Surf Expo Magazine.
Originally published September 2013 in Surf Expo Magazine. I used to work for Surf Expo and had written a variety of blogs, site content, proposals, and penned articles for the industry-famous Daily Flush onsite, in-stall bathroom daily, but this was the most special because I was invited to contribute to the show’s print magazine after I had moved on to work for Sage Island and run the non-profit Board Retailers Association.
View PDF of original article.
Washing off the Water Lines: Storm-Ravaged Retailers Share the Keys to Shop Survival
Whoever said that indie retail is dying just isn’t looking deep enough. With the wholehearted support of local authorities, heartfelt outreach from community of customers, and the unyielding commitment of their vendors, shops are surviving near-complete destruction from storms like Sandy and Irene, earthquakes and other natural and national disasters. They’re not just living to tell the tale; they’re set to recover. And they’re stronger for it.
Four shop owners, who have been beat down this past year, reflect back through the water lines, the mud—and in some cases, the looting. The breaking down, clearing out and literal rebuilding of their business. And they each came back to with me with one key takeaway—their own best piece of advice—for what to do before a natural disaster comes to wreak havoc on your livelihood:
Be Solution Based
“My takeaway? Don’t plan for an emergency. Plan for several.” –D. Nachnani, Owner Of Coastal Edge, Virginia Beach, VA
D. Nachnani: In August, 2011, the week before the Vans Coastal Edge East Coast Surfing Championships, our shop and event team were challenged by four emergency events: a tornado, a swamp fire, a hurricane (Irene) and an earthquake. Fortunately, none of these events caused damage to the shop or event. We lost business, but we were able to recover. The main reason we were able to forge forward without panic was because we have plans for every scenario and a clear communication chain that connects our internal employee network to all of the action sports vendors, event production crew, and local municipalities. Keeping everyone educated on all potential scenarios—and keeping it fluid when the situation arose—is how we persevered.
Our system works like this:
• We prepare one-page, strict action plans for a variety of potential calamities. All responsible parties have their own red folder, which includes a complete set of guideline for each scenario.
• For both the ECSC and the shop contingency we develop group text and group email lists.
• Maintaining constant communication is key.
• You’ve got to be flexible. Adaptation keeps everyone involved safe and calm.
Back to 2011, we found out about hurricane Irene on a Tuesday. By Wednesday morning we had already shifted parts of the event using this system. Our vendors were prepared and easily adapted, and by the time the 200K+ spectators arrived it was like nothing had happened all week. The city was so impressed they turned over a permit for the following year the next week—something they normally wouldn’t turn around for months.
Get To Know The Authorities
“The lesson here is that it’s key to get atop the ‘lists’ post-disaster. Be sure to be known.” –Tony Giordano, Owner Of Ocean Hut, Lavallette, NJ
Tony Giordano: When Sandy headed our way, as a surfer you always get excited, but as a coastal resident and a business owner, I quietly hoped for the best and prepared to stay safe. The morning after the storm my wife, son and I had to be rescued by boat. Our house completely flooded and we lost three cars. The shop was destroyed. What little survived the flooding was looted the next day.
I was focused 100 percent on rebuilding as soon as possible. The 37-year-old shop needed to live on. Thankfully, I had established strong relationships with the authorities—the municipalities. In a situation like this, the community is stronger than ever, but the list of those needing assistance is long, and accessing your property after the storm wasn’t easy. So being tight with the mayor and the chief of police really got us to the front of a long line because we were able to get their ears first. We got in fairly quickly post-storm and working without heat and in the dark got us ahead of the curve when the utilities finally did get back on.
Working non-stop we were finally able to reopen five months later, the Wednesday before Easter. While the shop is rebuilt, the neighborhood and local tourism will take years to get back to normal.
Work A Business Loss Into Your Plan
“In summary? Your best month ever is now just ‘meh.’ But it’ll help you recover in the long run.” – Bob Chestnut, Owner Of Ride the Wind, Ocracoke Island, NC
Bob Chestnut: Since we took Ride the Wind over in 1999, we’ve been growing the business. In that 14 years, however, we’ve suffered a steady influx of beatings from hurricanes.
In Ocracoke, an isolated island just south of Hatteras and connected only by ferry, the evacuation process for a hurricane is a long one. We begin to lose business as soon as we know a storm is coming our way. Sometimes, like with Hurricane Alex in 2010, we only had nine hours to prepare. And with Sandy we lucked out with minimal damage.
The greatest impact we’ve had was Irene. Business was cut off after going full bull, and our season at its busiest—just before Labor Day and back to school—was completely muted. Thankfully, we write off a full week of our best month of business to set ourselves up for at least a partial recovery for storms and other unpredictable disasters. That padding, plus a busy holiday season, can really help us get back on track.
Here is what we do for prep. Because there might not be a storm this year, but there might be a larger than average impact next year:
• Write off some business. We plan on being shut down for one complete week during August 1-31.
• Reduce inventory. We scale back our back-to-school buy.
• Wait until after hurricane season before forging big plans. We don’t make any long-term business decisions in July and August.
Stick To The Basics: Insure, Save, Negotiate
“Without the level of insurance, stashed cash, and the grace of our vendors we would not be doing as well as we are, all things considered.” – Randy Young, Owner of Heritage Surf & Skate, Margate, NJ
Randy Young: Heritage Surf & Sport in the Margate location was the hardest hit of our three stores. We took in three feet of water and virtually everything leftover after the water moved out was covered in mud and slime.
This is a leased property and our landlords agreed to do the renovation, but we needed to gut it quickly. Our goal was to be open for business by Black Friday, and by that time we did manage to be marginally operational. The full renovation continues today, over six months after the storm. The silver lining? It includes an expansion.
My takeaway might not sound profound, but without the following we’d be either out of business or at the very least in really rough shape:
• Always plan to come into winter with a cash flow knowing you might lose fall revenue. In our case, nearly the entire season last year).
• Insure, insure, insure. This is often an element of business that in tougher times you might want to skimp on. Without the level of insurance we had, we’d be in real trouble.
• Work with your vendors. This is more than just a “tough season.” My vendors were among the first to reach out, and they’ve assisted me with discounts on damaged product and extended dating.
Editor’s Note: By September 2013, all these shop owners should have their stores fully functional and continuing the recovery.
A Bright Idea: Coastal Edge has several contingency sales events planned to help recoup sales after unforeseen events. Brilliant!