One HFA member shares how your store can recover from a natural disaster
Home Furnishings Association member Tom Olinde knows two things: How to sell furniture and how to come back from devastating floods. Olinde, the 2015 HFA Retailer of the Year, has been doing both for decades.
Watching and reading the reports from Houston, Olinde has a message for his fellow furniture retailers in southeastern Texas. “I want them to know they can come back from this,” he said. “In fact, they need to know they’re in a position to do great business in the next few months.”
Olinde knows this first hand. His Olinde’s Furniture stores in Louisiana suffered the wrath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and then, three weeks later, Hurricane Rita. Last year, prolonged rain resulted in catastrophic flooding throughout Louisiana, damaging two of Olinde’s stores. In all three instances, Olinde and his staff turned tragedy into opportunity while still helping his community rebound.
“I know there are retailers thinking, ‘How am I ever going to come back from this, but they can, Olinde said this week. “We’re living proof of that and so are a lot of other businesses.”
Rebounding after such a tremendous loss can be difficult for furniture stores and other retailers. Those small business often lack large cash reserves, and the loss of income from having to shut down temporarily, or move to another location, can be serious threats.
Olinde acknowledges as much, but says it can be done. The key, he says, is acting fast. He shared a few tips for retailers trying to pick themselves up after natural disasters such as Harvey and Hurricane Irma looming off the Florida Coast.
Get up and running as soon as possible
“This sounds obvious, but I can’t stress it enough,” says Olinde. “People are going to be looking for bedding. They need to sleep on something. Something to sit on. After Katrina, I was bringing in three truckloads a day. You name it—bedding, inexpensive upholstery, dinettes. (Retailers) should be on the phone this week lining up their product.”
When flooding damaged one of his stores this time a year ago, Olinde says they ripped out the carpet and sold furniture off the concrete floor. “Lease a space where it’s dry if your store is underwater. Your competition is not going to wait for you to get back up and running.”
Take care of your employees
“You’re about to find out who your warriors are,” says Olinde. “They’re going to put in a lot of hours for you, but first you need to take care of them. You’re going to need them in your store and chances are they’ve been hit hard, too, at home. We set up a voucher system to get them what they need. They’re going to be working long hours in the coming months and won’t have the time to take care of their own homes without your help. Get them what they need at home so they can be there at the store for others.” Olinde said he offered his employees deep discounts on furniture and bedding. “First, it’s the right thing to do. They were hurting, too. But it also took a lot off their minds and helped them focus on helping others at work.”
Hire more people
“Retailers open for business are going to make a lot of money, but you have to be ready for the business,” says Olinde. “You’re going to need more salespeople, more truck drivers, more of every position you have. Call your retired employees, hire some part-time employees. Do it now before the good talent gets hired by other businesses.”
Secure a line of credit from your bank
“This isn’t the first natural disaster your bank has ever dealt with,” says Olinde. “They know there’s going to be a huge demand. They’re going to be receptive to helping you out. Talk to them.”
Negotiate special rates
“These people coming in off the street have gone through a lot already. You want to take away as many hurdles for consumer financing as possible. If you can get 24 months, same as cash that would be ideal. The whole process should be as seamless and painless as possible for your customers. It should be that way anyway, but even more so after something like this.”
The ripple effect from this, says Olinde, “is that you’re making a friend and a customer for life. I still have people walking up to me on the street or in the store thanking me after helping them from the flooding last year.”
Olinde says if your provider won’t work with you or give you a good deal, try local sources who might be more flexible.
Make special deals
After last year’s flooding, Olinde says he went to large corporations in Louisiana and offered special deals that the company passed on to its employees. But don’t stop there. Olinde offered the same to charities and nonprofits who could pass on the store’s offers to everyone they came in contact with. “It goes back to it’s the right thing to do,” says Olinde. “These people in your community helped you build your business. Now you need to be there for them. Plus, the goodwill you build up will pay off down the road. I know this. I’ve seen it time and time again.”
The HFA is working with members in Houston and in the Houston area, and other cities and towns along the South Texas coast and south Louisiana, to help them get back up on their feet so they can help their employees and communities. The Association is offering signage, consumer finance options and dues relief. Call the Home Furnishings Association at 800-422-3778 for details.
The Small Business Administration provides low-interest disaster loans to businesses of all sizes.
FEMA, also provides small business disaster grants for more information.
SBP, based in New Orleans, got its start rebuilding in St.Bernard Parish after Hurricane Katrina. The organization provides advisory services to local leaders and nonprofits, and deploys Americorps members to do mucking, gutting, and rebuilding. The organization focuses on using efficient processes to speed recovery.
GoFundMe, the social fundraising site, has created a landing page that gathers the campaigns on its platform related to Harvey.