The Retailer’s Guide to Natural Disaster Preparedness

Last to close and first to reopen – that’s a goal for many retail establishments during a storm or natural disaster. The longer a retailer can keep their doors open during a crisis, the better they can serve the community, minimize inventory loss and maintain revenue. However, effectively 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 conditions come with extreme variability that is difficult to predict and profoundly affects sales. However, if a business can effectively mitigate location-related hurricane risk, there is greater potential for improving customer loyalty and reducing financial loss. While weather concerns may seem less relevant than organized crime in retail or robbery in the world of loss prevention, hurricane season has arrived. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that hurricanes caused the most damage of all weather disasters in the United States between 1980 and 2021, totaling more than $1.1 trillion with an average cost of $20.5 billion per event.

While these statistics do not directly indicate the financial impacts on retail establishments, they illustrate the severe monetary effects of hurricanes on the national economy. So what’s the key to successfully preparing for and recovering from hurricanes in the retail space?

One of the main recovery tactics is to have a contingency plan in place before a hurricane makes landfall. Retailers who forecast hurricanes typically have the best chance of recovering and getting back to business by overcoming the complex financial and logistical challenges that typically arise during severe weather events. To stay prepared for the upcoming hurricane season, here are some tips retailers can incorporate into their emergency response plans.

Anticipate supply chain issues

As a storm approaches, consumer buying habits typically change. Customers will be looking to purchase items to protect their homes and businesses, to weather a storm or an evacuation. At the start of Hurricane Dorian in 2019, researchers consumer spending is expected to decline by $1.5 billion, while home centers, grocery chains and convenience stores will see increases as consumers stock up on basic necessities.

Another one study found that consumers’ propensity to stock and the availability of products in stores change significantly during a hurricane. For example, pharmacies are usually busier before a storm hits, as they sell water and other essentials for hurricane preparedness. On the other hand, grocery stores and warehouse clubs are usually busier during the final stages of preparation and after the impact of the storm.

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

It’s important to remember that supply chain issues usually arise after a storm has passed. Even if a hurricane does not damage your store, your operations could be affected if the partners or suppliers you depend on are affected.

Balance security and productivity

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

You must keep the safety of your associates as your number one priority. If company offices are in the hurricane’s path, make sure your employees have a backup location they can work from during the recovery phase. An employee’s first priority will usually be to protect their family and home. Giving employees enough time to properly prepare for and recover from the storm is essential. This will make it easier for them to focus on the challenges of taking over and reopening the business.

While safety comes first, retailers must balance associate safety and business productivity to provide reliable access to emergency supplies and minimize financial loss. For example, can associates in unaffected areas fill in while affected associates focus on sorting out their homes? Does your store need generators to be operational in the event of power line failure? What kind of supplies can store associates get and when can they get them?

Keep communication open

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

Here are some tips for staying connected whenever a hurricane is heading your way:

  • Make sure your associate directory is up to date and includes personal contact numbers and email addresses prior to storm impact.
  • Keep communication open by creating 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, SMS or automated phone messages – to communicate actions, specific deadlines and company goals to all staff. However, it is important to remember that text messages have a higher success rate than voice calls in disaster areas where the telephone system is overloaded.
  • Harness 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. In times of crisis, discuss your plans with suppliers and other actors in your supply chain to learn more about their readiness and ability to support your business.

Plan recovery

Retail establishments are among the first services expected to be available after a storm. To maintain business continuity, it is essential that retailers have defined the necessary steps and strategies in advance, including:

  • Carrying out damage assessments assess the condition of the facilities and ensure the safety of employees.
  • Restocking and ensure operational continuity by coordinating with suppliers and vendors.
  • Provide information how and when employees can return to work safely.
  • Coordination with neighboring stores to send employees for help while local employees recover.

Trust a professional weather service

It is common for companies in the retail sector to base their emergency decisions on free, publicly available weather forecasts. While these forecasts can let you know that severe weather is approaching, there’s usually little to say about its impact on specific locations and businesses. To keep the operational wheels rolling, retailers need to get accurate and timely forecasts that pinpoint the specific times and days when the store will be hit the hardest.

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

If your business footprint is vulnerable to hurricanes or other types of disasters, a well-thought-out and well-implemented plan can keep your people and business safe. By following the tips outlined in the article, you’ll have the ability to anticipate the storm and safely be the last to close and the first to reopen.

Staci Saint-Preux

Staci Saint-Preux is Industry Manager at StormGeo. Within the sales team, she plays a crucial role in serving current and potential customers in the retail, hospitality and healthcare sectors. 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 forecasts and knows the value of having a team of weather experts by your side.

Calvin W. Soper