June 8/15, 2015; Volume 30/Number 1
By Ken Ryan
Conshohocken, Pa.—On May 17, the Philadelphia Floor Store’s (PFS) entire inventory—encompassing more than 10,000 SKUs consisting almost entirely of hardwood flooring and sundry items—burned to the ground. In addition to the products, all operating equipment, including trucks, machine repair instruments, computers, forklifts and Internet servers, were reduced to rubble and twisted metal. It was a catastrophic loss for the business.
Co-owner and founder Joe Glavin told FCNews he received the call from the fire department at 4:30 a.m., about an hour after the fire started, and immediately went to the site. “When I got there the crews still had their water cannons going but the roof was caved in. Soon after they brought a wrecker in.”
Glavin said his initial reaction was “complete numbness and disbelief” that after 23 years of work “it was all gone. It was disheartening.”
And yet it could have been worse. No one was injured and the company’s data was stored at an off-site retrieval center. Glavin had visited the site a month earlier to make sure it functioned properly.
As for the future of the business, “it was unanimous that we would rebuild,” Glavin said.
As the PFS principals set up shop at a command center in a nearby suburb to contact customers, the flooring community and local businesses stepped in to help. A local storeowner with whom Glavin previously conducted business called to say he had 3,000 square feet of open warehouse space nearby in Aston, Pa.—complete with a loading dock, racks and room for inventory that he offered PFS until it got back on its feet.
In the aftermath of the fire, the flooring community offered its support, from direct ship programs and freight assistance to waiving broken pallet fees and extending payment terms. Some additional supportive measures offered by vendors included waiving minimums, front-of-the-line production and relaxed consigned inventory policies.
“Our manufacturers have gone above and beyond,” Glavin said. “There wasn’t a single vendor that didn’t reach out to offer their sympathy and express their desire to help in any way they could.”
The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) also contacted PFS to offer assistance, according to Michael Martin, president and CEO. That included waiving dues for 2015 and buying lunch for the staff. “[PFS is] an important training partner and active member with us,” he said. “We know that a lot of NWFA members, including competitors, have offered help and assistance.”
Among the vendors lending a helping hand were 3M, Shamrock, Boen, Basic Coatings, Bona-Kemi, Primatech and Unilin. Shane Calloway, vice president of North American independent distribution sales for Unilin, said PFS has been a trusted partner for over 15 years. “They provide their local customers with outstanding customer service and product knowledge that is second to none. It is our privilege to lock arms with them after the fire and ensure that they can continue providing their usual excellent service, uninterrupted.”
Tom McNeil, director of professional sales at Bona, said his sport, professional and adhesives sales teams have been in regular contact with PFS. “We will do all we can to help support their business during this difficult time.”
Glavin said the store could not have bounced back so quickly without the support of its suppliers. “A tragedy like this really brings out the best in people. The support from vendors and our customer base is just awesome.”
Much work remains to be done, however. Glavin said statistics show that most small businesses struggle to recover from a fire of this magnitude, whether it is because the business was underinsured, loss of customers or disruption of business for an extended period. “We’re up against it, but we have a positive attitude. The stuff that burned is just that—stuff. The people who run our business are still here.”
He added that if he has one message for small independent flooring dealers it is to “make sure your data is backed up at an off-site location and verify that it works. I know people with their own businesses who are paying IT [staff] for this service only to find out—when they tested it—that it didn’t work. Make sure you know what your policy says. What this showed me is how important it is to have good systems in place because even a week’s disruption in business can be hard to recover from.”
Less than three weeks after the fire, the company is making local deliveries and the owners are determined to make the business better than ever. “Twenty-three years ago when we started, we didn’t know anything,” Glavin concluded. “Now we do and we’re going to do it bigger, bolder and better than ever before.”