February 28, 2021

Case Study: Despite 2 Floods, a Business Decides to Stay Put

Case Study

What would you do with this business?

Beth Heller (right) and Tamara Quinn.Peter Wynn Thompson
for The New York Times
Beth Heller, right, and Tamara Quinn.

Last week, we published a case study about two disaster-frazzled entrepreneurs seemingly in need of some of the calming supplemental holistic health services — yoga and massage — that they offer at Pulling Down the Moon, a Chicago business that was hit by two floods within a year.

Because the entrepreneurs, Beth Heller and Tamara Quinn, linked their yoga business to referrals from Fertility Centers of Illinois, from which they subleased quarters in a rented building on the Chicago River, they temporarily relocated their business while the similarly displaced fertility clinic reconfigured and rebuilt the first floor offices after the July 2010 flood. This past July, the water damage from the second flood was not as severe. The company was able to stay open during the repairs, which required cutting out the bottom foot of some walls and bringing in industrial blowers. Because of delays with insurance assessments and payment approvals, the restoration dragged on until mid-October.

“It was noisy,” admits Ms. Heller. “But we have great clientele. We put headphones on our clients while they were receiving treatment, and we turned the fans down to a lower level during work hours, and then, when the last patient left, we turned everything up and blasted the blowers all night long.”

As one would expect, considering the varied opinions and advice from both the outside observers we tapped and the comments posted on this blog, the decision to stay on in an uncertain location was not easy for Ms. Heller and Ms. Quinn. In a follow-up interview, they explained their decision to stay, shared some recent developments with their insurance coverage and talked about what they would do if there were yet another flood.

Q: Did you survey your customers and employees to learn their feelings on being dislocated and inconvenienced by your floods?

Ms. Quinn: We did an informal survey at checkout when we were in our temporary location. We asked: How did you find the experience and location? What we should have done is like a SurveyMonkey, something a little more anonymous, because I’d say 80 percent of our patients put a very nice smile on their face and said, “Oh, you guys are so nice here.” A sort of attaboy pat on the back. I’m not certain we got many straight answers. I do remember a couple of clients saying the temporary location didn’t work, that it was noisy and felt incomplete. So I do think we lost some clients, but I also think those who stayed were committed to us on a lot of different levels.

Q: Is it clear what caused the building to flood in those two storms?

Ms. Heller: We don’t know for sure. That first flood flowed with Chicago gossip as to whether the Chicago River locks were open and whether the city failed. The second time it clearly wasn’t an issue with the locks. It was a smaller event. In the first flood we had both backup through the sewers and overage from the river itself. The second time it was just backup.

Q: So who is at fault when the sewers back up? The city? The building? What did the insurance company conclude?

Ms. Quinn: We don’t know. The insurance company never gave us a report as to their findings of who is at fault. If you ask the building management, they say it’s the responsibility of the tenant. Our assumption is that our landlord installed backflow preventers to keep this from happening again, but we’re not 100 percent sure that that has been completed. The other intriguing element to the story is that the building has sold and it’s now under new ownership. It makes getting a lot of answers more challenging.

Q: It sounds like there continues to be some uncertainty.

Ms. Quinn: There is some uncertainty. When Beth and I tried to renew our insurance, we were denied. Our insurance was dropped. Our insurance broker said this had nothing to do with our two losses but because we were becoming more like a bona fide medical facility because we were going into areas like nutritional supplementation, which is a field that scares some insurers, I guess.

Q: Do you have liability insurance and flood insurance at the moment?

Ms. Quinn: We do, but we had to put our entire account up for review and go to the open market. And we’re paying more than twice as much now, up from around $10,000 a year to about $24,000 a year.

Q: You’re insured, but there’s no guarantee, of course, that you won’t have another flood next July.

Ms. Heller: Believe me, Tami and I are going to have our toes, fingers and eyes crossed for the entire rainy season in Chicago. Honestly, Tami, every time it rains don’t you think, Oh, dear God, what’s happening at the river?

