There are times when you are grateful not to have a crystal ball. Certainly, for my family and for my company, January 2016 was one of those times.
On New Year’s Day, our weekend home was flooded due to a broken pipe and my wife, Gail, and I spent time and money getting that property back in shape. It was not a pleasant experience, but we dealt with the damage swiftly and moved on.
In April 2016, Gail and I enjoyed a tasty meal at a small restaurant in Florida. Unfortunately, we both contracted Hepatitis A, a food-borne disease which can be easily shaken, as was the case for Gail; or deadly, which was almost the case for me. In two weeks, Gail was back on track and feeling well. However, for me, I suffered for three months, and on several occasions I even believed I might be in the 3% of people who succumb to Hepatitis A. For the entire three months, I was weak and weary, sleeping 18 hours a day and struggling into my office each day just to let my employees know that I hadn’t died.
Almost miraculously, after those three months, I recovered, and incredibly, I felt stronger and more vital than ever. I was relieved and excited to return to my “normal” life. Before my illness, I had purchased the building across the street from my offices in Baton Rouge, La., and my team and I had totally renovated those offices with a new showroom, new and larger office space and a beautiful conference room. This was the fulfillment of my dreams (I have many!) since I started my business in 1999: enough space to grow, a beautiful showroom for local designers and builders to review flooring options and a premier location which would establish my company for the future.
We occupied the building and were planning a grand opening. Two weeks later, Baton Rouge suffered a flood disaster which can only be described as biblical. On August 15, a rainstorm covered the area for 22 hours, dumping 30 inches of rain during that time. Of the homes in three suburbs of Baton Rouge, 85% were flooded; of the businesses, 80% were flooded. My elderly parents had 8 feet of water in their home without warning. Gail and I were fortunate that our house was spared, but several of my employees and sub-contractors lost their homes and all possessions including vehicles. Unfortunately, my business and our beautiful new building as well as other investment property were destroyed.
Emotionally, we were shattered. We are no strangers to flooding in South Louisiana, and the flood plains have been well established for many years. We had had no warning of this disaster and in most cases, there was no insurance. A flood of this nature was unheard of in our area and we were blindsided by the events. Any house in our town which was not flooded ended up with families living in their empty bedrooms or in their living rooms. Today, seven months later, I still have two families living in my home. Because most of the damage was uninsured, 75%-80% of the homes have not been rebuilt at this time.
For me, the priority was on my business. I needed to rebuild our company despite the $350,000 in uninsured losses. And, since I had just built the new offices, my cash flow was strained. We lost 30% of our inventory and all of our computers, furniture, fixtures and equipment. Regardless, I had no choice: we had contracted work to complete and my employees and their families’ security was at risk. Recovery was a must.
As the leader of the company, I set priorities within my business, and my priority was the people. They were emotionally ragged and had worked very hard to create our new building. Now, they faced having to do that work again. Fortunately, we have a strong team of dedicated professionals and despite some enormous challenges that seemed to grow daily, we gritted through together.
As a member of Starnet Commercial Flooring, I have valued relationships with our vendor partners. Many of these vendors stepped up with materials and purchase opportunities which were incredibly valuable. In particular, Tandus (led by Rusty Joyce and Tom Cooper) and Mannington (led by Jack Ganley and Kurt Topp) came to my rescue with donated quick-ship materials that I could install immediately. Other vendors offered extra payment terms which eased the cash flow burden. So, we rebuilt, and in two weeks, we were back in business (sort of). Temporarily, during the reconstruction, my employees worked at our local IT company, just to keep focused on our projects. You can imagine the bottle neck that occurs when you reduce from 23 working computers to three.
Today, I can proudly report that we are looking towards the future with enthusiasm. We finished 2016 with revenues which are +27% ahead of year ago…and none of that work was flood-related. Our profits were down, of course, as we struggled with competitive labor rates and replacement materials. But, we are completing our jobs and entering 2017 with our largest backlog in the history of the company. I believe we are on pace to grow 30%-35% in 2017.
Yes, it is good sometimes not to know what lies ahead. Last year, 2016, brought more trials and difficulties than we ever anticipated for our family, business and community. I am proud of the manner with which our team fought back and won! We are stronger than ever and we have shown we can overcome tremendous obstacles with teamwork and tenacity. Through sickness, flooding and financial loss, we have learned a lot about trusting God and the value of choosing to give thanks even in the hard times. We are especially thankful that it has come to an end, and look forward to starting the New Year with fresh hope and a renewed sense of humor. A great lesson for us all!