Overcoming a Natural Disaster: How These Businesses Survived and Thrive

How your business can survive a natural disaster

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), overcoming natural disaster impact is a rough road for businesses.

The agency’s latest data indicates that 40 to 60 percent of businesses never reopen following a natural disaster. That number goes up to an astronomical 90 percent failure rate for companies that can’t reopen and resume operations within five days.

How can your business beat the odds if you happen to have a natural disaster strike?

The two businesses below have their own unique stories to share about overcoming natural disasters as well as tips to help any business survive and continue to thrive despite Mother Nature’s moods.

Three Brothers Bakery – Hurricane Harvey

The Jucker family business, Three Brothers Bakery, is a Houston-area tradition. Their three locations serve-up up baked delights for multiple neighborhoods. They’ve seen their pecan pie go nationwide through mail order. Their baked goods keep winning awards, and it’s almost comical to list all of their accolades.

Yet, it was four days of rain and four-and-a-half feet of water from Hurricane Harvey in late 2017 that turned their operations upside down. All three locations flooded. Business ground to a halt.

To manage the damage from Harvey, the Juckers took out $900,000 worth of loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA). “These loans were to survive,” says Jucker. “Most people take loans to grow. We could have built two new stores with those loans. That’s the impact.”

Revenue is still recovering, and they still get the question: “Why don’t you move your business?” That’s a rough one for people who don’t run businesses inside disaster zones to grasp.

“Businesses are different than homes,” Jucker says. “You can raise a home and be out of it while it is being raised or perhaps even tear it down and rebuild. We have a working bakery with lots of built-in equipment like ovens, coolers, freezers, and it is also our main store. It would cost millions to move it, and our store needs to remain because this is where the ‘horses come to drink’ as we have been here since 1960.”

Her best advice for other businesses in disaster-prone regions? Protect your business and plan for the worst.

Get flood insurance:

“No matter where you live, floods can occur. If you are not in a flood-prone area, [flood insurance] is very inexpensive.”

Gather your financials and inventory:

“When you are buying replacements [for damaged business property] that you might want to finance, these things could be important. If you want a loan, they are definitely important.”

Have available credit:

“Cash is king when you have no revenue, so we charged everything we could to preserve cash.”

Jucker’s also excited about the bakery’s growing mail-order business and encourages businesses to find revenue streams beyond their own backyard. This will keep revenue coming in, even if the neighborhoods served are affected by natural disasters.

The Boathouse Marina – Freak Maritime Storm

When Bill Bowman bought the Boathouse Marina in 2013, he wanted to be the king of customer service for the boating community along the Virginia coast. Anything related to overcoming natural disaster was furthest from his mind.

Colonial Beach wasn’t an area prone to disasters, so he set his sights on improving the marina’s services. Between 2013 and 2017, Bowman oversaw improvements that included a new captain’s lounge, ship’s store, restrooms and showers, WiFi, laundry, and more.

No one on the Virginia coast was ready for the freak maritime storm that came along in April of 2017. Gusts of 70-75 miles per hour destroyed the marina, causing over $1 million in damage. Bowman’s facility went without power for six weeks. Yet today, he’s here to tell the tale of how he and the marina made it through.

The area had countless downed trees and powerlines, so there was a curfew instituted for safety. “We did as much as we could during the non-curfew hours, cleaning up debris ourselves even when equipment and clean-up vehicles could not access our site,” says Bowman. He also rented and purchased electric generators and got the marina back in business for their clientele within four days.

Today, the marina has rebuilt, and Bowman’s vision for the Virginia boating community has come through stronger than ever. Beyond the improvements he’s made after the storm, Bowman has a keen eye on how he and other businesses can prepare for a disaster, however unexpected.

Make a call list:

“Prepare a call list that includes anyone who can help you deal with whatever may happen.” (Insurance company, contractors, etc.)

Train your team:

“Be sure all staff is aware of the plan and prepared to participate.”

Prepare for self-sufficiency:

“Don’t rely solely on outside services to help you. If they can’t get to you, you need to be ready to help yourself.”

These two businesses demonstrate that it’s possible to thrive even when the worst of Mother Nature comes calling. How will your business use their tips to create a plan to aid you in overcoming natural disaster? For additional resources to help your business plan in advance so you can be proactive instead of reactive, you can visit the FEMA website, review tips from the SBA, and reach out to your insurance providers and banks to explore options available.

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