July 7, 2015

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For Businesses, Disaster can Strike in Unexpected Ways

By Peri Kinder, Illustration By Bryan Beach

July 7, 2015

One morning in early March, a Jeep crashed through the Uptown Cheapskate resale clothing store in Murray. The driver had suffered a medical emergency and drove right into the wall of the building. Because it was 1 a.m., the store was empty but the structure received significant damage.

Just a few weeks later, a driver speeding through a red light caused another car to crash into the RubySnap cookie bakery in Salt Lake. And only days after that, a truck drove through the glass windows of the Nickel Mania arcade on State Street, injuring two people and leaving the front of the popular attraction in ruins.

Luckily, in each of these situations, no lives were lost and business resumed within a few days.

No business owner expects a car to drive through the front lobby of their building, and no owner wants to get a phone call in the middle of the night saying their store has experienced a disaster of any kind. But if something happens, is your company prepared to respond and recover?

Unexpected Visitor

Major disasters like earthquakes and tornados are pretty rare, but they do happen. However, smaller calamities like fires, broken water pipes—or a car driving into your store—happen all the time. While many business owners prepare for big disasters, these more common challenges can be just as devastating.

Having a plan in place and being able to get your hands on cash quickly could make or break your business. Some studies have demonstrated that nearly 90 percent of companies fail within a year of a disaster unless they can reopen within five days.

So when the clock’s ticking, what can you do to get back on your feet ASAP?

“Act quickly,” says RubySnap owner and director of appetites Tami Mowen. “Misfortunes will happen but how you respond is up to you. Whine or act. We chose to act quickly and not stand as a victim. Acting sets restoration in motion and empowers progress to continue.”

First, Mowen assessed her priorities. The disaster could have had fatal consequences but fortunately the crash occurred shortly after business hours so no customers were in the bakery. Bystanders were on the sidewalk and RubySnap employees were in the building—in fact, two employees had just stepped out of the room moments before the car crashed into the shop—but no lives were lost and no one was injured.

Once it was determined that everyone was okay, Mowen kicked into high gear and started doing what she could to enable her business to stay afloat.

“When your employees see action they can also enjoy a sense of safety,” she says. “We did not wait for the insurance company, we moved forward by initiating repairs straightaway. These actions empowered us as owners, reflected confidence to the public and provided employees with a sense of wellbeing. No salaries or lost wages will happen; everyone gets to keep their security.”

Mowen did not allow disaster clean-up to board up her shop. Instead, she decided to shore up the structure herself and spent the next 36 hours securing the premises. Employees, clients and friends arrived at the site to clean rubble, patch up the building and get the bakery back in working shape to fill pre-orders for customers.

“Yes, we look patched up and rebuilding is still to follow. But we did not want to see business come to a halt. Proper rebuilding has yet to take place and will require us to close for a few short days,” she says.

The RubySnap business was debt free, which allowed Mowen to proactively save for unexpected situations (like a car driving through the entrance) while financing future growth. Although the accident has postponed some financial plans for the bakery, Mowen says she has witnessed dozens of small acts of kindness that go a long way toward facilitating a quick recovery.

Devoted customers have come to her aid by purchasing more products and encouraging their friends through social media to also support the bakery as it rebuilds. “We are extremely grateful time and again for the support of the public, and for this we are indebted,” says Mowen.

Tragedy in the Air

For Jeen Brown, the owner of Wimpole Street in North Salt Lake, it wasn’t a car driving through her building, but a helicopter that crashed through her roof in on December 2, 2014, that put her business at risk.

Brown and her employees had spent the weekend after Thanksgiving moving into a new location a half-mile away from the building she had been in for 26 years. The company sells lace and linen table toppers, aprons, handkerchiefs and similar items and never before had her employees worked the Thanksgiving holiday. But Brown says she felt an urgency to vacate the building as soon as possible.

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