By Ken Ryan
Hurricane Harvey’s catastrophic tear through southeast Texas turned Houston into a life-threatening flood zone with a record-breaking rainfall, shutting down most commerce, including flooring businesses. The immediate impact on the industry is palpable as Houston is home to three top 20 flooring distributors and a major 10-store retail chain.
For Houston-based wholesalers T&L Distributing, Reader’s Wholesale and Swiff-Train Co., as well as Roberts Carpet & Fine Floors, the immediate concern was accounting for the safety of their employees and family members. Jonathan Train, president and CEO of Swiff-Train, told FCNews the company’s Houston facility is threatened with more flooding, but he feels it should not be affected. “Houston remains closed; all other locations are up and running. We have a lot to do over the next several days to get back to normal working conditions.”
In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane and subsequent flooring, Train penned a letter to customers, vendors and business partners stating many of its employees lost power and suffered significant property damage, and many evacuated the area. Fortunately, he said, all workers have been accounted for and are safe. The road ahead, however, will be long.
“There is more to come and it will take days and weeks to assess the damage. Conditions are changing every hour so we all have to stay vigilant.”
At T&L Distributing, offices were understandably closed. Bob Eady, president, assessed the safety of his staff. “At this time we have only one employee that I am aware of that has been flooded,” he told FCNews. “We had an employee who made it to our facility Monday morning and sent some beautiful pictures of it being high and dry, thank God. The building just to the south of us was completely flooded at their docks.”
Reader’s Wholesale, a member of the 14-distributor Bravo Services Group, reported that all was well in their neck of the woods. But just to be cautious, the operation will remain closed for the week. Should circumstances change, Reader’s said it can rely on its Bravo members. “Bravo is a tight group,” said John Carney, executive director. “I’m sure if Reader’s does end up needing something it would have unlimited resources at their fingertips.”
John Sher, president of Adleta, in Carrollton, Texas, near Dallas, related that the sister of one of Adleta’s sales managers had to be rescued off the roof of her home by canoe. “It is very bad down there. We have offered to do anything we can to help Lucky and Adam Burke at Reader’s. Right now they are just hanging tight.”
Compounding the problem for distributors is the fact many roads are damaged or flooded, making routes treacherous or in some cases altogether impassible. At press time, several major highways—including some sections of I-10 in Texas—were under water.
The situation is equally troubling for retailers. Roberts Carpet & Fine Floors has 10 stores scattered about the Houston market. As of Aug. 29—just two days after the storm rolled in—Sam Roberts, owner, said he was still awaiting word on his businesses. “Believe it or not it’s still too early to get a good accounting on everything. Hardly anything in the city is open. I don’t know how many of our employees have flooded homes. We still haven’t gotten to a couple of our stores. Even for stores that didn’t flood there will probably be some power, phone and Internet outages.”
Roberts expects to reopen for business as soon as the staff can get to the stores. “We can work through minor damage,” he told FCNews. “It is also worth pointing out that large areas have no or intermittent power. We can’t operate if the stores don’t have electricity. We can’t get to our main office and distribution center so it is impossible to send any out installation crews at present—even if it weren’t raining.”
The natural disaster that was Hurricane Harvey is likely to turn into an economic disaster as well, with early estimates of the damage exceeding $30 billion. That would make Harvey one of the 10 most damaging hurricanes on record. In fact, it has already set a record for most rainfall—50-plus inches—from a tropical system in the continental U.S. According to Planalytics, which provides weather analytics for businesses, lost revenue to area restaurants and retailers alone is expected to reach $1 billion.
While those directly affected say the impact of the event will likely play out over the course of the coming months, if not years, many remain hopeful and optimistic the city will ultimately recover. Roberts, for instance, looked on the bright side, saying the situation could be much worse. “What if all 10 stores had 2 feet of water inside? Roberts Carpet & Fine Floors may yet emerge relatively unscathed. We’ll have to wait and see.”
T&L Distributing’s Eady added, “We are in uncharted territory logistically, but we will get through this and T&L will be stronger because of this.”