From floods and wildfires to destructive winds and even droughts, reports of extreme weather are becoming more common. No region of the country has been spared in 2023— not even Hawaii, where the Maui fires claimed more than 100 lives and hundreds more are still unaccounted for. That was the deadliest fire in the U.S. in more than a century, surpassing the 2018 Camp fire in Paradise, Calif., which killed 85 people.
The Maui fires joined Hurricane Hilary—the first tropical storm to hit Los Angeles in 84 years—and an unrelenting heatwave that scorched the Southwest, resulting in record-breaking temperatures across wide swaths of the Midwest.
“At 110 degrees you don’t see a lot of retail traffic,” said John Sher, president of Adleta, a top 20 distributor headquartered in Carrollton, Texas. There are even problems on jobsites. “We are seeing a few instances where the installers are not allowing full acclimation of LVT, resulting in some installation issues. Pretty tough to go from the back of a truck to the house [in that heat].”
While many flooring retailers have averted extreme weather disruptions, others have not been so lucky. Most recently, Tulsa, Okla., experienced a severe storm that knocked out power to most of the city for nearly six days. “For the first several days most of our stores had no electricity, and our warehouse was without power for seven days,” said Palmer Johnson, vice president of Johnson Floor & Home. “Our response was to be flexible. We allowed office staff to work remotely. Our warehouse team muscled through the week without power. Keep in mind, that since most of the city was without power most retail customers wanted to postpone their installations. Essentially, like everything else in life, we just got through it.”
Having the right contingency plan in place is a necessity for flooring businesses. In Johnson’s case, his business migrated to “Cloud hosting” for services like RFMS and data storage, providing sales and operations team members with iPads so they could access the information stored in the Cloud in real-time regardless of location.
Weather conditions have had a notable impact on the operations at Galleher, another top 20 distributor, over the past 12-18 months. “Specifically, these climate factors have affected our operations in new construction and renovation projects, particularly during the winter months,” said Ted Kozikowski, CEO. In response, Galleher implemented a diverse set of contingency plans to assist customers in navigating unexpected weather conditions and ensuring they can continue serving their own customers.
Strategic planning has come in handy in cities like Houston, which is known for its oppressive heat and humidity while its location along the Gulf Coast puts it at risk for hurricanes and tropical storms. With six retail showrooms in Texas, My Flooring America, for example, has plans at the ready. “We start with staff communication processes using Group Me,” said Kelby Frederick, owner. “Our priority is to ensure the safety of our people and determine if we need to mobilize a team to assist them. Second, we assess our properties for damage to create a plan to minimize disruption.”
In certainly helps that most of the technology My Flooring America employs is Cloud-based. “We have plans on how to protect our local hardware as best as possible,” Frederick explained. “Our phone system is Internet-based so we can transfer incoming calls to locations that are not impacted—or even to a manager’s cell phone. Most of our staff have remote access to our servers, so we can engage with our operating system via the Cloud from off site. ”
Floors and More in Benton, Ark., has also dealt with its share of extreme weather events, including tornadoes and flooding. The key, according to Carlton Billingsley, owner, is preparation. “We have our business operating system software online that is backed up every day in three different locations that we can access from anywhere with Internet. Our phone systems are VOIP so we can receive/make phone calls anywhere we have Internet, a communication plan with all team members for weather events/closings, and a plan that communicates to all customers that has work ongoing/upcoming.”
Sometimes the best laid plans are not enough. A case in point is the Maui wildfire that devastated Lahaina three weeks ago, spreading rapidly and uncontrollably from high winds of 60 mph fueled by dry conditions, partly caused by nearby Hurricane Dora. Hawaii officials said the fire spread one mile every minute, traveling so quickly there was little chance for those fleeing to outrun it.
Businesses and homes were destroyed in an instant. In neighboring Honolulu, Roy Tokuhama, owner of Abbey Carpet of Hawaii, said that while the full impact of the Maui fires has yet to be determined, he admitted, “It will hurt our local economy, both physically and emotionally, for years.”
Like others, Tokuhama’s business is backed up off-site via the Cloud. “As the Maui wildfire has shown us, you need to have a contingency plan that you can implement immediately,” he said. “This includes building and maintaining healthy cash-flow guidelines, keeping fixed expenses low and being agile enough to move quickly on a dime. Our goal now is to build a speed boat—not a cruise ship.”