• Clint Engel

Olinde’s dodges Harvey, but knows what’s coming

The Louisiana retailer sees business from flood victims a year after the storm.

olinde's post floodThe interior of one of the Olinde's stores after the flood waters receded in August 2016.
BATON ROUGE, La. — If Olinde’s can tell the furniture industry anything about what to expect once the floodwaters from Harvey recede, it might be this: There’s a long road to travel as things dry out, but it does get better.

Labor Day sales will be lost for many in the hurricane-battered areas, and right now retailers’ efforts are focused more on employees and other flood victims, anyway. But when attention does finally turn to business, the Top 100 Olinde’s knows what’s coming. The Baton Rouge, La., retailer missed the brunt of the Harvey, but just over a year ago, it wasn’t so lucky.

Floodwaters ravaged the city and some 20 Louisiana parishes on Aug. 12, 2016. Four or 5five of Olinde’s 12 stores were in the flood area, President Tom Olinde recalled this week. Back then, nearly everything was lost at the company’s Ashley HomeStore in Denham Spring, La., and at its Mattress Superstore in Walker, La., which had opened just three months before the storm.

Yet, even with the massive disruption (the mattress store was back up in a month, while the HomeStore was out of service until this past February) Olinde’s experienced a 12.1% sales gain for an estimated $65 million in 2016, moving six spots up Furniture Today’s Top 100 to No. 89.

For the first six months after the storm, Tom Olinde roughly estimated up to 90% of the consumers coming in were flood victims. A year later, they still represent about half of the stores’ traffic, and he said he’s certain, while that traffic is declining a bit, the stores will continue to see flood victims through the end of this year.

According to news report only about 12% of the Louisiana’s flood victims last year had flood insurance at the time, and more than 100,000 homes were located in the flooded regions. CNN reports Harvey damaged or destroyed about the same number of homes in Houston along, and as Olinde pointed out, that damage from Harvey is even more spread out, affecting cities and towns throughout Southeast Texas.

Olinde said last summer’s event in Louisiana was a 1,000-year flood even though it wasn’t connected to a hurricane or tropical storm, and it caught many in the affected parishes unprepared as some 34 inches of rain fell over a 48-hour period. Olinde’s damaged stores were among the majority of impacted businesses without flood insurance. He has since added the coverage to all stores to be on the safe side.

“What you saw (in the store) were the more economically affluent customers (earlier on),” he said. “They seemed to rebound a little faster.

“The ones depending on Road Home money or some other kind of federal assistance and the ones fighting it out with their insurance companies — they’re still trickling in.”

Olinde’s sold “a huge amount of bedding … and then furniture,” he said. “We did all these programs with charities and gave significant discounts and no-interest terms, and we’re still doing it today. We felt it was the right thing to do. You can just about make a customer for life when you help them when they’re down.

“We tried to make it as easy as possible, knowing a lot of them were paying for something they had just bought. But it’s was traumatic,” he said. “We would wait on a customer, and they would cry three or four times while you were presenting something; it was very heart-wrenching.

“So many of them lost their business, homes, cars,” he said. “Houston has a lot of the same thing going on,” and Olinde’s and Louisiana are feeling for all of its residents.

Clint EngelClint Engel | Senior Retail Editor, Furniture Today

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