• Clint Engel

Exclusive Furniture launches mattress donation program in wake of Harvey destruction

HOUSTON — By Tuesday afternoon, Exclusive Furniture President and CEO Sam Zavary had made the rounds to five of his six area stores and his warehouse, and so far so good.

“We put a lot of sandbags down and barricaded a lot of stuff,” he said. “We put plastic and towels on the corners. We didn’t’ want any of the stores to get flooded like last time.”

Exclusive’s Houston warehouse did take on about six inches of water, but the retailer had picked up everything from the ground level and racked it in advance of Harvey.

Zavary’s one concern is his smallest store, a 15,000-square-foot showroom in a shopping center on Highway 6. The roads in that area remained impassable, so he hasn’t been able to get to it, and the security cameras aren’t working.

“It’s a big shopping center, and I’m hoping they have a good drainage system, but I have no idea at this time,” he said.

Like all of the Texas furniture retailers contacted since Hurricane Harvey made landfall Friday, the focus has turned to employees and the community. Zavary has been making the rounds to area shelters, bringing supplies such as towels, blankets and snacks.

He’s set up a YouCaring crowdfunding web page for Houston flood relief where donations large and small are welcome. And Exclusive is launching a “Kids Sleep Free” program.

“Our goal is to get 750 to 1,000 twin mattress to people who have lost everything,” he said. The campaign has just started and Zavary said he’s looking for help from suppliers, noting that he’s already reached out to Tempur Sealy, Corsicana and Klaussner among others.

Zavary also has tried to keep up with his 165 employees, but it’s been difficult, and he’s yet to reach everyone. He knows of five or so who have taken on water in their apartments, he said, including Exclusive’s customer service manager, who was inundated with seven feet of water in her ground floor unit and ended up with staying with neighbors on the third level of the complex until her brother picked her up.

“I think she was rescued by boat,” he said.

While Zavary was talking to Furniture Today, he was driving around town, looking for a way back to the warehouse after delivering some shelter supplies. The rains had started again. About 40 inches of rain has fallen since the storm with the possibility of 50 before it’s all over.

“We are definitely not out of harm’s way,” he said. “It’s not the rain anymore. They’re talking about the rivers overflowing and the levees breaking. That is the big danger now.

“If the flooding comes from the rivers and bayous, people might not be able to get around Houston for months, and that’s a big concern.”

Houston, the fourth largest city in the nation, is prone to flooding, a problem that has been exacerbated by years of heavy construction — and all the pavement and concrete that covers the earth that used to soak up more of the excess rainwater. The floods have names like “Memorial Day Flood” of 2015 and “Tax Flood,” the latter hitting April 15, 2016, while Zavary was at High Point Market. That one cost about two weeks of business at one store and took three weeks for the water level to drop to normal, he said.

But the thing about those floods and Tropical Storm Allison of 2001 is they only hit one or two sides of town, he said. “This is citywide,” and it has surpassed the Tax Flood water levels by nine feet already, Zavary said.

“They’re calling this a 500-year flood, but it might end up being 800 years,” he added.

Even in his neighborhood, which hasn’t flooded in the 15 years he’s lived there, Zavary said floodwater came within about four feet of his front door, and he had to be picked up by boat.

Exclusive Furniture closed its doors Friday and has yet to reopen any stores. Zavary is shooting for a Thursday reopening but realized that’s doubtful and said he’d be happy with a Friday or Saturday opening. He said he has no idea when things will get back to normal.

“We’re going to take a big hit,” he said. “And Labor Day is probably gone. I don’t think there’s going to be a Labor Day.”

Clint EngelClint Engel | Senior Retail Editor, Furniture Today

Please feel free to email or call me with all of your retail news and tips, including expansion news, successful merchandising and marketing strategies and anything else you would like to see covered by Furniture/Today.  Contact me directly at cengel@furnituretoday.com or 336-605-1129.

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