Doing good
Secrets of the Seasonal Business
Free Enterprise Staff | August 23, 2016

If you grew up in New England, then chances are you’ve been to Cape Cod, which, thanks to its picturesque beaches, quaint town centers, and mom and pop shops, is one of the region’s top summer draws. But how do the local businesses stay afloat after the masses of seasonal tourists have returned home?

The truth is, it’s a delicate balancing act of the economic sort. While some remain open only throughout the year, others will make the decision to shutter their doors and keep costs down outside of the lucrative spring and summer months, creating a kind of ebb in the natural flow of their unique business cycle.

For any business that falls into the latter category, the key to survival is making money—and a lot of it—when foot traffic is up. That means getting more bodies inside your store or restaurant who are willing to pay a premium for whatever service you’re offering. It helps if you have a reputation for serving some of the best seafood in the area, a reputation that Cooke’s happens to have.

With locations in Hyannis and Mashpee, Cooke’s has opened seasonally for the past 25 years. Lines regularly snake outside its doors, with hungry customers eager to get their hands on the restaurant chain’s signature fish-centric dishes. Since its business was, after all, founded on the idea of serving local, fresh fish, the family-owned restaurant takes pride in its limited seasonal schedule, which every year adds a kind of immediacy that draws hordes of visitors.

Yet not every business is like Cooke’s, with many operating on a year-round basis, both on Cape Cod and elsewhere in other U.S. tourist destinations. Whether it’s because their summer cash haul isn’t enough to sustain the company year-round, or that it’s not cost effective to shutter their doors for half the year, these stores are there to cater to full-time residents.

Regardless of the timeframe around which a business operates, owners universally look to lease commercial space in the center of bustling shopping districts. As they say in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location, even if that means moving a few hundred feet in either direction.

On this end, local governments and Cape Cod’s business community have worked to promote a friendlier business climate, one that affords entrepreneurs and owners more opportunities to attract notoriously finicky tourists. Many towns, for instance, are increasingly issuing permits for outdoor seating. Though it might seem like a minor detail, this kind of policy change can have a profound impact on a restaurant’s bottom line.

Organizations like the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce also work directly to help local store and restaurant owners better manage the ups and downs of running a business in what is an inherently tourist-driven region. Earlier this year, for instance, the organization held a business workshop on how to more effectively navigate the seasonal retail business with better planning and management initiatives.

For many businesses, staying profitable and keeping their doors open ultimately comes down to remaining unique. People shop in local stores because they can’t find them everywhere, so it’s important to keep that in mind when marketing a store. It also helps in recruiting efforts. With a surplus of young workers looking for summer jobs, stores have to compete against one another to nail down the best talent for those lucrative and often-hectic summer months.

Still, operating a business in a tourism hotspot like Cape Cod isn’t all that different from running one anywhere else. Many businesses have slow and busy seasons, and more still must contend with the whims of Mother Nature. Not many people want to go golfing when it’s pouring out. Yet there is a sort of romantic quality about a beach-focused surf shop or the clam shack you’ve gone to with your family for as long as you can remember. As long as there are mouths to feed and people with money to spend, businesses will continue to find ways to keep their doors open—and their stores growing.