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Industry Lessons Learned from Hurricane Harvey + How to Apply Them Today

By Lisa Anhaiser, President, LBL Event Rentals

Hurricane Harvey was a story before it ever got to US shores, as it started as just a low-pressure system that then gathered strength and battered the coast of Texas as it moved towards Houston. As many remember, Houston’s troubles weren’t over as county officials began to release water from two reservoirs creating flooding in already hard-hit areas.

The toll on human life unfolded as hotels flooded, guests were relocated as they were closed, venues were underwater, theatres, and the arts scene all but disappeared. Clients that postponed events the week before were canceling. Galas were put on indefinite hold as the organizations they funded face months-long rebuilding. The hospitality industry was closed.

At the time, business owners came together to support each other and fight this visible enemy. We held fundraisers, provided goods, manpower, and places to stay. We shared resources and worked together to stay afloat. As business owners, we changed our business models to not only support the community, but to keep our doors open.

As a rental company owner, we knew that our clients whose venues had flooded were at risk of losing their inventory. We reinvented the shop and provided our laundry service for those in need. When roads began to open, we went out and gathered linens; most had been sitting in water for 5-7 days already, brought them back, and began disinfecting and washing. Our employees were grateful to have jobs and glad to help.

We were now in our hunker-down mode. I am always surprised at the amount of panic we feel when events like Harvey happen. Every interviewee has the same incredulous expression and says, “I never expected…”. What is it that we think is going to happen?

A Goldman-Sachs program professor brought it together for me last year while we were working on our growth plan. Classmates were worried about the risk involved and taking a chance. Manuel said, “Come on, guys. You’ve had failures before. What’s the worst thing that can happen, you made it through before?” And you know what- he was right.

Think about the worst thing that can happen, the absolute worst. Knowing what that thing is can help move you forward. Fear is in the mind, and it is the thing that holds us back. If we conquer the fear, imagine how much we can accomplish.

We have had emergencies and crises before, did I make it through? Yes, I did. What did I do that helped the situation that I can use now? Let’s take those lessons and move then to a plan for the current COVID-19 crisis, as well as future challenges.

 

Identity External Threats

We know the storm is brewing. What are the external threats we are facing? Think outside the box, but understand what real danger is. In the instance of a flood, has our business or surrounding area flooded in the past, and can it happen again? Is our insurance up to date, and are the coverages right for what may be coming?

Is our computer backed up? Do we have a copy of our company file, will we have access to the data if we are forced to work from home? Do we have all related files we would need to access, contracts, bills, current correspondence? Have we talked to our employees, we need to address the event that is about to occur, make sure they are prepared personally, and understand what the implications may be in a worst-case scenario?

Arrange future communication and how you will touch base following, this is important for your employees and your clients. Understand what we will do if the storm passes and what will happen if the storm hits hard. Make sure they are not out on the road until it is safe to do so. Send out communication as soon as you have information, take charge of the company’s message, do not allow your fear to keep you from moving forward.

 

Steps When the Worst Happens

If it is a worst-case scenario, it is time to take the emergency steps to ensure survival.

  • Take charge of your message on Social Media. Be positive and let everyone know you are there and working toward a positive outcome.
  • Change your phone message to reflect the same information
  • Cut non-essential spending- i.e., cancel orders of office supplies, monthly app charges (especially things you can restart later), subscriptions for music and magazines that you use at the office, etc.
  • Reduce payroll to start- a few hours per person can mean a huge difference in monthly totals. We can go back and reduce non-essential personnel as the extent of the crisis becomes clearer.
    • – If you are forced to reduce staff- Help your employees apply for benefits available due to “state of emergency” orders by the government or assistance available locally. Stay involved with your staff’s welfare, you will open again, and you will need them back.
  • Maintain receivables- Many larger companies will want to handle payments, so they have a better idea of their financial picture.
  • Look for other income streams based on the event and services needed. Do we have a passive income stream, can we increase that revenue? Is there an ancillary service we perform as part of our regular business that we can monetize as a stand-alone item?

 

Look to Others

Every crisis is the same on the outset. The difference can be that we don’t know the duration of the event. We can take the lessons from past events and apply them with minor tweaks to all future events. As you reflect on how others in your industry handled themselves, was it in a better or worse way? What items can you take and use in your plan? If others closed, what things made them fail? What was the threat, and how can you turn that into an opportunity?

Bring in an outsider to look at your preparedness plan. Do you have a mentor or another business owner you trust to ask? Contact organizations like SCORE.org or Small Business Administration in your area to see if there are people or groups you can meet with to answer questions and get ideas.

 

Seek Assistance

In this absolute worst case, are we looking at a complete failure? It is crucial to consider if the business was teetering on shutting down before the emergency and if this was just the final straw.

When we take our emergency steps, it will give us time to assess where we are and how we can deal with the situation. How can we mitigate our losses if we decide to close the company for good? Once we have looked at the facts and we come to a decision that this is the end, we don’t want to throw good money after bad. However, if we find that we are still viable, it could be possible that government-mandated initiatives to help a small business through the current crisis could be our saving grace.

During Harvey, the federal government distributed $100 million worth of grants to qualifying small businesses. In addition to the federal assistance, there were state and local programs as well as charitable organizations willing to help. There were chances to postpone payments and gain extensions on the current state and federal payments, but it is incumbent on the business owner to reach out and take advantage of what is being offered.

Look to your industry organizations for assistance and knowledge. Chances are someone who has been through a similar situation and can help. Most of all, maintain a positive outlook, chin up and all that. Always remember that a crisis can happen at any time. If we are prepared and we take the time to understand the implications on our business, we will survive.

 

Lisa Krumm Anhaiser, is the founder and President of LBL Event Rentals based in Houston, Texas that has been providing quality linen and event rentals to the area for over 20 years. Lisa is also a graduate of the prestige Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses and she enjoys sharing her knowledge with other business owners through educating via one on one consultations and speaking engagements.

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Lisa Anhaiser

2 Replies to “Industry Lessons Learned from Hurricane Harvey + How to Apply Them Today”

  1. Margery reinheardt says:

    Great reminder Lisa. You are one of our champions in NACE. THANKS FOR SHARING.

  2. Adrienne Andrews says:

    Great article, Lisa we will heed your advice for the storm we are going through at this time!!

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