What can you learn from a business disaster?

Last week, while I was being a slacker (I was canoeing 50 miles or so around Hungry Horse Reservoir with the troop’s older guys), a friend’s restaurant was struck by lightning.

His business wasn’t physically destroyed, but it did take a pretty serious punch from smoke and water damage. Amazingly, the water damage came from a melted pipe that actually put out the fire and prevented the entire facility from burning to the ground.

Since that Sunday, his restaurant has been closed. Imagine having to close your business with zero notice for 10 days to 2 weeks during the summer – despite having a pile of catering work already scheduled.

Not ideal by anyone’s standards.

I spoke with him yesterday to ask what lessons he would take away from this.

The #1 thing that he felt he would do differently, knowing what he knows now, is to raise the value of his business interruption/overhead coverage so that he could make payroll despite being (mostly) closed and restock all perishable foods (think about what it would cost to restock an empty pantry or fridge…).

He felt confident that his facilities insurance and other coverages were in good shape and would probably take care of cleanup and build out of the damaged areas.

Because he does a lot of catering, he’s had to scramble around to friends who own restaurants or have certified kitchens, and has managed to keep that part of the business alive.

We also brainstormed a little about what to do to move forward and prevent the loss of retail, walk-in customers.

A traditional approach would require cleanup (already in progress), build-out, kitchen recertification and so on.  That could take months. In months, all those retail customers are going to already be in the habit of going somewhere else.

So how do you save them?

We’ll talk about that in coming posts, and lessons business owners have learned from other business disasters as well as strategies for keeping those customers and making sure everyone knows you aren’t going down with one punch.

One thing you should expect right off the bat – if you aren’t collecting the names and contact info for your customers – how will you tell them that you’re still open?

Could you contact your customers tomorrow and tell them that the fire wasn’t that bad and you’ll be back in the saddle in no time?

His loyalty/reward program is one way that will help him do just that. Do you have one in place?

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