Part three of this three-part article focuses on working with vendors to prepare for an unpredictable winter.

No matter how well distributors prepare their customers for the coming year, there will always be surprises. When business is driven by weather, anything can happen. The best thing for distributors to do is to plan ahead no matter what the season might look like.

End users aren’t the only ones who need to look at historical data. Carefully analyzing the past three to 10 years of sales will help distributors place their orders or forecasts as well. Besides knowing customer needs before the season starts, distributors should know the types of surfaces their customers need to treat and the square footage for each type of surface.

When in doubt, distributors can rely on their suppliers for guidance. Ask as many questions as necessary to meet a customer’s needs. Many ice melt manufacturers will happily help a distributor present the best bid possible if given enough time to put together the information.

“We tell our distributors, ‘Whatever information you need to sell our product, we’ll put our resources to helping you win those bids,’ says Naisbitt. “We’ll do comparisons, charts, whatever we need to do.”

Getting more product later probably won’t be too much of a problem. Most ice melt manufacturers have the supply lines to get distributors what they need when they need it. However, it’s important to remember that demand and weather are a factor for manufacturers as well. Underestimating how much and how soon ice melt will be needed can leave a gap in supply. If customers run into that gap, they have no choice but to look for another source. Some will come back out of loyalty, but others will move their business to the distributors who helped them out in a pinch.

“Prepare. Prepare. Prepare,” says Wice. “One of the worst things a distributor can do is not to be ready.”

Ice melt as an industry is volatile. There are so many variables. When they come together, deicer sales can go through the roof. If any one of those variables is off, distributors and manufacturers are left holding the bag.

If this winter is another lean year, sales reps can try to upsell and bundle ice melt with other products. But reps shouldn’t get discouraged. It’s only temporary. Another hard winter will come.

“It’s amazing how people get disappointed in this industry. Everyone’s in the same boat. It’s never one of those things where a few are really doing well and others are sucking wind. It just doesn’t work that way,” says Schneider. “It’s not a seasonal business, it’s a demand industry. When you can lose demand for your product, you can’t fight that.”

If it’s a slow year, use the time to lay the groundwork for the next bonanza. It could be right around the corner.

Caryn Gracey Jones is a freelance writer based in Aurora, Colorado.