Flooring businesses lend helping hand following natural disasters

HomeInside FCNewsFlooring businesses lend helping hand following natural disasters

January 19/26, 2015; Volume 28/Number 15

By Amanda Haskin

The ultimate goal of every business is to make a profit, but there are times when profits and numbers cease to matter. It is in times of natural disasters, when a community is shattered and trying to rebuild the pieces, that businesses, as well as individuals, can find a greater purpose.

Janice Clifton

Abbey Carpets Unlimited

Napa, Calif.

“Napa residents own a lot of red wine, and they own a lot of fish tanks,” said Janice Clifton, owner of Abbey Carpets Unlimited. “So yeah, the first day or two after the earthquake, it was all red wine and fish tanks.”

The strongest earthquake in 25 years shook the Napa area on Aug. 24, 2014. Post-earthquake inspections yellow-tagged about 1,398 buildings and red-tagged another 156, deeming them unsafe to enter without repairs.

“As with most natural disasters,” Clifton said, “you get a lot of immediate emergency commercial business, then there’s a lull, and then four weeks out the business comes back.”

Less than 6% of the Napa population have earthquake insurance, and even for those who do have it, it doesn’t cover much because of the large deductibles. “Most of the people don’t have the money to fix their homes, so we’re just trying to give them the best pricing we can,” Clifton explained. “I don’t advertise it, but when people come and tell us they’re earthquake victims, I do everything I can for them.”

The business wasn’t just dealing with structural issues and red wine-stained carpets. “We saw damage that you don’t even think about, like fallen china cabinets,” Clifton said. “You really can’t get all the glass out of carpet, so most of those floors had to be pulled up.”

Others are making the decision to do full renovations, even if they only have partial damage.

As of now, many businesses are back, a new season of grapes have been picked and the wine is still flowing. But residents are still shaken up after the quake. “People lost history,” Clifton said. “They lost their grandmother’s china and mementos from trips—things that are irreplaceable. It has been an emotional time for many.”

Wendy Fried

Fried Carpet and Design Center

Westbury, N.Y.

“We are still picking up carpets,” said Wendy Fried, expressing disbelief. It has been more than two years since Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast in 2012, and G. Fried Carpet and Design Center in Westbury, N.Y., is still seeing the effect of the superstorm.

As the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history, Sandy accumulated over $65 billion in damages and destroyed or severely damaged around 100,000 homes on Long Island alone.

In the days and months after the hurricane, G. Fried Carpet and its employees helped their community to their fullest potential. They opened their doors to neighbors and clients without heat or electricity, offering coffee, snacks and friendly conversation. They e-mailed clients in the worst-hit areas to check if they were alright. They donated carpet to homeowners who did not have insurance and offered discounts to those who did.

“If someone e-mailed or called about having no insurance, we just said, ‘Give us a time and we’ll send someone over,’” Fried recalled. “What are you going to do—let people freeze like you saw on TV? It was simply the right thing to do.”

Despite the many donations and discounts offered, the business’ revenue increased significantly. “We saw a lot of business after Sandy, but not right away,” Fried noted. “At the beginning, it was just the few who didn’t have to wait for insurance. But some people had to wait up to a year to get insurance, so areas are just now coming back.”

At the end of the day, it wasn’t about the profits or the numbers; it was about helping the community in a time of need. “We helped out where we should,” she said. “You’ve got to pay it forward; you have to give it back.”

There is no doubt that Fried’s great-great-grandfather, who started the business 125 years ago, would agree. “He would be proud and honored to know that the future generations have always donated money, products and time to help the community where and when we could. That in itself means the world to me.”

Duane Hukill

Joplin Floor Designs

Joplin, Mo.

On the evening of May 22, 2011, Duane Hukill got in his car and drove to check on his Joplin, Mo., flooring business following the devastating tornado that hit the town earlier that day.

He didn’t make it that far. Hukill, formerly a combat engineer, and his wife, a registered nurse, found there was greater need for their services on the way. His wife started a makeshift triage center in the heart of town, and Hukill joined a team of firemen clearing roads for emergency vehicles and loading the injured into trucks to be sent to the hospital.

Their store, Joplin Floor Designs, which was a mile away from the heart of the storm, was left mostly undamaged.

The tornado was responsible for 158 deaths, some 1,150 injuries and $2.8 billion in damages. It is considered the costliest single tornado in U.S. history.

Hukill opened his doors two days after the storm, brought in an additional 20 installers, and offered free materials, free installations and discounts to the worst cases.

He was surprised by how many out-of-town, “fly-by-night” contractors came to Joplin in the weeks after the storm. “It was a joke seeing all the out-of-town license plates. There were roofers who got here and said, ‘Oh, we can also do this and that for you,’ and suddenly these roofers were tearing out floors—doing things they really weren’t qualified to do. A lot of it had to be redone. They were really taking advantage of the situation and doing all this before the insurance companies even got there to give estimates.”

For all the profiteering contractors there were also thousands of volunteers, church groups, non-profits and clean-up crews that swarmed into Joplin to lend a helping hand. “There was a mix of the good and bad that you’ll see after any natural disaster,” Hukill said. “I was amazed at the resilience of the people here and equally amazed by the number of people who came here to help.”

That summer, the town took an old shelled-out building and built a temporary high school to replace one that was demolished. Hukill’s company took care of the floors, and the team turned the entire project in 46 days. It was open for students by the start of the school year.

Hukill’s business has seen a significant jump in revenue in the three years after the storm, but talking numbers has never lied comfortably with him. “Our numbers are obviously up, but it’s not worth the profit. I would go back to the way it was before the tornado in a heartbeat if you could erase that from our history.”

Tom Miller

Schumacher Carpets

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

“At about 8 p.m. we were sitting at home watching the news, and right there on the TV we see a boat going by our store.” Tom Miller, owner of Schumacher Carpets in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had only owned his business for three years when the 2008 floods hit the Midwest. The flooding as a whole ended up costing $64 billion in damages.

Miller’s store had 81⁄2 feet of water in it. Luckily, most of his materials were not on site, but it took six months to get the store functioning again. “It was a struggle to get back and going, but then you stop and think of all the people who count on you, like the installers who work for you, family members and fellow business owners.”

Customers and friends brought over food, and competing flooring stores donated materials and use of their showrooms. A neighbor gave Miller an RV, out of which he and his wife ran their business while they oversaw the reconstruction process.

Former customers even bought services just to help the business out. “People came in who really didn’t need anything and said, ‘You know, we’re going to redo our living room.’ It was humbling. The community really came together in that time.”

Despite the business’ losses, Miller still tried to help his customers in return. “We offered cost-plus pricing, but it wasn’t for the profits. We just wanted to help people out. Being personally affected, we knew what they were going through.”

Miller didn’t see an increase in business after the flood, for more reasons than the fact that he was directly affected. Many potential customers that might have given him business didn’t have the funds to rebuild. The city ended up buying and demolishing around 1,400 homes since the flood.

His seven-year loan has since turned into a 30-year loan. “I still feel the effects of the flood every month as I write that check.” But the doors of Schumacher Carpet are still open, loyal customers are still returning and more than six years later, the business has ultimately weathered the storm.

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