyon are closed. Among the Staveleys' Canyoneers Inc. businesses are a whitewater rafting operation, a summer lodge, a country store, a winter cross-country ski center and a campground.
Early December is not a great time for the Dixie Flag Manufacturing Co. in San Antonio, either. Although he's creatively managed to find work for his company in every other month of the year, president Pete Van de Putte Jr. says he just can't seem to get Texans to buy flags at Christmastime.
Maybe every month has a little cruelty in it. John Hexter of Hudson Integrated Products, a Stow, Ohio, business forms and printing distributor, says he can't quite put his finger on when his downtimes are. He thinks they may be pretty closely related to his customers' vacations. When they go away, they don't order his custom office documents--but as soon as they come back, they want them yesterday.
Downtimes are business bogeys, those strange times during the year when the phone just doesn't seem to ring. Has everyone gone on vacation? Is your phone broken? Have you done something to scare everyone off? Not likely. It's probably just a cycle, caused either by the particular fluctuations of your business or by some outside force such as a change in the economy. The first thing you should know about downtimes is that you're not the only one who has them.
In fact, in many businesses, even ones that aren't obviously seasonal, downtimes are quite common. For example, most people in the crafts business, says Jerry Humes, owner of Humes Crafts, know about the April-and-May problem. Serendipitously, the downtime happens to come several months before the fourth quarter, when sales at Humes' 22-employee retail store are at their most brisk, so he uses the time to take inventory and prepare for busier months.
But even if downtimes are neither obvious nor public information, experts say being aware of and prepared for them is essential to business success. If you're considering starting a new business, don't be afraid to ask potential competitors about the downtimes associated with it. They'll probably be more than happy to share that information with you. People like talking about themselves and their businesses, particularly about things that might be discouraging to the competition.