Entrepreneurs

For at least one small business, Hurricane Matthew comes with a silver lining

Wine seller Tim Varan in Orlando, Florida has seen his sales spike in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
Source: Tim Varan
Wine seller Tim Varan in Orlando, Florida has seen his sales spike in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

Orlando residents hunkered down as Hurricane Matthew took aim at Florida on Thursday, preparing for the storm by stocking up on food, water and, much to Tim Varan's delight, wine.

The owner of Orlando-based Tim's Wine Market, which has several other franchised locations throughout the state, said through Thursday afternoon he was up 21 percent week-over-week from last year's sales. The shop sells wine for as little as $8 a bottle, up into the thousands for high-end brands.

"I don't want to have a hurricane every month, but it is interesting to see the response people have, and encouraging that people go into these things and think 'we will get through this, drink our sorrows away or celebrate surviving the hurricane,'" Varan said, adding that his franchised store in Windermere, Fla., had its biggest sales day of the year on Thursday.

It's a pattern he's seen over the past 21 years, recalling that during Hurricane Charley in 2004 he had an August with sales up 10 percent over the average month. "We stayed busy after that storm because no one had power, the restaurants weren't open, so people were coming in to buy wine to have at home," he said.

Varan's sales spike, however, will reverse since he closed Friday, which is typically his busiest day of the week. He also has to safeguard his small business just like anyone who finds themselves in the way of the storm.

"We have our windows treated with film so they won't shatter, and also have offsite data storage," he says. "Other than that, we make sure the insurance policy is paid up and we walk away."

Storms like Matthew, which could end up creating between $25 and $30 billion in losses, according to Reuters, often have devastating impacts on small companies like Varan's. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that as many as 40 percent of small companies hit by natural disasters never reopen in their wake.

That statistic is something that First Response Disaster Restoration Specialists out of South Bend, Indiana, is trying to reverse. The company is deploying teams to Florida to help rebuild areas hit by Matthew. The 50-employee firm has been around for 34 years and specializes in natural disaster clean up.

"When we show up, it means you're not having a good day," said Al Scott, president of First Response. "There's been a fire, flood or storm. We go in and look at the infrastructure of communities and get involved with government agencies or large medical facilities — things that need to get up and back online as soon as possible to meet the needs of the community."

The small business has helped communities in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, as well as the massive flooding seen in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, earlier this year. Cleaning up and rebuilding post-disasters can give the company a 10 to 15 percent spike in sales volume annually, Scott said. When the business is not working on disaster restoration, Scott says they operate in the local community on fire- and water-damaged homes and businesses.

"The goal is to have normalcy delivered as soon we can," he said.