Blooming businesses: Some local companies benefit from drought

Randy Belongia, of Wauwatosa, loads his truck in the wear house of CGS Heating and Air Conditioning Friday, July 27, 2012, in Germantown, Wis.

Randy Belongia, of Wauwatosa, loads his truck in the wear house of CGS Heating and Air Conditioning Friday, July 27, 2012, in Germantown, Wis. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Aug. 7, 2012

Germantown - The summer heat isn't drying up profits for some local businesses.

An usually warm spring and record-breaking temperatures in June and July with little to no rain has caused lawns to brown, trees to wilt and burn ban after burn ban.

The drought forced the village of Germantown to implement a lawn watering ban as levels in the village wells dropped significantly over the course of the summer. Menomonee Falls saw its highest daily water usage since 2005, pumping 7.4 million gallons in one day, according to Director of Utilities Jeff Nettesheim.

Although many residents in Germantown and Menomonee Falls continue to deal with the inconvenience of a drought and look for ways to keep cool, others have reaped the benefits of back-to-back heat waves.

From landscapers and custard parlors to HVAC companies and bowling alleys, some local businesses have benefited from the drought.

Heat wave sparks boom

Since the first heat wave, owner Clark Sherman and technician Randy Belongia for CGS Heating and Air Conditioning have been working 12- to 15-hour days, seven days a week. Their days can be even longer as they work to ensure the elderly and families with small children do not go without air conditioning in the extreme heat.

Needless to say, business is booming.

"It's overwhelming," Belongia said. "We were surprised to find people who never had air conditioning getting it now and for the most part, it's the elderly, and that heat wave of 100 degrees brought some late nights, because we don't want anyone in the warmth."

Although business is busy, CGS is still trying to make up for losses experienced in winter due to unusually warm weather.

While CGS is making up for the past, owner Darren Stramm of Robert's Frozen Custard and Jumbo Burgers is bracing for the future.

It has been a bustling spring as temperatures were in the 70s and 80s and a busy summer at Robert's, W16040 Mequon Road in Germantown, as people stop for a cool treat especially when the sun goes down. Despite the increase in sales, Stramm is anticipating higher food prices in the years to come as a direct repercussion of the summer drought.

When the weather is warm and dry, customer traffic at Robert's increases dramatically; however, with a business that relies heavily on beef and dairy products, prices could very well be impacted as farms across the state battle the drought.

"It's been a very good spring and a good summer, but there's no doubt the shine kind of comes off a little bit because I know without a doubt that coming up are higher food prices," Stramm said.

No water, no problem

For David J. Frank Landscape Contracting, W21350 Freistadt Road in Germantown, the phone is constantly ringing with people worried about their trees and shrubs. Inadvertently, concern over the drought has boosted business. As employees are sent to residences to analyze the stability of plants, trees and yards, additional jobs pop up while they are on site, said Zach Lieven, landscape architect and maintenance specialist with David J. Frank.

"Suddenly, we have extra business," Lieven said.

He estimated revenue to be up about 5 to 10 percent, particularly in the company's irrigation services and repairs.

Carrie Hennessy, lead horticulturist for Johnson's Nursery, N6275 Marcy Road in Menomonee Falls, said while the drought and heat have slowed down traffic in the retail store, they are selling irrigation bags at a much faster rate than in years past. Irrigation bags can regulate tree watering for a week at a time.

Though the drought is driving business for some, the current temperatures can be detrimental to outdoor plants, said Russ Wendland, owner of Wendland Nursery in Germantown.

The nursery, N10415 Division Road, has experienced a higher level of calls about watering. When the temperature turns about 100 degrees, the damage to plant material is extreme. Wendland compared the heat to sticking a house plant in an oven. He said diagnostics and pruning of plants will be especially important next year or as early as fall.

"In landscaping, I tell people to think six months ahead and you want to be on the ball with this kind of stuff," he said.

Out with the old

Jason Peck, vice president of Thielmann and Son Heating and Cooling located in Menomonee Falls, said people who never felt they needed air conditioning before are deciding they can no longer live without it.

"It's been an incredible year for us," Peck said, estimating that business has increased by about 50 percent in the month of July.

The volume of customers seeking the 24-hour repair service and sales for brand new equipment are both up this summer. Compared with last summer, Peck said installation of air conditioning into homes that have never had it before are up 100 percent.

The volume of repairs has also surged this summer.

Because of extreme temperatures, equipment is working harder and running longer. When equipment is under high stress, its capacity for failure increases. Therefore, Monroe Equipment, a wholesale distributor of heating, air conditions, air quality equipment and supplies is reaping the benefits of the summer heat wave.

The lifetime of a central air-condition unit is between 12 to 20 years, according to president and owner of Monroe Equipment Randy Schneider. His company is seeing more people make an effort to repair equipment than to replace it; however, once the compressor fails he says buying a new unit is more efficient.

Some residents are escaping the heat in other ways. Dave Krueger, owner of Krueger's Entertainment Center in Menomonee Falls, said there has been a definitive increase in business due to the heat.

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