He knew it was going to be bad but, like many New Jersey entrepreneurs, Eric Casaburi had no idea how much devastation Hurricane Sandy would deliver to the Mid-Atlantic region.That's where most of his 87 Retro Fitness health club franchises and 19 Let's Yo frozen yogurt franchises are located. When he checked out the damage, 33 Retro Fitness franchises and 16 Let's Yo! franchises were out of commission because of storm damage or power outages.
A savvy combination of preparedness and communication got most of these businesses up and running within a week. Here, Casaburi shares key factors in their recovery.
1. Have backup. Casaburi calls himself obsessed with details and backup, and that paid off after Sandy. Some chided him for installing both cable Internet and DirectTV satellite Internet services in the company's Colts Neck, N.J. Headquarters. However, the satellite access remained operational after the storm, so the company's 10 employees were able to retrieve and send email, conduct online research about disaster areas, and keep the social media pages updated.
Casaburi also had an $8,000 generator installed in the building nearly a month before the storm. "We're in an area that constantly loses power. I wasn't anticipating a superstorm like Sandy, but we're running a $90 million operation where a lot of people rely on us. We have to be able to keep our systems up," he says. He also uses an out-of-state billing service, which kept his invoicing current.
2. Troubleshoot and communicate. In the days before Sandy, news reports speculated about extensive flooding and wind damage. Casaburi's team sent out email advisories with storm preparation tips such as securing windows, elevating exercise equipment above possible flood levels, and preserving frozen yogurt ingredients safely.
That helped many franchisees avoid some of the more expensive damage that could have had further impact on each location. The 10-person headquarters kept in touch with franchisees and regularly updated a status spreadsheet indicating when each franchisee was expected to open. The headquarters team also assisted with email blasts and automated calls to get information to gym members.
3. Don't back down. After the storm, many franchisees found themselves having to deal with insurance companies for the first time. Casaburi and his team were available to answer questions and used the company's leverage as a big customer to streamline red tape. "We had a direct line of communication with the presidents and top brass of the insurance companies we deal with," he says. "One of our franchisees couldn't get an insurance adjuster out. We used a bit of a big brother push to say you need to get an insurance adjuster out there now. We need to get that claim opened now."
4. Learn for next time. "If you don't learn from an experience like this, shame on you," says Casaburi. He's working with his team to examine the feasibility of adding generators to franchise build-outs in the future and adding them to existing franchises.
He estimates that it would be a $6,000 to $7,000 investment per location, but that it could keep the doors open in cases where power is lost. He and his team are also looking at how to further streamline communications and what methods were particularly effective so they can repeat them in case of future damaging storms or other disasters.
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