Wettest summer in 100 years brings storm warning for businesses

This summer, the wet weather brings a similarly bleak forecast for small businesses that rely on sun-fuelled sales.

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Helena Young
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And now, the weather. Summer 2024 is shaping up to be one of the wettest on record, with meteorologists predicting on-off showers until the end of June. The news is sure to disrupt Brits’ barbecue and park day plans. More concerningly, it poses a real challenge for SMEs.

Retail and hospitality firms have already been hit by dampened consumer spending. Many rely on sunny spells to boost sales strategies throughout June, July, and August.

But with the Met Office predicting there could be as many as 50 wet days over the course of the next three months, the extra rainfall is unlikely to give SMEs the profit windfall they rely on. Below, we examine the stormy outlook for Brits and businesses this summer.

Storm in a pint glass

One sector likely to be hard hit by the bad weather is hospitality. Summer is the time that many pubs, bars, and restaurants open up their beer gardens, doubling seating capacity and maximising sales. But patrons won’t enjoy the space if it is accompanied by a downpour.

In a survey by The Morning Advertiser, conducted in 2022, 82% of pub operators reported that wet weather had ruined their summer trade. Purchases of seasonal drinks declined as a result, with cider experiencing a 15% decline in sales.

This summer’s wet forecast is particularly poorly timed. Sporting events such as Wimbledon, the UEFA Euros, and the Paris Olympics could have been big money-makers for pubs.

Will customers be content to watch Murray from a sodden pub deckchair? Most likely not.

Travel hubs, such as train and bus stations, have brought an uplift in footfall for small cafes and lunch spots. But if bad weather disrupts Brits’ travel plans, this rescue plan could falter.

Put away the summer wardrobe

Another industry that relies heavily on dry weather is retail. The UK high street is already struggling due to a decrease in footfall. Many popular brands have gone into administration, as consumers increasingly shun in-store shopping for online.

Taking a trip to the shops looks less appealing under a grey sky. Rain was one reason why retail sales fell by 2.3% this April, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Analysts pointed to April showers as the reason for the drop. While the start of spring typically brings good weather, alongside two bank holidays for organisations to increase profits, April 2024 saw several flood warnings issued across the UK.

Poor weather is most testing for clothing stores. Owners ordered this season’s clothing line months ago, flogging shorts and bikinis that will now be little in-demand.

2024 consumer research, conducted by Mintel, found that 12.5% of consumers shop more when it is raining – but only in covered shopping areas such as large shopping centres.

These out-of-town retail parks tend to be populated by larger chains who can afford the more expensive business rates, pushing out smaller traders.

Tourism troubles

Rising temperatures are already playing havoc with European tourism; melting ski slopes in Switzerland and the Alps. But operators in the UK are also impacted by extreme weather.

Local hotels, B&Bs, and other leisure operators might also struggle, as bad weather tends to reduce the number of tourists visiting certain destinations.

The threat is having long-term effects on certain UK regions. The Lake District is one of the UK’s top tourist hubs, boasting scenic views and lakeside walks. But charities have warned that extreme weather conditions are damaging its popular trails.

Interestingly, however, the growing awareness of climate change and its impact on nature is driving a new trend for eco-tourism.

President of Cumbria Tourism Jim Walker recently told in-cumbria: “People want to know how to access the Lake District [and] how they can do it sustainably.”

Could bad summer weather close businesses?

This summer looks set to be a damp squib for retail, leisure, and hospitality. Frustratingly, the inclement weather arrives at a time when another storm is already gathering for SMEs.

Staffing costs have reached untenable levels for firms since COVID. The new National Living Wage, introduced in April 2024, brought a welcome payday for staff, but has squeezed profit margins for businesses already grappling with worsening sales volumes.

Hospitality firms, as a result, are struggling to hire staff or pay wages, while also grappling with new labour laws that have worsened access to overseas talent. Meanwhile retailers have been forced to raise prices to stay afloat – jeopardising their ability to attract customers.

For companies operating on miniscule profit margins, failure is a real threat. 3,000 bars and restaurants in London have already closed since March 2020, and this summer will not improve the situation for brick-and-mortar businesses.

One lifeline for SMEs is the upcoming general election on July 4. As party leaders battle it out to win the small business vote, manifestos are filled with promises to support entrepreneurs.

Last November, the main opposition, Labour, announced a number of plans designed to revitalise the UK high street, including a pledge to reform business rates.

This could be why, at the end of last year, Startups found that 58% of business owners said a change in government in 2024 would have a positive impact on their prospects.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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