I went to sleep on a calm June night two years ago. The next morning changed everything. When I turned my cell phone on at 6:30 a.m., there were 35 missed calls, ranging from our CFO, general manager, and the local fire department. In the middle of a night, a horrible fire took place. Our inventory was destroyed, offices were ravaged, and memories on the walls were crushed. Everything was either burnt or drenched by the water it took to extinguish the fire. With so many questions unanswered, there was no time to be angry, to figure out why, or even to be sad. Not a minute could be wasted. As a leader, I had one thing to think about: staying in business. In retrospect, this tragedy refined our company, showed the amazing character of our employees and crews, and ultimately prepared us for the current COVID-19 crisis.
Here are some tips on how to prepare for a crisis:
My first phone call was to my friend Brian Caress, CEO of Redi Carpet in Houston. With more than 30 locations nationwide, I figured Brian would have experienced something like this. Fortunately, he never dealt with such a catastrophe. However, Brian went above and beyond my wildest dreams. He called me back within 30 minutes with a contingency plan. He offered us his warehouse, staff help, and materials to keep our business afloat. Simply amazing!
The next call was to Javier Gomez, a peer CEO who handles our IT. Fortunately, Dynamic Quest had been working for months storing our information on the cloud. A special thanks to Denise Koontz and James Craig (our CFO and GM) who worked with IT to do this. Javier assured me our files could be restored. He then offered his large conference room to be our operations and accounting command center for as long as we needed it. I will be forever grateful to Brian and Javier for helping us in our time of need.
Be ready and willing to change your perspective. We went from thrive mode, to survive mode overnight. I was not concerned about my own financial well-being. I was worried about our staff and installation crews who depend on a paycheck. We needed to get our business up and running quickly. We had to communicate with them fast and let them know we had their back. This convincing was done with a great deal of uncertainty on my part. My staff told me they had me covered from an operational standpoint. They told me “Go find us a building and get us back to work!” It was in that moment, my mindset shifted back to thriving. By the grace of God, we found a building and signed a short-term lease. While our equipment was cleaned by the restoration company, we worked out of Redi Carpet, and within a week, we had a warehouse full of inventory. We were back.
Keeping good relationships with suppliers, paying them on time, and treating them fairly paid off. They were there for us and helped us expedite orders to fill our temporary location.
Our GM stepped up and helped me script a Plan B. His years in the military taught him to ask, what three things could go wrong with Plan A? This allowed us to be flexible and pivot when appropriate.
Keeping strong financials was another key to staying in business. You can never be fully prepared for a crisis or tragedy. However, staying on top of your finances sure does help when the unexpected strikes. Having a line of credit as a safety net and providing your banker with updates on a quarterly basis comes in handy.
Misfortune yesterday prepared us for today’s events. Much of the items listed above have helped us with fighting the current COVID-19 setback. Being a member of FEI Group, we are grateful to be on conference calls learning how other successful flooring companies are handling business. My CEO peer group has a weekly Zoom call to better understand navigating daily challenges. Our perspective is that of gratitude. We are grateful to be deemed essential. Frequent calls are made to our suppliers are made to ensure inventory and support of each other. Plan B is in place, allowing 50% of our staff to work from home. Finally, strong banking relationships have allowed us some sense of security via lines of credit, refinancing our new facility, and ultimately acquiring the PPP. I hope everyone out there can benefit from this article and flourish when the flood gates open.
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