Winter can be a tricky time for small businesses. When the temperature drops, so does foot traffic – but that doesn't mean profits have to decline, too. In fact, cold weather doesn't have to prevent you from creating an inviting (and warm) space for your customers and can save energy in the process. Here's what to keep in mind when taking on the winter months.
Cold weather doesn't necessarily mean you have to crank your heat way up, especially for small retailers. "Remember that your shoppers are likely coming into browse in their winter coats and hats, so they can get uncomfortably hot pretty quick," says Adam Dixon, an independent consultant who helps Ontario businesses use energy more efficiently.
Keeping customers comfortable (and avoiding putting the heat up high) may be as simple as doing some rearranging in your space. Small retailers often position their cashier area close to the entry and exit. If yours is and your point-of-sale tech is easy to move, consider putting your cash a bit further into your store or behind a counter to deflect air, so your staff can keep their distance from opening and closing doors and be less tempted to increase the temperature.
If you're a restaurant-owner, move seating that's near windows and doors inward. "Try to take advantage of bar seating, too," Dixon says. "Keeping people closer together can also help create a cozier atmosphere."
Quality, efficient heating also requires well-maintained equipment. If you're a tenant and don’t have control of your heating and cooling equipment, talk to your landlord or property management company to ensure they’re regularly maintaining your rooftop units. For businesses that are part of a larger retail complex, try requesting that management installs individual zoning, so you can have more control of the heating and cooling in your own space.
If you do control your own heat, a smart thermostat is also a good tool to lean on for savings. Smart thermostats learn your routine and make temperature adjustments as needed, so you don't have to think about it. Keep in mind that you’ll need WiFi for your smart thermostat to work.
If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen, right? Well, a restaurant kitchen that stays super-hot while diners feel a chill could be a sign that your restaurant has improper airflow.
"Restaurants tend to pull a lot of heated air from the dining area to make up for the exhaust," says independent energy consultant Stephen Dixon. It's all a balance. Exhaust means air going out, while makeup is air coming in. Some restaurant kitchens have improper makeup and end up drawing on more air from the dining room.
Restaurants are among the most energy-intensive commercial spaces, using five to seven times more energy than other types of businesses.
Restaurant kitchens should install equipment to ensure adequate make-up air, which help supplement the air so less is pulled from surrounding areas, including the dining room where customers sit. "People sometimes turn these units off, thinking it'll save energy, but it actually does the opposite," Stephen says. So, remember to keep yours running.
Remind your staff not to use exhaust fans if they don't have to, he recommends. In some cases, exhaust fans are wired to the same switch as the lighting and go on automatically. Changing that may help you reduce your energy usage overall.
So, apart from an Arctic-like dining room, how else can you tell your airflow isn't ideal? "If you have to really push to get the door open, then that's a clue you have imbalanced airflow," Stephen says.
Speaking of doors, keep your main entryway inviting. Ever feel warm air coming down on you from above when you walk into a store or restaurant? That's from an air curtain. Consider installing one if you have a vestibule, Stephen suggests. These devices use air from your building to create a streamlined flow that helps to create a barrier between warm air inside and the cold outside.
If you don't have a vestibule, think about adding a pop-up, sidewalk model temporarily to provide more of a barrier between the outside air and your space. Your customers and your energy bill will appreciate it. Just keep in mind that you should look into your municipality's regulations on size and design, so you're not breaking any rules.
Caulking and weatherstripping around doors and windows also help keep your space more airtight. The energy savings on their own will be pretty great, but as a bonus, for restaurants and food retailers, sealing up any cracks also reduces the risk of pests.
Think about installing window film as well, which help keep warmth in during the winter (and can reflect sunlight out in the summer, keeping your space cooler). They're relatively quick and inexpensive to install, so you can get back-to-business fast.
Just because cold winters are a fact of life in Ontario, it doesn't have to put a damper on your business. Keeping simple tips for energy efficiency top-of-mind can help make sure your customers and revenues keep on coming.