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Bella The Corner Gourmet: Preparedness Helps Weather The Storm

In June of this year, the area of Greenbrier County in West Virginia was hit with a devastating flood. Tamera Pence, owner of Bella The Corner Gourmet, an independent retailer of gourmet housewares in Lewisburg, W. Va., said residents had no warning of the coming storm and found themselves flooded in as little as 20 to 40 minutes. The flood was not only devastating for residents of the area, but affected local businesses preparing for tourist season.

“Greenbrier County was ground zero for what they categorized as a thousand-year flood,” Pence said. “We were just at the beginning of our tourist season, and it really brought everything to a halt. We were sitting there with our highest levels of inventory and no one was coming to the area.”

Businesses in the area not only suffered inventory loss, but, said Pence, unimaginable dollar losses due to the flood’s arrival at the start of the season. However, Pence explained that her loss was minimized thanks to a number of measures she had in place for such an eventuality, some of which she said other retailers should “absolutely consider” as part of their business strategies.

For example, according to Pence, Lewisburg was up and running three days after the flood, but due to media coverage of the storm, tourists were unlikely visitors. While building her digital business, she had implemented a strong social media network for the store, utilizing Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

After the disaster struck, she used the same outlet to let customers know the store was open while encouraging them to share the news with their social networks. In addition, Pence said the area did not cancel or curtail any festivals, and social media allowed the entire community to spread the word that it was open and ready for business.

“We solicited through the county and got tourist dollars that were sitting in the bank for advertising and promotion in the town. We got a big chunk of it and that has been put towards tourism efforts for the fall and for the spring. That is helping us as a community keep our name out there so that we don’t get lost in the very competitive tourism market.”

In terms of the store itself, Pence said staff comes first. “I made sure everyone was good to go before we walked back in the door. If you don’t have them you don’t have a store.”

Pence also noted that one thing she did prior to the flood helped her move forward, and she didn’t even know it would. She knew the terms of her insurance policy from reviewing it and was able to estimate how that would impact her bottom line.

“With the weather becoming more volatile, insurance review is vital,” said Pence. “Read the print when it comes to how many days you have to be out of service before you are reimbursed through your plan. There are also other programs out there that can help you through something like this financially and you should be aware of what they are before you hit one of these bumps in the road.”

Cultivating strong relationships with vendors can also help ease the financial burden after an unforeseen event, she explained. Pence said her vendor network was very supportive during the recovery process. Some offered extensions, while others told her not to worry about things and they would figure out the appropriate next steps together. “There are things you can do, city wide, county wide and individually. Retailers should look at it collectively and have plans in place for something like this,” she said.

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