After Hurricane Sandy ripped through New York, New Jersey, and other East Coast cities along the way, many quick serves in the path of the storm were left reeling.
Hundreds of stores and businesses—and hundreds of thousands more living in the area—remain without power and are still struggling to get back on their feet days after Sandy swept through. Some experts predict the storm could cost up to $20 billion in damage, property losses, and lost revenue.
But many quick serves in the area aren’t concerned about the money for the time being; instead, they’re just thankful their teams and customers are safe.
“I’m not really focused on the sales right now,” says Jon Lake, vice president of operations for New Jersey–based 16 Handles, a frozen-yogurt chain with more than 20 stores affected by the storm. “I’m focused on making sure that my people are safe and that our guests, when we get open, have a place to come and gather. And then all the rest of it will take care of itself.”
George Haddow, principal at disaster-preparedness firm Bullock & Haddow and former deputy chief of staff at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), says brands should take four steps to prepare for and recover from a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy.
First, they must secure their facility, whether it’s by elevating the building or lining a store with sandbags to protect from flood damage, for example.
As early as last Friday, Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Co began working to break down its temporary store in New York City’s Meatpacking District, which was located in one of the city’s evacuation zones, says Daniel Karsevar, co-president and COO of the frozen-fruit brand.
Though it did experience some damage to awnings and windows at its Union Square flagship store, as well as power outages at other stores in the area, it came through the storm largely unscathed.
16 Handles’ Lake says his team prepped its area stores by using a pre- and post-storm checklist. “We have measures that we take where we shut down machines, shut down equipment, shut down servers so that we’re all ready for [the storm],” he says. “After the storm … we go through to make sure the stores are all up and running, and if there’s any product that went bad, we toss it.”
He advises other operators to instate this type of preparation list in case of an emergency—and follow it. “When you have plans, when you have measures, when you have crisis checklists, follow them,” he says. “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best, because the stores that were like, ‘We’ve been through this before, no big deal,’ all of a sudden they were caught off guard.”
Though some of the brand’s stores are still without power—and Lake says it could take another five days before all locations are open again—they didn’t suffer any physical damage.
Haddow says the next step is to make sure you prepare inventory, whether it’s getting rid of items that are likely to go bad, communicating with supply chain partners, or lowering inventory levels.
“Anticipate that whatever the event … the power’s going to go out and it’s going to go out for a while,” he says. “Do you want to move your inventory to another location that’s safer and out of the expected impact zone? Do you want to have a generator?”
Hoyt Jones, president of Manasquan, New Jersey–based Jersey Mike’s, says the brand made sure its 20-plus stores that were in the path of the storm kept their inventory levels low. It also worked with its supply chain partner, Cisco, to ensure product delivery once power is restored to each store.
“We have our distribution company on alert so they can be at our stores within hours once we’re operable again to restock all of the stores,” he says.
Scott Silverman, a 16 Handles franchisee with three locations in the area, says only one of his stores has power back after the storm. While he’s trying to move yogurt from the two closed stores to the open unit in Plainview, New York, a loss of inventory is unavoidable.
“Just by sheer date, we’ll have too much volume of yogurt, so some will get unused,” he says. “It’s the risk you take being in retail. You’re going to lose products. That’s what I have insurance for.”
Another key step in preparing for a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy is to make sure you communicate with and assist your employees, Haddow says.
16 Handles’ Lake suggests printing out a roster of all of your employees, along with their contact info, to make sure you can communicate with them not only to let them know the plan, but to also make sure they’re safe.
Karsevar says it’s important to express concern for employees, no matter how hectic operations become in advance of an event like Sandy.
“Sometimes it’s so busy in the business that you have to stop and realize that, for a lot of people, this is their everyday [job] for them, as well. They could be the delivery guy, they could be the person prepping fruit, and they really look to any company as, ‘OK, what are we doing? What’s the plan? Should we come to work? Is it going to be safe to come to work?’ he says.
“It’s really just getting that communication out early so there’s a reassurance,” he continues. “It’s really important to focus on the people during this, because it can be scary for a lot of people.”
Finally, Haddow says connecting with and helping out in the community in any way possible post-disaster is vital to any brand’s success.
“Whatever you can do to help your employees and the community to survive and cut down on the time it takes to recover, the better chance they’re going to come back to work, the better chance you’re going to be open again,” he says.
Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Co not only has brick-and-mortar locations, but it also has wholesale accounts with schools in the New Jersey and New York areas. With schools closed, Karsevar says the brand is trying to find a way to deliver meals—even something as simple as hot cider and oatmeal—to kids who usually eat breakfast and lunch at school.
The disaster also presents an opportunity for brands to capitalize on the needs of their customers, who will likely be desperate to get out of their powerless homes, interact with neighbors in a comfortable environment, and unwind. Haddow says post-disaster periods are often “boom times” for restaurants.
To offer assistance to its nearby guests, several 16 Handles locations in the area are offering cell phone and computer charging stations to help customers reconnect with family and friends.
Bob Cervoni, operator of a franchise location in Great Neck, New York, turned his 16 Handles’ party room into an Internet café of sorts, dubbed the “power bar.”
Silverman says his open location in Plainview is offering free coffee, in addition to WiFi and charging stations, to the more than 700,000 Long Island residents without power. Not only does this allow him to help his neighbors, but it could also win his 16 Handles location some loyal customers.
“The competition in self-serve yogurt is very, very strong right now and a very competitive environment,” Silverman says. “Whatever you can do to reach out to the community and help customers … is priceless.”
Jersey Mike’s is reaching out not just to local customers, but also to relief workers, policemen, firefighters, and another other volunteers who are helping in the post-Sandy recovery effort.
“Many of the stores will go into relief mode and start feeding all of the rescue and police and fire departments and all of the other volunteers,” Jones says.
He adds that several stores in the area donated bread, meats, and cheeses to nearby food shelters before the storm when they knew they wouldn’t be able to use the inventory.
“I know the first instinct will be to start making sandwiches for people who are volunteering to help others out there,” Jones says. “Jersey Mike’s has a very giving culture, and I think that’s the first instinct for everybody.”
By Mary Avant