By Michael Raine
You’re thousands of miles away from your shop attending a trade event. You’ve spent thousands to attend and gain knowledge that you can use to improve your business. And then you get a call. A panicked employee is on the other end saying a pipe has burst and your showroom is flooding. Your employee doesn’t know what to do or who to call. This is a situation that all store owners dread.
“It’s a helpless feeling to be 3,000 miles away and not know the extent of a problem or what can be done to fix it,” says Billy Cuthrell, the Founder and Owner of Progressive Music Center in North Carolina. Cuthrell knows the feeling well, having experienced it himself. While attending The NAMM Show years ago, torrential rains seeped through the roof of one of his two locations, causing major damage to equipment and the store. Needless to say, once things were back to normal, Cuthrell was determined to make sure it didn’t happen again. He drew up a plan of action that starts well before any incident takes place. “Your first step should not have to be, ‘pick up the phone and call Billy,’” he says of his main message to staff.
A “Worst Case Scenarios” List
“I’ve got [two locations] and I can’t be in both locations all the time and can’t prevent
everything from happening,” says Cuthrell. He sat down and came up with a list of every bad situation that could occur, whether at the hands of Mother Nature or other people, and a corresponding list of first responder phone numbers for each situation. The list includes companies Cuthrell has dealt with and trusts as well as backup companies and numbers in case the primary is closed or unable to respond quickly.
“That list has been laminated and posted behind all of our counters – right by the phone, laminated, and taped so well to the counter that it will never come off,” explains Cuthrell. If a service provider is added or subtracted,
the list is reprinted, laminated, and taped in every location – “not locked away in an office somewhere where everybody’s got to scramble for it.”
Also remember to include any account and policy numbers that employees may need, such as those for the insurance or electrical companies, on the list.
“I think [the list] leads to a lot of efficiencies,” adds Cuthrell. “You want your shop running as efficiently as possible and the only way for that to happen is for everybody to know what to do in any emergency scenario.”
Rod West, Owner of Acoustic Music Shop in Edmonton, AB, knows the impo
rtance of maintaining such a list after a frozen pipe burst in his store. “It takes time out of your day to think about all this stuff,” he says, “but if you’ve ever gone through [such a scenario], you’ll wish you spent that time early on.”
You will likely forget or overlook things, especially obvious things like toilets overflowing or an adequate first aid kit for common accidents, so always be open to suggestions from other sources, which addresses the next point…
Talk To Your Staff
It’s very important to meet with your entire staff for two reasons. First, it’s important for training purposes, and second, it gives the employees a chance to point out any gaps in the plan or express concerns. Cuthrell learned
this while reviewing the list with a new employee. “We got all the way through the list and he looks at me and says, ‘What if somebody has a heart attack?’ I said, ‘Well, you call the ambulance.’ He goes, ‘But does anybody know CPR?’ I said, ‘That’s a very good question.’” That exchange inspired Cuthrell to purchase a portable defibulator and bring in a medical expert for CPR training.
“You’ve got to educate [employees] on these different scenarios and give them the authority to make decisions,” adds West. Going over these scenarios in-depth also gives you an idea as to how well-prepared your staff is.
For example, Cuthrell explains, “[I’ll say], ‘Here’s the scenario; a tornado just came through and the strong winds cracked the side of the building. You can see the crack and you know the tornado was violent. What do you do?’ I sometimes give them options; do you evacuate the building? Do you call 911? What do you do in that scenario?”
Staff meetings can also ensure employees know the basics of addressing more common situations, such as how to turn off the water or electricity when there’s an overflowing toilet or flood and how to use a fire extinguisher. Do not assume everyone knows these things, Cuthrell insists. Some employees may have never dealt with or considered such scenarios.
As well, preparing employees to deal with crises can have long-term benefits that go beyond damage prevention. Learning new skills, being given the authority to make decisions in a crisis situation, and utilizing those skills when necessary all empower employees and give them confidence in all areas of the job.
West seconds that opinion, saying, “Any time you hire people you trust to make decisions on behalf of the greater good, it gives them confidence and empowers them with a more active interest in the business. I don’t think you can operate any other way these days.”
Two other things Cuthrell stresses with his staff are to stay calm and assess the situation honestly. Panicking will only make the situation worse and the response less efficient. As well, assessing the situation thoroughly and reporting on it clearly and honestly will help provide the first responders with the necessary information to respond appropriately.
Don’t Forget The Customers
One aspect that may seem obvious but is very easy to overlook in a crisis situation is how to address and handle customers and visitors to your store.
“All that training is interrelated. You have the situation but remember, you’ve also got to deal with the clients and say, ‘OK, don’t come in. We’ve had a flood or the roof caved in, teacher’s sick,’ or whatever it is,” advises Cuthrell. “That’s another part of that scenario and you’ve got to deal with that too. So you train for all of that and I think it works because I’ve seen it in action.”
Having a plan in place to deal with unexpected situations doesn’t eliminate the need for basic prevention practices. After all, the least impactful incident is the one that never occurs.
“Prevention is huge,” says West. “I think you have to concentrate on the prevention first and foremost, and then also have a disaster plan there in case so that if something does happen, someone can spring to action quickly.”
Cover all of your bases, West continues. Damage prevention involves planning so that, should a worst-case scenario arise, things are located or placed in spots that will minimize the total damage. Then there is damage control – “the control part of it being, if you are on a lower level, for example, investing in a sump pump. Or if you were to have a fire, how could you contain it?”
Cuthrell adds that without the right tools at your disposal, a minor situation can turn into a disaster either immediately, in the case of a fire, or down the road, such as water damage that results in mould. That means having many fire extinguishers, a mop and bucket, a properly- stocked first aid kit, a wet/dry vacuum, and anything else you can foresee needing in a likely – or unlikely – situation on-hand.
It’s Worth It
Much of this may seem like common sense while other parts may seem excessive. It’s true that planning and prevention come at a cost in the short term, either financial in the case of purchasing a wet/dry vacuum, or time, such as holding a staff meeting or brainstorming a worst case scenarios list. It will, however, pay off long-term. As West says, “It’s not a question of if it’s going to happen, it’s a question of when.” Consider what’s on the line – your money, your business, even people’s lives.
“A lot of people might think it’s overkill and say, ‘Oh man, that’s crazy. If you just do some routine maintenance and all that…’ Well you can always do routine maintenance but you never know,” Cuthrell warns. “I went for 15 years and never had a single major problem. Then one week while I was in California, 3,000 miles away, I had a major issue with water damage and carpet and it continued from there. I guess my feeling after that is you can never be too careful.”