Out of the Ashes
April 14, 2009 - 12:00pm

Play it safe
Fire insurance is actually relatively easy to come by in Southern California, despite its being a “high-risk” area. Though insurance companies often refuse to cover structures located within close range of combustible
brush, this rarely applies to businesses. No matter a showroom’s location, Phil Holland, Chairman and founder of non-profit small business educator My Own Business Inc., says retailers should hedge their bets by bringing their insurance agent into their key circle of professional contacts.

“Have one agent who can handle all your business needs,” Holland advises. “There are policies specifically designed to cover small businesses that, in one package, cover most insurance needs.” According to Holland, a properly written policy will even cover the loss of income that results from having to close up shop during a wildfire evacuation or other natural disaster.

Before the wildfires that consumed San Diego County in late October succumbed to firefighters’ superhuman efforts, they ventured out to within mere miles of the coastline. The flames kept clear of congested business areas, but they raged in neighborhoods, destroying more than 1,000 homes.           

Kirsten Recce’s Black Whale Lighting showroom in Carlsbad, CA, was affected only by the soot left behind by the heavy smoke, but she knows all too well the utter destruction others now face. She has lost two homes to previous wildfires, and she’s helped victims of former disasters rebuild. She’ll do the same with this round.

“It’s more emotional and personal because you hear their story,” Recce says. “You try to bring things back that they remember, so they’re not completely starting over.”           

For now, though, it’s business as usual for Recce. “It’s too early to tell whether we had customers who were affected,” she says. “They’re a year away from ever coming in here to order lights. Right now, they’re trying to figure out who’s going to clean their clothes and where they’re going to stay.”           

It’s a fine line. On the one hand, retailers like Recce have deep empathy for their neighbors’ plight; on the other, the business that rebuilding will generate comes just as many in the lighting industry are struggling with a stilted economy and stagnant housing market.           

“Business is down for suppliers, and inventories are up,” says Tony Harris of Temecula, CA’s Bright Ideas. “So, we’re actually in a pretty good position to be able to fill the demand.”           

But retailers needn’t feel as if they’re exploiting others’ misfortune. Harris circumvents the logistics of offering his services to homeless—and thus, difficult to contact—fire victims by instead connecting with his contractor clientele.           

“We have a meeting next week with a contractor who is bidding [to rebuild] a cul-de-sac where the whole street was burned. He’ll bring in all his sub-contractors, and that includes us.”           

Such scenarios are a certainty. “This isn’t like Hurricane Katrina, where the disaster was so profound because so many people were impoverished and didn’t own their homes,” Recce says. “When they lost everything, they lost everything. [In San Diego] people will have a check in hand from their insurance company a year from now. They’ll have a builder, an architect. They’ll be like any other homeowner who has a home to build.”           

And Southern California’s lighting retailers will be there to help.

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