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How Businesses Can Survive and Thrive After Natural Disaster

by Sally Srok
October 25, 2017

In the emotional and physical trauma of the fires, there is one group that hasn’t received much attention: the business owner. According to The Press Democrat, 86 commercial properties were lost in the wine country fires. The Sacramento Bee reported two days from the start of the fire, that at least 30 businesses were harmed or destroyed in Napa and Sonoma counties. The majority were family-owned-and-operated. Forty percent of Sonoma County businesses have been in operation more than 20 years; the annihilation of their buildings represents a devastation of decades of devoted work.

Throughout the week-long rampage of fires, I consistently heard from two separate winery clients. With their homes located 70 miles from their investment property, they were overwrought with worry. I was the design-and-construction project manager for their tasting rooms, and had first-hand knowledge of the state of their structures.

“How are the grapes?” they asked. “Is the fire near the winery?”

While I could report their investments were safe, I couldn’t help but think about the owners of wineries that had been built decades ago. Their companies represented the accomplishment of lifelong dreams. Their businesses and their staff are integral contributors to the community and employers. Their tasting rooms--their public face--had created memories for tens of thousands of visitors.

No one wants to suffer the loss of their business. And business owners need to grieve fully along with all victims of the fires. Their emotional strain for owners, as they struggle to comprehend their loss, will be long lasting. Yet, once these owners have mourned their devastating destruction, they may begin to see opportunity and find some comfort in the gift of choice. Through any casualty of a business, there can be a juncture leading to a consciously-chosen future.

The mindset to inspire success out of disaster recalls the myth of the phoenix, a mythological bird that regenerates time and again. To obtain new life, the phoenix rises from the ashes of destruction. In the same way, there is opportunity for the victimized business owner to reinvent their company.

Successful business owners have not achieved success without immense tenacity. They can draw on the same dogged determination that helped them build their companies in the first place. After these owners mourn their losses, and settle insurance claims, they have the opportunity to reflect on their brick-and-mortar structure, their business model, and their market, and make conscious decisions.

To propel their business to the next level after disaster, owners can ask themselves five questions before they rebuild:
• How do I want to manage the project? Do I want to hire each member of the team -the contractor, engineer, architect, designer, etc. – separately, or do I want to employ a project manager?
• How can I improve the function of the past space?
• Did the former design reflect the current brand image?
• What are the biggest strengths of the location, and how can the new design capitalize on them?
• What is the most important message I want to convey– to employees, the partners, and to customers?

Designing a space requires consideration of every experience. The space will impact the health and happiness of employees. Vendors and business partners will gather an impression of the brand with every visit. And customers will create an image of the brand through their experience. With the opportunity to rebuild, a business owner can take all these factors into account to ensure a finished product that expands their revenue and profit.

In addition, the business owner who has lost their structure in the fire has a built-in PR opportunity. They have already been in the news as one of the unlucky victims. As they rebuild, they can position their business as a surviving, thriving company, employing people and representing the strength of the community. As the framing of their new building goes up, it is worthy of a press release, and their re-launch will warrant a celebration of local customers and community leaders.

Nothing will replace the loss of a business due to a natural disaster. The tragedy of losing years of tireless work will be experienced for a long time. It is through mourning the loss, while embracing the opportunity, that the business can move to the next stage of development.

by Sally Srok  

Sally Srok is the Founder and Principal of Inner Compass Consulting, located in Santa Rosa, CA. As the former President of Direct-to-Consumer of The Family Coppola, Sally launched and managed Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Virginia Dare Winery, and Werowocomoco restaurant. She currently offers outsourced Operations, General, an Project Management services for the Wine, Food & Beverage, and Hospitality industries.

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