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Last to Close, First to Open: The Retailers’ Guide to Hurricane Preparation

The last to close and the first to reopen—this is a goal for many retail establishments during a storm or natural disaster. The longer a retailer can keep its doors open during a crisis, the better it can serve the community, minimize inventory loss, and keep revenue flowing. However, efficiently maintaining operations in the face of a tropical storm or hurricane is easier said than done.

It is common knowledge among retailers that seasonal weather comes with extreme variability that is difficult to predict and profoundly affects sales. However, if a business can effectively limit the location-centric risks of hurricanes, there is greater potential for improved customer loyalty and reduced financial losses. Though weather concerns may seem less relevant than organized retail crime or robberies in the loss prevention world, hurricane season has arrived. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that hurricanes have caused the most damage of all US weather disasters between 1980 and 2021—totaling over $1.1 trillion with an average cost of $20.5 billion per event.

While these statistics don’t point directly to the financial impacts on retail establishments, it does illustrate the grave monetary effects of hurricanes on the national economy. So, what is the key to successfully preparing for and recovering from hurricanes in the retail space?

A principal recovery tactic is to have an emergency plan in place before a hurricane makes landfall. Retailers who plan for hurricanes typically have the best chance of recovering and resuming their business by overcoming complex financial and logistical difficulties that commonly emerge during severe weather events. To stay prepared for the upcoming hurricane season, here are a few tips that retailers can incorporate into emergency response plans.

- Digital Partner -

Anticipate Supply Chain Issues

When a storm is approaching, consumers’ shopping habits typically change. Customers will be looking to purchase items to protect their homes and businesses, in order to withstand a storm ride-out or evacuation. During the early stages of Hurricane Dorian in 2019, researchers expected consumer spending to decline by $1.5 billion while home centers, grocery chains, and convenience stores would see surges as consumers stocked up on emergency necessities.

Another study found that the stockpiling propensity of consumers and product availability in stores changes considerably during a hurricane. For example, drug stores are typically busier before a storm hits due to the fact that they sell water and other essential products for hurricane preparedness. On the other hand, grocery stores and warehouse clubs are usually busier during the later preparedness stages and after storm impact.

When anticipating a storm, retailers should be appropriately stocked and prepared for potential supply chain issues. Grocery store chains should stock up on storm supplies—such as water, bread, and batteries—well ahead of the public rush. Home improvement stores may need to stock up on plywood, fabric storm panels, or metal window coverings. Drug stores should ensure they have enough medicines, extra prescriptions, and basic storm supplies in stock.

It is important to remember that supply chain issues commonly emerge after a storm has hit. Even if a hurricane does not damage your store, your operations could be affected if the partners or vendors you depend on are impacted.

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Balance Safety and Productivity

The most valuable asset is your people. When preparing for a hurricane, it is vital to know how many people are under your care at any time, where they are located, and how they may be impacted. Will store associates be able to continue working safely? When should the store close to ensure associates can get home safely and customers are able to get the emergency supplies they need?

You should keep the safety of your associates as your number one priority. If corporate offices are in the hurricane path, make sure your employees have a backup location that they can work from during the recovery phase. An employee’s first priority will commonly be protecting their families and home. It is essential to give employees ample time to properly prepare for and recover from the storm. This will allow them to focus more easily on the challenges associated with the recovery and reopening of the business.

Although safety comes first, retailers must strike a balance between associate safety and business productivity to provide reliable access to emergency supplies and minimize financial losses. For instance, can associates from unaffected areas fill in while the affected associates focus on getting their homes sorted? Does your store need generators to be operational if power lines go down? What kind of supplies can the store associates get, and when can they get them?

Keep Communication Open

In times of crisis, communication is critical. Before, during, and after a hurricane, associates, vendors, and customers need to stay informed and updated on the situation. Providing associates and other stakeholders with two-way communication during and after a weather event is critical for ensuring the safety of the community and preparing for any staff shortages or changes in operations.

- Digital Partner -

Here are a few tips to stay connected whenever a hurricane is heading your way:

  • Ensure that your associate directory is up-to-date and includes personal contact numbers and email addresses before the storm’s impact.
  • Keep communication open by setting up a dedicated website, national toll-free number, or text line where associates can check in, receive updates, and report their status.
  • Establish various forms of communication—email, text message, or automated phone messages—to communicate actions, specific timelines, and company objectives with the entire staff. However, it is important to remember that text messages have a higher success rate in getting through than voice calls in disaster zones where the phone system is overloaded.
  • Leverage the power of social media by training your social media account managers on how to receive and distribute important updates via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social channels.
  • Establish backup plans with critical vendors and suppliers to ensure business continuity. During times of crisis, discuss your plans with vendors and others in your supply chain to learn more about their preparedness and ability to support your business.

Plan for Recovery

Retail establishments are among the first services expected to be available following a storm. To maintain business continuity, it is crucial for retailers to have fleshed out  necessary steps and strategies in advance, including:

  • Conducting damage assessments to gauge the condition of facilities and ensure the safety of associates.
  • Restocking and ensuring operational continuity by coordinating with suppliers and vendors.
  • Providing information on how and when employees can return to work safely.
  • Coordinating with neighboring stores to send employees for assistance while local employees are recovering.

Rely on a Professional Weather Service

It is common for businesses in the retail industry to base their emergency decisions on free, publicly available weather forecasts. While these forecasts can tell you that severe weather is approaching, there is typically little to say about how it will impact specific locations and businesses. To keep the operational wheels running, retailers should obtain accurate and timely forecasts that indicate the specific hours and days when the store will be hit the hardest.

Retail establishments increasingly take advantage of more advanced weather forecasts and rely on expert meteorologists to ensure the best emergency response possible. These weather services typically provide more information than the average, publicly available forecast. As a result, these retailers can efficiently and effectively prepare for threats, decreasing disruptions to their business.

If your retail footprint is vulnerable to hurricanes or other types of disasters, a well-thought-out and well-implemented plan can ensure the safety of your staff and business. By following the tips outlined in the article, you’ll have the opportunity to get ahead of the storm, and safely be the last to close and the first to reopen.

Staci Saint-Preux

Staci Saint-Preux is an Industry Manager at StormGeo. As part of the sales team, she has the crucial role of serving current and prospective clients in the Retail, Hospitality, and Healthcare industries. Prior to her time at StormGeo, Staci worked as a flight planner and meteorologist for a private aviation company in Houston. With a degree and background in meteorology, Staci understands the importance of accurate weather data and forecasting and knows the value of having a team of weather experts on your side.

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