This is part one of a three-part article about ice melt supply.

As temperatures soar into the 90s and the days are at their longest, the last thing on any jan/san distributor’s mind is the frigid weather, snow and sleet that’s right around the corner.

But, according to ice melt vendors, this is exactly when distributors should be thinking about preparing themselves and their clients to have enough ice melt to weather the winter season that is invariably on its way.

“The whole industry has gotten into this ‘just in time’ mentality,” says Mark Schneider, owner, Schoenberg Salt Company, New York. “This is not a seasonal business. This is a demand-driven business. Seasonal businesses are Christmas trees and pumpkins.”

The fundamental problem that players in the ice melt market face is that no two winters are the same, especially recently. Take, for instance, the winter of 2011-’12, when most of the United States enjoyed unseasonably warm weather and compare that to the last two winters when much of the country faced historically cold temperatures and record snowfall. This makes the demand for ice melt unpredictable.

“It’s really about the demand. We try to prepare for the demand whether it has snowed the year before or not,” says Schneider. “We really don’t decrease our levels of inventory or increase them, because we look at our business in a five-year average. If you look at this business on a one-year average, you’ll never make it work.”

Distributors, too, can use a multiple-year average to plan their ice melt supply for the coming winter. They can also have strategies in place to avoid running out of product in case the upcoming winter is severe. The last thing distributors want to do is not be able to fulfill their customers’ orders and send them to the competition.