Tropical Storm Imelda poured 43 inches of rain onto Beaumont and other communities in Southeast Texas last month, triggering floods that nearly matched the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. Howell co-owner Shawn Hanley kept the Beaumont-based company’s social media channels updated with encouragement and information.
Where could residents find food, water, and other supplies? Where could they launder their dirty clothes? What should they do with soaked furnishings? How could they report their losses? Whom could they trust to make repairs?
“If your contractor is asking you for money upfront, that’s not the contractor for you,” Hanley said in a video posted on Howell’s Facebook page.
‘People depend on you for everything’
The community messages were interrupted only by a video showing the presentation to Home Furnishings Association member Howell Furniture by Beaumont Mayor Becky Ames of a resolution honoring the company upon its 60th year in the city.
“People depend on you for everything, all their furniture needs, and we appreciate you being such a good corporate citizen,” Ames told Howell Furniture owners and employees.
Howell demonstrated that it lives up to those words in the aftermath of the floods.
“I’m very proud of our community and how we came through Harvey, and I know we’re going to do it again,” Hanley said in one of her Facebook videos.
‘I speak from the heart’
Howell Furniture was founded in Beaumont by W. Thurman Witt, Hanley’s grandfather. While Howell now also has stores in Nederland, Texas, and Lake Charles, La., the family’s deep roots in Beaumont form a strong emotional bond.
“I’m not going to read from a script,” Hanley said about her video messages, delivered from a sofa in a homey corner of her store. “I tend to be blunt, but I speak from the heart.”
She offers help with paperwork so customers can file insurance claims for furniture they’ve bought and special pricing and financing for new purchases. She said Howell Furniture will work with customers to meet their needs, making it as easy as possible for them to put their homes, and lives, back in order.
Support businesses that support you
Hanley delivers another message, and she drives it home with passion.
“Please buy local,” she says in a widely viewed video. “Whether it’s furniture, flooring, cars, lumber – whatever it is, please buy local. … The people that work at these companies, they flooded, too. … They need help rebuilding and getting back to some form of normal. Support your businesses that support this area every day through baseball sponsorships, through the American Cancer Society, through the cancer walk, whatever it is. The companies here locally help our area. Help us rebuild our community here.”
She’s speaking for her own employees, too. “We’ve got employees who lost everything,” Hanley said in a phone interview. “They have to sell furniture to rebuild their homes.”
Good corporate citizenship
The repeated flooding hit Beaumont hard. Some people washed out by Harvey were struck again by Imelda just as they were finally returning to their homes. “Some we literally had just delivered furniture to the week before,” Hanley said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
At the same time, Howell Furniture’s response to hard times has earned the community’s trust and goodwill, Hanley said. Customers often say that, when their needs were greatest, “you took good care of us,” Hanley said. In her view, that’s just part of being a good corporate citizen.