Roughly 40 percent of companies hit by natural disasters never reopen, according to estimates by the Labor Department.
And for small businesses struck by a major storm, the chance of going under is even greater because the impact is typically two-fold — direct physical damage and the loss of customers who are also affected by the storm.
But there are companies that have persevered through weather-related catastrophes, and in some cases, turned calamity into opportunity. Here’s how five small businesses managed to survive after suffering damage from a natural disaster:
Left Handed Brewery, Longmont, CO
Colorado’s St. Vrain River is normally a “dry, trickling creek” says Emily Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Left Handed Brewery, a craft beer operation that sits on its bank. But when heavy Autumn rains arrived earlier this year, the river “maxed out” and floods devastated the low-lying commercial area surrounding the river, damaging nearly 20,000 structures. The brewery workers did all they could to prepare the facility, even armoring its exterior with bags of brewing grain. When they returned to the site four days later, “it was a mess,” Armstrong recalls. “We needed Bobcats to dig out our shipping and receiving area,” and then there was the ultimate fear: that giant, mid-brew batches had gone bad because the machinery hadn’t been able to maintain consistent temperatures. Fortunately, the brewery’s preparedness paid off. The team tested its batches upon their return, and while some were ruined, samples from one batch were immediately shipped off to the Great American Beer Fest to meet deadline. Left Handed ended up winning gold.
Madelaine Chocolate Company, Rockaway Beach, NY
It took Jorge Farber, CEO of Rockaway Beach’s Madelaine Chocolates, five weeks after Hurricane Sandy just to get the lights back on in his production facility and see how extensive the damage was. Everything was under four feet of water. “There wasn’t one piece of equipment that was okay,” Farber recalls. The October storm hit the then 450-person chocolatier right before their peak season, meaning they lost a massive inventory intended for sale during Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Farber quickly realized he was in a race against time, and rebuilding key pieces of production machinery became priority number one. “We’re a seasonal business,” he says, “and we couldn’t afford to miss another season.” The focus on an ultra-quick rebuild paid off, and 14 months later, the company has hired back 175 employees to continue production. “It’s a daily struggle here,” says Farber. “But it’s also gratifying every time we’re able to bring a new piece of equipment back online or hire back an employee.”
Southern Services And Equipment, Inc., St. Bernard, LA
Flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina ravaged the offices and workshops of Southern Services and Equipment, Inc. in 2005, costing the construction contractor $1 million in lost machinery. But perhaps the biggest blow was the loss of all but one of their 100 clients which were forced to shut down post-Katrina. After re-opening, Southern Services and Equipment began competing more aggressively for government work. “As the Corps learned that our company performed tasks on time and on budget, we began to get a larger share of the hurricane recovery contracts,” the company’s marketing director said in testimony in 2011 before the Senate Small Business committee. “Making the decision to reopen our business in devastated St. Bernard Parish was not an easy one,” she recalled. But it paid off. The federal government would become Southern Services’ largest customer, allowing the business to thrive for years to come.
The Salty Paw, New York, NY
Fourteen months after Hurricane Sandy, Amanda Zink says she feels like she’s “running a business in a ghost town.” Her pet boutique, The Salty Paw, sits on the East River in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, an area hit hard by the storm. “The biggest challenge wasn’t just re-opening my store,” says Zink. “It was getting my neighborhood back. Getting city officials to realize how badly we were beaten up. To recognize this as a disaster, and to help.” Zink estimates that over half of the area’s residents were displaced, meaning a potentially devastating decline in The Salty Paw’s customer base. For her, banding with other local business owners to petition city officials is the most critical, ongoing step towards rebuilding a neighborhood that can support their enterprises.
SNC Squared, Joplin, Missouri
Lives depended on SNC Squared reopening its doors after the 11-person IT company suffered damages from a large tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri in 2011. Nearby doctors who relied on the beleaguered business for computer services needed access to digitized files of wounded patients to verify prescriptions and provide care. To stay afloat while SNC’s services were needed most, owner John Motazedi reached out to owners of similar IT companies in nearby states for assistance. Thankfully, volunteers poured in to help SNC secure emergency shipments of computer parts and software and to bolster the company’s round-the-clock efforts to serve local physicians. “You’ve got to bring people in to help,” he told CNN after the incident. “You need people there to watch your back.”