When you go into the antique business, in the back of your mind to try to think about what the worst possible scenarios an antique dealer could face, and then try to solve it proactively. But there are always some things you can’t foresee. One of those “some things that never occurred to us” happened to us.
When the Northeast was hit with a massive rain storm in April, and our main warehouse—located in Flushing, N.Y.—flooded. Well, if it was just flooding, it might not have been so bad. But the warehouse roof collapsed, which led to the flooding.
The roof fell in on half of the primitive furniture we sell and, of course, it fell in on the merchandise that was waiting to ship out to customers. The rainwater pouring in through the huge hole in the roof left much of our vintage labels and signs—that were in the staging area for shipping—floating or submerged under thousands of gallons of water.
After first assessing the damage, I remember saying to my assistant, “this is going to be a long few days.” I was trying to put on a brave face; I didn’t know how long it was going to take to get back in business. As it turns out, it took a month to get up and running again! But we were never going to get back in business until we started the salvage project.
After first assessing the damage, I remember saying to my assistant, “this is going to be a long few days.” I was trying to put on a brave face; I didn’t know how long it was going to take to get back in business. As it turns out, it took a month to get up and running again!
We worked tirelessly throughout the first days, pumping water out of the warehouse. I had to call a contractor in to remove and repair the roof so we could see what damage was beyond the rubble. Some people told me, “don’t worry insurance will cover this.”
But the sad truth is, if you don’t have flood insurance on your policy, insurance will not cover the damage. Guess who didn’t have flood insurance. We had a lot of customers who were waiting for orders that would never arrive and payments that would have to be refunded.
At that moment, I thought to myself this is an impossible situation. I could not take any more battering from this catastrophe. The worst part for me was thinking about all the beautiful items that were ruined forever and could never be replaced, as well as how we were going to reorganize ourselves so we could be sufficiently back in business in as short a period of time as possible.
We broke into teams. Team A was the customer service team. We called customers and told them what had happened and promptly refunded orders where the items were destroyed and could never be filled. Team B worked on the inventory control. Every damaged item now had to be categorized in our system as no longer available. Team C worked on the clean-up of the facility. It took us a whole month to become fully functional again.
When we had a final assessment in hand, we had lost dozens of sales and $50,000 worth of merchandise.
Tremendous lessons were learned through this experience, though. Perhaps the greatest, and most unexpected lesson learned was how wonderful the people who work for me are. Nobody complained. Everybody came in everyday to work towards getting us up and running again. The second thing we learned was how incredibly giving our customers could be. There were many customers who said they didn’t mind waiting if we could find the item for them again.
However, the most important lesson learned is that anything can happen at any time, and you need to be fully prepared for when these things happen. You should never take for granted any situation.
A parachute or life preserver is always something you should have in hand. A hard lesson learned well. We have flood insurance on our policy now. Yes, it costs more, but in the long run, it goes a long way towards saving you time, money and aggravation.
GoAntiques seller Laura Trueman runs Rene’s Vintage Treasures and RVT’s Primatives.
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