‘We’ll turn gray into great.’ Retailers look ahead in aftermath of Hurricane Ian

ft exclusive buttonFORT MYERS, Fla. — The images from Southwestern Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian are harrowing: communities underwater, properties leveled and entire islands cut off from the mainland.

While some stores in the area have taken on some damage, all retailers interviewed for this story noted that all members of their respective staffs and their immediate families have been accounted for. But that’s not to say they’re unscathed. Some lost homes or personal property in the storm, and many are still without power.

So, for those retailers whose stores have sustained damage, it’s about balance: balancing restoring operations with making sure team members are taken care of and staying sensitive to the needs of the community.

“We want to be sensitive to the community. If we need to help out in the community, we want to do that before we open the store,” said Roberto Capo, chief marketing officer for Top 100 retailer El Dorado Furniture. Capo said El Dorado’s Fort Myers store sustained damage to its roof, and officials were still gathering details as it pertained to damage to the interior. He said the store’s roof will need a complete repair. An adjacent outlet store was still without power.

Still, Capo said it could be much worse. “It’s not as bad as what we see on TV, thank God, but it’s going to be a while before we make the store safe enough to reopen again,” he said.

Elsewhere among the Miami Gardens, Fla.-based retailer’s stores, El Dorado’s newest store in Wesley Chapel had some cosmetic damage. Capo said it didn’t take much work to make it operational, and it’s open.

Fort Myers-based Top 100 retailer Matter Brothers Furniture also sustained damages to some of its Fort Myers-area properties. President John Matter noted that a Florida Leather Gallery in town lost power and was still dark as of Tuesday morning, but it will be able to reopen once power is restored. A Matter Brothers store in Fort Myers didn’t fare as well, as it suffered roof damage, which led to some water damage inside the building.

“It sustained significant damage on the roof and took in a lot of water. We’re busy cutting wet carpet out and moving out the damaged furniture and things like that,” Matter said.

A 40-foot section of metal roof was torn off of Matter Brothers’ distribution center in Fort Myers, and Matter said the company has already secured metal panels from Jacksonville and has a crane on its way to hopefully have the roof rebuilt by Wednesday. He said most of the products in that section of the facility were packaged, so he’s hopeful that mitigated any potential product damage.

And much like El Dorado, Matter said Matter Brothers is balancing restoration efforts at its properties and helping team members and the community at large. He said the storm has revealed leadership characteristics among many in the company.

“I’m proud to see it. They’re communicating and taking care of the rest of our staff,” Matter said. “We’ve reached out and offered any necessities they need. We’ve been sending our trucks around the state because there’s not much available in the Fort Myers area.

“Our diesel supplier for the vehicles has been able to keep us with fuel for our vehicles, and we’ve gone to Miami and Orlando to get supplies to bring back; basic necessities for life. We’re trying to get those to staff and setting up some of our showrooms as drop-off points so we can pick supplies up and bring them to Fort Myers to be distributed to people in need.”

At Top 100 City Furniture’s two City stores and two Ashley HomeStores in the Fort Myers area, there was no significant impact. CEO Andrew Koenig said efforts are underway to make sure employees have what they need.

“Everybody’s safe and sound, thank God. I think about one-third of our team in Fort Myers/Naples still doesn’t have power. I’m getting reports that they’re struggling to get gas, food at the supermarkets,” he said. “Everybody’s stressed and concerned. Their local community got hit hard.”

Koenig said, right now, the focus is on making sure essentials are covered.

“Morale is at a tough spot right now, but we’re doing everything we can do bring food and water, get gas to everybody, and we’re doing what we can do to keep them as happy as we can,” he said.

Koenig said he expects the region to make a full recovery. “It’s a great area. They’ll rebound. We’re bullish on the future,” he said.

That belief in the community is also clear in speaking with Clive Daniel Home CEO Daniel Lubner. He said the Top 100 retailer came away from Ian unscathed and is turning its attention toward lending a hand.

“Having gone through many storms, this is something we know how to do and how to help. We have clients who were asking when we were going to be able to open. It speaks to the resiliency of the community, people wanting to get back to a sense of normalcy,” he said on Monday. “That’s what we’re starting to see now. Today was the first day we got the Naples showroom back open, and the day’s going to be filled with stories of survival and making plans for recovery and rebuilding. I think that’s going to be our mantra as we go through this.”

Lubner said the Clive Daniel team is working in three different areas. The first is community support and coordinating with the Red Cross to get goods from Boca Raton and Sarasota to the impacted areas. The second is using manpower to help clear debris and remove hurricane shutters, and then designers are talking with clients and doing what they can to help set up insurance claims.

“We know there will be a need for our services. Our focus is helping our team and helping clients with paperwork for insurance,” he said. “We are resilient in Florida. We’ll turn gray into great.”