Living in Hampton Roads, we live through the threats of hurricanes and flooding but not often do the threats follow through. Unfortunately, during Hurricane Matthew, our business was hit by the flooding that swept through Norfolk, among other cities.
Kylie Ross Sibert, editor of Retail Angles and Vice President, Corporate Communications, interviewed Ray Mattes, President/CEO, about these events and how we handled this crisis and kept our business running.
Kylie: When did you first find out that our building was flooded?
Ray: It was Sunday morning and I’d been watching the hurricane from my house on the Bay. We’d had a bit of wind-driven rain coming into our house and Sandy (wife) and I were up and drying out towels at 6:00AM. The news was on and I noticed the camera crew were standing at the corner of Virginia Beach Blvd and Granby St. They showed a car in the middle of the intersection with water up to the roof. That’s when I knew we might have an issue, as our offices are located on that very corner.
Kylie: How did you react?
Ray: Knowing that there was no way to get to the office, I called my brother who lives in Freemason. He waded to the office and reported that our foyer was under water. I immediately executed our Business Emergency Plan. A note went out to all staff delaying opening on Monday until noon so the management team could assess the damage. There wasn’t much else I could do at that point until the flooding had receded on the roads and the under-passes.
Kylie: What happened on Monday?
Ray: By midday on Monday, the restoration company we had on retainer, Aresco, was on site, assessing the damage. Damage was much more than originally thought. Water had seeped through the weepholes located in the brickwork, thus moisture wicked up through the insulation two feet in the walls; we had two inches of standing water which ruined the flooring and carpet, as well as most of the furniture. The biggest fear moving forward was the threat of mold and the safety of our employees.
Kylie: What happened next?
Ray: We immediately ordered pods to be placed in the parking lot to store everything from the first floor while remediation took place. Aresco helped us out by contracting movers for the move. During the remediation, two feet of sheetrock had to be cut out on external and internal walls, blowers and vacuums were installed with huge duct work running throughout the first floor. Outside, the facade was damaged below the bricks, the debris field extended at least 50 yards from the rear of the building which included all of the landscaping timber, mulch, and other storm debris.
Kylie: Were you able to keep the business running during this time?
Ray: It’s taken two months to have everything repaired or replaced; outside façade, sheetrock, painting, flooring, etc. We had to work out a way to remain open during that time, fortunately we have great staff who rose to the challenge and did not miss a beat. We never canceled an event or missed a deadline. Although cramped, we boxed up files and moved everyone from the first floor upstairs, finding space for everyone to continue working. Our Open House was moved back a week until all the downstair repairs were made. We made it in the nick of time with the touch up painters on-site during the morning of the Open House. I do not remember any day after the hurricane up until the Open House that we did not have workers in the building. We can give a big thanks to our Facilities Manager, Rhonda Zentkovich for keeping all the workers on task.
Kylie: What were the lessons you learned from this crisis?
Ray: First, develop a “Business Continuity Plan” and keep it updated, ready for immediate implementation if needed. (We learned the importance of this through one of our Loss Prevention Task Force meetings). Second, make sure you have insurance you deem important to your location/business. It was a godsend to have retained Aresco, even though we’ve never had to use them before. They walked us through the whole process from the moment we called them and always conducted themselves professionally and timely. Third, we learned that it is great to have awesome members. A special mention to Cherry Carpets for the flooring and carpets and great customer service and to Domestic Divas for an outstanding deep cleaning job. Fourth, make sure your files are backed up and preferably offsite or on the cloud. This gave everyone the ability to work virtually if need be. Fifth, surround yourself with a great team who can stay focused on their jobs during challenging and sometimes uncomfortable times. If you have any specific questions regarding our experiences with business continuity, please contact me.