Q: Two to one, those we asked to comment on your dilemma effectively counseled you to move to higher ground, saying the stress of staying in a location plagued by uncertainty outweighs even the significant advantages of being down the hall from the main source of your business.

Ms. Heller and Ms. Quinn (in unison): That’s so interesting.

Q: Even with the advantages of being down the hall from the fertility doctors, is the karma really right at this site for an enterprise built upon such healing arts as yoga and massage?

Ms. Quinn: Because our mission is to integrate holistic medicine with traditional Western medicine, we don’t want to be separated. So we’re willing to take the risk of another flood to accomplish that mission, of having a Western medical doctor on one end of the hall and a holistic practitioner on the other end of the hall who talk to each other, and patients who treat all aspects of their person — mind, body and spirit.

Q: Are you watching to see if office space suitable for you and the fertility clinic opens on the second or third floor of your building?

Ms. Quinn: We’ve asked a couple of times: “So, docs, when are you thinking you might want to move and how much longer do you have on this lease?” But we have a really nice relationship with them, and we also have a lot of faith that they’re smart people and they know what they’re doing. If they’re putting their business on the line with some uncertainty, we feel that we can take that same chance.

Q: So if you suffer another flood, you would suck it up and stay where you are?

Ms. Quinn: If we ever had to temporarily relocate again, we would break our lease and say sayonara. I think if it happened a third time, and the doctors didn’t want to move, we’d have to go on our own because at that point we’d just be stupid.

Ms. Heller: But I don’t think the doctors would do another rebuild. If there was another big flood, I think we’d all be moving to Michigan Avenue together.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=96effb6901bb10fb5d41d6865ae351a2

Experience Necessary: A Well-Dressed Dry Cleaner, Just Like Dad

Destined to clean: I was doomed to be in the family business. I remember being about 8 and asking my father if I could go to work with him on a Saturday and him telling me, “If you come with me, I’ll give you a dollar, but if you stay home and help your mother, I’ll give you $5.” And I took the dollar. My first real job was to make pants hangers by putting those sticky pieces of cardboard on the bottom of wire hangers; it was work you could probably teach a rhesus monkey to do.

Aspirations: It was always assumed that I’d be the first one in the family to go to college and live the American dream. I wanted to be a lawyer. I worked weekends and summers at the store. I was a politics and history junkie, so it was a big thrill for me to clean Theodore H. White’s carpets.

Dressing like Dad: I emulated my father, always wore a shirt and tie. Even in the 100-degree heat pressing pants in the summer in the store’s basement, I never took that tie off. You physically removed the damp clothes from the machine; there were these big vents called “sniffers,” but you could still smell the chemicals. It never bothered me. I guess it’s genetic.

The family business: My father was thinking of selling in 1980. He was such a perfectionist, the Felix Unger of dry cleaning, but he was tired. So my younger brother, Joseph, dropped out of Seton Hall to keep the business going. After I graduated, I worked nine months for an equity firm. Then my father and brother asked me to join them. I said yes, with two conditions: that we move our production facility out of New York City and expand it, and that they let me introduce automation and computerization.

Thinking big: By 1983 we had a facility in Hackensack. Now it’s 13,000 square feet and employs 60 people. But 80 percent of our clientele is in New York City. People who spend $10,000 a month on dry cleaning are not the norm, but we have them. I had a client who spent $150,000 a year. He even sent us his underwear. There was a template on how his boxer shorts should be folded.

Tough customers: We do things for our clients that no one in their right mind would do. The best story is the fashion model who sends her dry cleaning to us in a shopping bag, and after we clean everything and send it back, she calls and asks what happened to the 10-inch square of antique Chinese silk that was in a baggie in the bottom of the shopping bag. We couldn’t find it, she claimed it was worth $3,500, and long story short, I wrote the woman a check for $3,500. Two months later, she tells us we lost something that cost $1,700. This time I told her I couldn’t accommodate her again. I said, “Contrary to what you might think, I’m not an A.T.M.” She must like our work; she’s still using us. No, it’s not Naomi Campbell.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8d33eb61a7488dcfd973c486f72f3f11