Hurricane Irma: Heathertique’s Lessons Learned

Wow.  Last week was such a mess. Hurricane Irma hit us here in Florida on September 10, the Atlantic’s biggest storm in over ten years!  Now, I’ve seen my share of hurricanes, and I admit that Fort Lauderdale (where Heathertique is located) wasn’t hit nearly as hard as some were, but the total impact of the situation is leaving us strained.

The sheer state of public panic that was brought on by the media frenzy leading up to this storm was higher than ever.   My life has been admittedly already in a bit of chaos for the past couple of months (dealing with a divorce and the new role of single mom) but putting all of the extra factors together with the fact that this was my first hurricane season as a full-time business owner working solo…. part of me wants to just move on and quit thinking about all of it.  But they say writing can be therapeutic.   So here we go – here’s how Hurricane Irma continues to affect us:

I saw a headline that says

40% of small businesses never recover after a disaster.

Seeing that headline gave me such a strong emotional response that I immediately started jotting notes.  I refuse to be a statistic. We WILL recover from this. What can we do NOW to prepare our business better for the next disaster or emergency?

So now that I guess you can say I lived through a real-life business impact analysis, I’m putting together a team and a plan to make sure we never succumb to the overwhelming fear, panic, and unsuredness that comes along with keeping a business afloat (oh man, bad time to use the word afloat) during an emergency.

*Above: a few photos of my neighborhood after hurricane Irma. Not too much damage – just lots of flooding and no power for a week.

The first two days after the storm, not only did we not have electricity in the place we were staying, but no cell service either.  By day 3, I was back home but still no cell service. I was able to find a hot spot in town where I got a message through to my long-distance associate, Elizabeth. Elizabeth has been helping me behind the scenes with some work for a few months now, but she got a crash course in Heathertique customer service when I sent her the message, “Can you log into all my accounts and touch base with everyone about what is going on?!”   If you were one of those customers left in the dark, I am so sorry. Which brings me to lesson 1:

Lesson 1: Make a list of all login information for emails, online stores, and voicemail and give a copy to at least one trusted colleague!

Plus, living like a nomad for a couple of days is no picnic, but it’s compounded by having to keep your hands on business essentials everywhere you go. Which leads me to lesson 2.

Lesson 2: Have a fire-proof safe large enough to stuff laptops, cameras, back-up hard drives, deposits, and petty cash in so I’m not lugging it around during an evacuation.

And online sales didn’t stop.  There were orders still coming in while the shop was closed for business.   Disappointing customers who ordered expedited shipping for products they wanted for a special event coming up is the worst.  Therefore, lesson 3:

Lesson 3: Find out how to temporarily suspend online shopping and set up automatic responses for customers trying to shop online.

Amela Desanto walks along Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, where the asphalt roadway is covered with sand, on Monday. (Photo by Andrew Innerarity for The Washington Post)

Once we got back into the studio (power was out for several days, but thankfully cell service was back up a couple days sooner) I looked around and it hit me that even though we didn’t sustain any physical damage to our shop this time, it could have been so much worse.  What if falling trees crushed my carefully-curated inventory? What if the whole shop went up in flames?  Of course we have insurance, but due to our recent growth in business, my inventory has grown too.  Have I been keeping track of growth as best as I can? Lesson 4!

Lesson 4: Maintain up-to-date inventory records and photos for insurance!

What’s hurting the most is the ripple effect. Not having a business continuity plan in place before we evacuated left concerned customers and manufacturers in a panic when they couldn’t reach me.  We lost sales because of it, and really let some folks down.  That’s the hardest lesson learned in this situation.

Thankfully we did not sustain damage as bad as they did in Miami and Naples, where this photo was taken. Photo from The Atlantic by Woolston

This business is bigger than just me.  I can’t just lock the door and walk away from it for a few days or there are people literally all over the world unsettled.  Interior designers who custom order furniture for a client redesign that has an unveiling party scheduled or a grandmother who ordered a gift for her granddaughter’s birthday. It’s a bittersweet feeling to know that Heathertique has such a wide reach! It means that my team needs to get into high gear to recoup our losses, clear out the queue of orders and quotes, and put together a continuity of business plan for next year’s hurricane season! So for my first order of business – recouping and recovery – I’m headed over to the Small Business Administration’s website. They helped me out when it was time to start my business up, so I’m hoping they will hold my hand during the recovery process too to ensure Heathertique doesn’t become one of those statistics!  Come on, Florida businesses – let’s DO THIS!

So long, Irma.   Thanks for the hard-learned lessons!

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