Garden City Furniture store
HFA member Garden City Furniture in Murrells Inlet, S.C., is closed until at least Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, as Hurricane Dorian churns up the East Coast.

HFA members are ready for Dorian. Are you prepared for your natural disaster?

Hoping to avoid disaster, Home Furnishings Association members from Florida to North Carolina have one eye on their showroom floor and the other on weather updates this week as Hurricane Dorian slowly churns its way north.

In Wilmington, N.C., it was a busy Tuesday morning for HFA member Mike Serafina and his Local Living Furniture staff despite the store being empty of customers. Instead of selling furniture, Serafina and his crew were lifting and stacking inventory atop wooden pallets and stacks of wood, hoping for the best but preparing for Dorian’s worst.

“We know it’s coming – it’s just a matter of how bad we’ll get it,” says Serafina, co-owner of the store. “The best plan is to be ready for the worst case. That way we’re ready for whatever comes our way.”

For Serafina and other HFA members, it’s a too-familiar routine this time of year. They know it’s not enough to prepare for an impending disaster. Furniture retailers need to be ready for after the disaster strikes.

Serafina and fellow HFA members shared a few tips for retailers trying to pick themselves up after a natural disaster.

Richard Eislet
“Obviously you have to be there for your customers who were affected, but also for your customers who weren’t affected” – Richard Eislet, Backyard Solutions.

Rebounding after a natural disaster can be difficult for furniture retailers. Smaller retailers often lack large cash reserves, and the loss of income from having to shut down temporarily, or move to another location, can be a serious threat. Local Living Furniture shut down for six weeks last year from damage by Hurricane Florence. That’s Serafina and other HFA members’ first tip after a disaster:

Reopen as soon as possible

When HFA member Richard Eislet’s outdoor furniture and spa store, Backyard Solutions, in Paradise, Calif., was destroyed by a wildfire late last year, Eislet wasted no time reopening in nearby Chico.

“Obviously you have to be there for your customers who were affected, but also for your customers who weren’t affected,” says Eislet. “If you’re not there, someone else will be – and you might not ever get them back.”

Eislet says lease a space where you can sell – even if only for a few months. “The point is staying in front of your current customers while helping new ones,” he says.

Take care of your employees

HFA member Joey Ray of Garden City Furniture in Murrells Inlet, S.C., boarded up his store windows with plywood Tuesday morning and doesn’t plan on returning until Saturday morning at the earliest. He told his staff as much, too.

Garden City’s clients are often furnishing second homes in the coastal area his company serves. That means there’s not going to be the sense of urgency with his customers. “But that might not be the same for your employees,” he says. “When you reopen for business, you’re going to be putting in some long hours, all of you. We make sure our employees have everything they need at home and are taken care of before they take care of others.”

Hire more people

If Dorian were to make landfall and cause flooding, Serafina says his store can expect to do more business among his community with people who need temporary furniture or bedding. That means more staff for making those sales and delivering furniture.

“If you can’t deliver to people who really need it, what’s the point in selling something in the first place?” he asks. “We’ve worked too hard on our reputation not to deliver what we promise. That’s why we’ll be ready (with staffing).”

Members say you can find temporary staffing from retired employees or through temp agencies. “The key is having them in place before someone else hires them,” says Ray.

Prepare beforehand

Natural disasters don’t always advertise their wrath in advance, but some, like Hurricane Dorian, give retailers days to prepare. In the aftermath of a hurricane, fuel can be hard to come by. Ray’s delivery trucks are already fueled up and ready for when they’ll be needed. Generators can get you up and running while your competitor toils in the dark. “It all comes back to being ready before the disaster strikes and once you’re open for business being ready for anything else,” he says. “We’ve been through so many of these I feel we’ve got it down to a science.”

The HFA often works to help members rebounding from natural disasters to get back on their feet. Call the Home Furnishings Association at 800-422-3778 for details.

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