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Ways to Win Emerge from Massive Snowfall

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- For consumers and retailers, snowstorms are like snow itself: They get to be a problem if enough of them pile up.

American commerce dug a 4.2% increase in same-store sales out of a January that much of the Northeast spent shoveling, according to Thompson Reuters. It's better than the 2.7% experts predicted and included a 2.6% surge for Macy's (M), a 9% nudge for Costco (COST) and a 24% spike for Victoria's Secret owner Limited Brands (LTD). Sadly, though, it doesn't include last week's storms that stopped Chicago cold, froze Super Bowl traffic in and out of Dallas and left the Northeast wondering where to pack and pile it up next.

Relentless winter storms around the country are costing business big, with seemingly the only way to win to literally bet that it is going to snow.

The more than 20 inches of snow that fell in Chicago alone are estimated to have cost city retailers $55 million to $60 million in business, according to the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago consulting firm Melaniphy & Associates, with the Chicagoland area taking a $300 million hit. Airlines, meanwhile, canceled 20,000 flights last week, according to FlightAware.com. That brought carriers to nearly 90,000 cancellations this year -- the worst spate in nearly a quarter-century, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

That's made it a busy season for Planalytics, which provides weather data and weather-based business advice to firms including Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Kohl's (KSS), Campbell's Soup (CPB), Starbucks (SBUX) and PepsiCo (PEP). Planalytics tries to advise its clients how much inventory they should stockpile based on consumer behavior during snowstorms and other weather-related events, but acknowledges that human nature is unkind to retailers who don't stockpile the bread, milk and eggs for snow-day French toast or stacks of rock salt bags for last-minute shoppers.

"Overall, January is a light month for retail sales, and February's even lighter," says Evan Gold, senior vice president of client services for Planalytics. "That said, there's going to be some impact among mall-based retailers that count on foot traffic, restaurants and people who carry more discretionary items rather than need-based items."

If you're a home center such as Home Depot (HD) or Lowe's (LOW) that stocks snow-melt and snow blowers or a grocery store such as SuperValu (SVU) or Kroger (KR) supplying the snacks that get people through the storm, Gold says you're pretty much set. If you're a mass retailer such as Target (TGT), which was one of the few that saw numbers slump in January, it won't matter how much salt you stock in the garden center if you're not displaying a few bags of it with some snow boots and shovels up front.

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