Daniel Lubner was sitting in an Orlando, Fla., hotel bar in September 2017 wondering what was about to become of his business 195 miles south in Naples, Fla. Clive Daniel Home, a Top 100 Retailer, was hours away from being hammered by Hurricane Irma with winds over 100 mph and storm surges. Having grown up in Florida, Lubner had years of experience dealing with hurricanes and knew all too well of the disruption they cause businesses.
But this time, Lubner was ready. After years of hurricane experience, Lubner borrowed his son’s sketchbook and put together a playbook for dealing with the aftermath of such a natural disaster. That playbook was instrumental in his store reopening quickly for its customers. Earlier this year, Lubner pulled out that same playbook when the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States. In many ways, Lubner told an HFA Live Covid-19 Webinar audience last week, a hurricane and a pandemic have little in common. In just as many other ways, he added, they are alike.
“You’ve still got the disruption to your business you need to prepare for and have a plan for,” said Lubner. “You might be dealing with different problems, but the main problem of taking care of your employees and customers is still there.”
Just as with Irma in 2017, Lubner said his biggest concern during this pandemic has been protecting his company’s biggest asset — his employees. But communication and partnering with your vendors are key, too.
Keep everyone informed from the start
Clive Daniel Home sells furniture, but its core business is interior design. More than a third of its 185 employees are designers. Keeping all of his employees upbeat and informed during the early days of the pandemic came from the first page of the playbook. “We realized that in this pandemic, like we’ve never experienced before, the most important thing we can do is alleviate the pressures and the stresses that they had wondering how they’re going to put food on the table and pay the bills,” said Lubner. “My designers, some of them are salaried. Some of them are commission-based. Some of them make their money from the people walking in. We needed to make sure everyone was being taken care of.”
Lubner’s playbook also includes keeping in contact with suppliers. He said he went a week without hearing from one manufacturer with whom he does several million dollars in business every year. It’s important for retailers to know they have a partner who can work with them when the times get tough. “We could not get them on the phone for five days. I mean, just tell me it’s bad, or tell me it’s good, but tell me something, because we’ve got to see who we can bring to the other side of the road with us. If I’m not hearing anything, it’s raising a big, big red flag.”
Another play from the playbook: Even though there’s a plan in place, be ready to change. “We try every day to understand where we started with our preparation to where we are now. It has been a seismic change, an evolution. With any issue, any disaster, any circumstance, there’s gotta be a willingness and ability to change very quickly and be very nimble. So, what we enacted as we went into March really came off of the yields of some of the things that we implemented during that (hurricane) playbook that we put together.”
For more on how Clive Daniels Home has successfully navigated the coronavirus pandemic and what your store can learn from it, listen to the webinar at the HFA’s Coivid-19 Recovery Resources page.