HOUSTON — One year ago, Southeastern Texas experienced one of the worst natural disasters in its history. Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain on Houston (the fourth biggest city in the country) within four days, inundating the city and causing an enormous amount of damage and grief.
Around that time, Three Brothers Bakery co-owners Bobby and Janice Jucker were on their way to Colorado, but soon would discover that things back home had gotten bad rather quickly. The storm and its aftermath had devastated their bakery, along with the rest of the area. They rushed back as soon as they could to deal with what would come to be a long road to recovery.
The first thing the Jucker’s needed to do was make sure their employees were safe and taken care of following the hurricane.
“After disaster hits, the most important thing you can do is find your employees and make sure they’re accounted for and their needs are met, which includes making sure they are paid on schedule,” Ms. Jucker said. “You can put everything else on a credit card, but you cannot put your payroll on a charge card, so having cash is imperative.”
The bakery had begun the process of moving out product, but unfortunately it ran out of time before the storm and all of it was ruined. Additionally, the bakery had lost all of its delivery vans in the flood, so a new plan was needed to keep business going.
Equipment and vans were necessary to keep the bakery up and running to make revenue and survive. Bobby went throughout the area looking for vans, but that was made difficult with vehicles around the city being either destroyed or taken by other companies in the previous days. The bakery had to look long and hard to find vans and other equipment.
Restoration is a vital step in the recovery process, but once again, the flooding made this very difficult. No restoration company was able to access the bakery until 5 days after the rain started, so there was plenty of water damage to deal with in the ensuing weeks. Three Brothers Bakery was closed for 17 days, as they worked tirelessly to scrub every inch and get the main location back to where it needed to be so it could supply its other two locations.
With the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur imminent, the bakery was determined to be open to supply the area, even with the city of Houston being deserted and financially depleted at the time.
Hurricane Harvey was not the first disaster the Jucker’s had experienced in their time as bakery owners, but that fact didn’t make Harvey any less difficult. Four floods, a hurricane, and a fire have caused great hardship for Three Brothers Bakery, but determination and preparation have made each successive disaster less terrifying to overcome.
Ms. Jucker advises other small business owners to have a plan in place to stay prepared and ready for any imminent natural disaster threat.
The first thing to do before any natural disaster occurs is to read your insurance policy.
“It’s better than a sleeping pill,” she said. “But you have to read it from cover-to-cover, and make sure it has what you need.”
Make sure you have a good agent that can get you a low deductible plan.
“Our agent took care of us,” she said. “We had an upgraded policy where we can get a mobile home office paid for by insurance. It paid all of our lost revenue for a year, and paid our employees for a year. We’d be out of business without a good agent.”
Know a good restoration company in the area.
“You don’t want to use one that comes in from out of town, you want to use someone local,” Ms. Jucker said.
Put everything you can in the cloud.
“Make sure everything is backed up, just in case,” she said.
Have a list of employees and contact info.
“When a disaster hits, you need to contact them and make sure they’re ok and see if they need anything,” she said.
Have money to pay employees.
“Make sure you have money in the bank to pay your employees, because they’ll need money,” Ms. Jucker noted.
Once a disaster strikes, look to apply for small business recovery disaster loans. Almost $1 million in small business disaster recovery loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) allowed Three Brothers Bakery to re-open less than three weeks following Hurricane Harvey.
Call your lawmakers. Get them involved so that you can get your disaster loan money faster and get your business up and running as quickly as possible.
Keep in mind that disaster loans can’t be used to pay your employees. Ms. Jucker also pointed out that FEMA doesn’t help small businesses, only individuals.
“Don’t call FEMA, just call the S.B.A.,” she said.
Encourage people to shop disaster zones. Houston is a financially devastated area, and recovery generally takes several years.
“For example, people who are shopping for a holiday gift, find a retailer in a disaster zone because they need that revenue,” she said.
Ms. Jucker credited the Three Brothers Bakery staff, flood insurance, the S.B.A., and their previous disaster recovery experience for their ability to react more swiftly in the wake of a disaster. The bakery received the S.B.A.’s 2018 Phoenix Award for Outstanding Small Business Disaster Recovery for its recovery efforts following Hurricane Harvey.
Since 1998, the S.B.A. has presented Phoenix Awards to business owners, public officials, and volunteers who displayed selflessness, ingenuity, and tenacity in the aftermath of a disaster, while contributing to the rebuilding of their communities.
“We cannot thank the S.B.A. enough for the tools they provide us to grow and now to remain open,” Ms. Jucker said. “We applied for this award to highlight the difficulties small businesses experience after disasters and to use our story when we speak to lawmakers about changes that would help small businesses recover.”