With our unseasonable spring weather, it hasn't been business as usual

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Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 12:00 am

When record rains fell Monday, record calls poured in to the Omaha offices of Thrasher Basement Systems.

More than 400 property owners called for help with flooded and leaky basements, and now Thrasher technicians are scheduling appointments three and four weeks out.

“We're all working pretty crazy hours. We're trying to do the best we can,” sales manager Nick Rohe said.

Basements were primed for problems by last summer's record hot and dry conditions. Parched soil separated from basements, and without the structural support, walls cracked or crumbled.

It's just one example of how unpredictable Midlands weather is sending businesses out of their normal routines in ways that can be stressful. While some businesses like Thrasher and auto body repair shops have more customers than they can handle, nurseries and lawn services are sending workers home early, holding off on hiring and hoping to make up for lost time when the weather improves.

We checked in with several area businesses about the impact of weather:

Garden nurseries

Mike Fink has faith that these April showers have visions of May flowers growing in his customers' minds.

“We need to be thankful for the rain,” the general manager of Lanoha Nurseries said. “It has challenges” — like customers mostly window shopping when they normally would be buying — “but I think in the long run it's going to actually create sales, I really do believe that. It's going to take the extreme drought off people's minds.”

With sunny skies on the way, Fink and others in the garden supply business are looking forward to strong May sales to make up for weak demand so far. “We're going to see a lot of pent-up demand hit the store.”

At Indian Creek Nursery, manager Amy Mefford appreciates the break because it's given her more time to create custom containers. The customers who have been in to plan their gardens, “We keep having to hold them back,” she said. The extra time might mean better-planned plots, as gardeners are forced to think through, “Do I really have room for 20 tomato plants?”

Mefford anticipates a busy weekend and two busy weeks before Mother's Day.

Mulhall's has 700 moss baskets ready to go for the rush, and its 70-degree greenhouse is a destination for gardeners who want a dose of color and warmth.

Manager Rachael Doolen said she's been sending employees home early on rainy, cold days, but she said it will be all hands on deck this weekend.

Auto body repair

Boyd Dingman knew what was coming two weeks ago when a welcome spring rain turned to a pounding rat-a-tat on his roof.

The owner of three auto body repair shops in the metro area envisioned the insurance paperwork, the phone calls to warehouses to find hoods, the customers he can't help as quickly as he'd like, and thought, “Oh, no.”

The April 9 hailstorm was early and especially powerful, said Dingman and another auto body shop owner. Dave's Auto Body had lots of glass and body panels to replace. The shop tries to schedule “hail jobs” around its bread and butter, regular collision repair work.

“You get thousands of people that get hit at the same time. Business is pretty crazy for a little while,” said co-owner Doug Schumacher, who expects to stay busy with hail repair for several more weeks.

Farmers

In a normal year, Dan Hughes would be planting corn “hot and heavy” by now.

Instead, because it's been so cold, his crew was just getting started Tuesday, tilling and fertilizing the Chase and Perkins Counties soil where Hughes grows corn, wheat, pinto beans and millet.

“When you farm, you are at the mercy of Mother Nature,” Hughes said. “You can only do so much with what she gives you.”

The cool, damp spring is helping his winter wheat crop, which didn't have much time to “tiller,” or develop shoots, out of the dry ground before freeze. Winter wheat conditions are varied across the state depending on moisture levels, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. Hughes, however, is not considering ripping up his winter wheat and replanting, as some have.

With a wetter spring and a decent snowpack in the Rockies, Hughes said it might be a more normal year for moisture in his area.

“I'm a little more optimistic about this coming year than I was a month ago,” he said.

Sprinkler installation

After last year's record hot and dry summer, Millard Sprinkler General Manager Dustin Nihsen was thrilled when more homeowners decided to invest in a sprinkler system. With the economy improving, and “a lot of competitiveness to be like the Joneses next door that have the green grass,” people bought sprinkler systems with money they might otherwise have spent on new countertops, Nihsen said.

Now it's too wet to install the systems this spring. Especially with heavy equipment used on commercial jobs, “We're just going to go and mess the yard up.”

That makes it tough to hire and hang on to seasonal employees. Nihsen finds himself begging, “We need you, we need you, how soon can you start?” only to tell workers, “Well, we can't start you yet.”

Nihsen is sure the systems will still be needed. “At some point, it will stop raining.”

Lawn care

Rain also has meant a slow start for the lawn care business.

“We've worked less days than we had last year” at this time, said Dan Setlak, owner of Heartland Lawns. “It's either extremely dry, or extremely wet, or extremely cold.”

He's holding off on applying fertilizer and weed killer, knowing it will only get washed away. And new clients aren't calling yet, because it hasn't felt like spring.

But the rain now will mean more business later — a bumper crop of dandelions is due.

The six-step fertilization plan can be compressed, Setlak said, so Heartland is visiting customers every four to five weeks. “I expect the bottom line to be the same.”

Contact the writer:

402-444-1336, barbara.soderlin@owh.com

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