6 Lessons from Small Businesses Damaged by Superstorm Sandy
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
Gerri Stansky knew Superstorm Sandy was going to be bad. She evacuated her home in Breezy Point Queens, NY to nearby Rockaway, where her in-laws and business, Strands hair salon, were located. But that wasn’t far enough. During the worst of the storm, she watched eight feet of water surge outside, carrying pieces of boardwalk and railings with it. When the water receded, it left her home uninhabitable and her salon ruined. “My 11-year-old son still has nightmares about it,” she says.
After Superstorm Sandy hit the eastern seaboard on October 29, it left devastation and billions of dollars of damage in its wake. And while the attention given to the storm’s aftermath begins to fade from the headlines, many business owners like Stansky are still trying to pick up the pieces and keep their businesses going. Here are lessons that three hard-hit businesses have learned.
1. Reach out for help. Once they were able to get online, Stansky and her two partners, Diane Liello and Sal Amerio, reached out to their network. One of their suppliers found a salon in an unharmed area of nearby Brooklyn, that allowed them to share space. She estimates she has serviced roughly 75 percent of her regular clientele in the few weeks she’s been at the new location.
2. Tap the cloud. Jennifer Walzer’s company, Back Up My Info! (BUMI), specializes in cloud-based platforms that help companies keep their systems running when disasters strike. She found herself in need of off-site data resources herself after her office in downtown Manhattan was submerged in 35 feet of sea water following Sandy’s storm surge. They have been able to work remotely by using a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone system and a cloud-based data platform.
3. Review your contingency plans. When Erin Visalli, owner of Relax Concierge, LLC, a linen and resort amenity rental provider serving the Jersey shore, learned about the storm, she immediately went to her Ocean City, New Jersey location to remove as much inventory as they could, elevate fixtures, and board up windows. Visalli was displaced from her home and is staying with relatives, and her business did suffer severe damage, but her quick thinking saved thousands of dollars in inventory hardware. She plans to have her business up and running from her original storefront by spring.
Walzer was traveling when reports of the storm began and she held a conference call with her eight employees, making sure they all had each other’s phone numbers and emergency contact person’s information so they could stay in touch. This was a simple and important step but one that could easily be overlooked in the rush for storm preparation, she says. Even so, she still forgot details like taking company checks with her, so it’s a good idea to have a written plan and go through it step by step, she says.
4. Use community resources. During times of disaster, a variety of aid sources are available to businesses, ranging from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) to local organizations that provide all manner of financial and other assistance. Stansky says that Team Rubicon, a nonprofit deploys military veterans and medical professionals into disaster areas to help victims, helped her husband with the huge task of clearing out water-damaged equipment and supplies from the salon.
Visalli relied on long-standing relationships she had built with storage facilities and truck rental providers, which she often uses for her business. Because she had a track record of being a good client and had gone the extra mile to become friendly with some of the facility owners, she was able to rent trucks and storage units when they were in short supply. “They knew who we were. They had worked with us before and were happy to help,” she says.
5. Check your insurance. While many assume that insurance will cover business losses, that’s often not the case. Stansky’s insurance doesn’t cover flood damage, so she is left to work with adjusters to determine what is covered, including losses that are the result of wind damage. She plans on looking into SBA loans to reopen Strands in its original Queens location.
Visalli estimates her losses at about $20,000, including lost inventory, equipment and damage to her store. Because the storm happened during her off-season, she hasn’t lost much business. The nature of her business, with most inventory scattered at various clients’ locations, doesn’t lend itself to traditional flood coverage, which typically covers one location. Knowing what is covered can help you plan financially for a worst-case scenario, she says.
6. Support your team. Two of Stansky’s employee’s lost their homes and each of Walzer’s and Visalli’s employees faced their own challenges either because of storm damage or simply because their workplace requires them to work remotely, adopting new habits and having to be productive under duress.
By finding an alternate location, Stansky has given her employees a way to support themselves again. Walzer hosts a get-together in the city every Wednesday night for dinner to get some face-time and reassure employees about the business. This helps them share their concerns and also lets them know that she cares about them during this stressful time, she says.