Taking a proactive approach in planning for and responding to severe weather volatility will help safeguard any business’s reputation — and long-term growth potential. That said, a common concern in the retail and hospitality space is how to efficiently maintain operations in the face of a severe weather event. Better known as the “Last-to-close/First-to-open” challenge, the need to minimize business disruption when severe weather hits showcases the complex financial, logistical and reputational difficulties that retail establishments need to confront.
In fact, the risk of grim financial losses because of an extreme weather event has never been higher. According to Harvard Business Review, “Every year, weather variability is estimated to cost $630 billion for the U.S. alone, or 3.5% of gross domestic product (GDP).” The frequency and intensity with which the U.S. experiences severe storms highlight the urgent need to prepare and train for these types of emergencies.
The leadership teams at retail establishments such as restaurants, grocery stores or general merchandise retailers must be armed with advanced weather outlooks and real-time, site-specific weather intelligence to ensure the weather does not cause them potential problems. Suppose a retail business does, indeed, need to temporarily adjust its mode of operations or close due to adverse weather. In that case, proper emergency preparedness planning may be the key to successfully navigating any number of storms.
Establishing weather-related risk management practices successfully in the retail space starts with understanding your greatest risks and using technology to shore up the weaknesses in your emergency weather strategies. To help retail businesses prepare for extreme weather, here are our top five tips.
1. Receive the Right Information the First Time
There is a common misconception that free, publicly available weather services are sufficient. Countrywide alerts from publicly available weather services are not helpful to a location-specific business when they address an entire country (or significant parts of it). The local television meteorologist can’t assess what an impending storm means for your business, nor can the wide variety of free online weather sites or phone apps predict or understand the specific risks involved.
Commercial weather systems must promptly deliver accurate, actionable and clutter-free information for executives. These services make it easier to plan for events you might not consider before it’s too late. They will engage with your executive team to fully understand your risks and sensitivities; the good ones will tailor their expertise to fully integrate with your business.
Advanced weather platforms provide more information than, for instance, the probability of a thunderstorm — they provide specifics about damaging winds, hail size and tornadoes as well as how and when the weather will affect your location. This way, you can efficiently and effectively prepare for the specific threat with the least possible disruption to operations.
2. Know Your Vulnerabilities
Preparing for inclement weather takes awareness, planning and action. It’s essential that store owners understand the biggest threats in order to prioritize them — and assess how they can be minimized. This is where a comprehensive risk assessment comes into play, because it helps identify, analyze and control the most dangerous weather hazards.
Do you have a flat roof that is susceptible to collapses caused by heavy rain, snow or sleet? Does your store have proximity to water that can cause flooding? Are your store locations surrounded by trees that might fall on a power line? Are your associates living in vulnerable areas subject to floods or landslides? And what are the chances that your vendors and supply chain will be unable to fulfill their commitments in inclement weather?
Access geo-specific studies and climatology reports that confirm the greatest weather-related risks where a business operates. Get a firm grip on when an emergency response should be triggered by securing historical data around forecasts and outcomes. Once a risk assessment is completed, your business will be better equipped for an objective severe weather response.
3. Conduct a Business Impact Analysis (BIA)
In addition to determining the most relevant weather-related risks to a retail establishment, conducting a business impact analysis is critical for preparing for extreme weather. Assessing specific vulnerabilities in the context of those risks helps identify the potential operational disruptions with the biggest financial fallout.
As part of your larger business intelligence efforts, this analysis will help quantify potential impacts in three key areas, including delays or lost income, increased expenses and customer dissatisfaction. A standard BIA consists of setting up the project, collecting data, analyzing the data, preparing the report and working with key staff to implement the recommendations.
4. Develop a Business Response Plan
Assigning at least one designated Emergency Coordinator or Safety Captain at each physical location can improve accountability in developing, implementing and training the team about an effective Business Response Plan. Based on the specific risks that have been identified and prioritized, a response plan should document geo-centric preparations to be undertaken each month or season.
These include purchasing emergency supplies, renewing business continuity vendor services or checking in with facility managers to ensure the structural integrity of a business’ physical building — in the face of both foreseen and unforeseen weather events.
For example, emergency kits should be stocked with safety lights, work gloves, emergency blankets and other essential items in the event of a hurricane along the Gulf Coast. Blizzard survival kits in restaurants across the Midwest are likely to include batteries, rock salt, extra clothes, towels and blankets.
5. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Communication is vital during any severe weather event. Maintain constant communication with your associates by setting up multiple communication channels, such as a landline, cell phone, Internet, two-way radio and third-party mass notification systems.
Additionally, to effectively share need-to-know information, review your emergency phone lists, including vendors, utility companies and team members at other locations. The location of local service providers will also aid in keeping the response plan and recovery period on track.
Furthermore, consider communicating any weather-related issues, including property damage, closures or re-openings via social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This helps to support and nurture customer and vendor relationships with transparent, authentic and real-time messages — and open a forum to field questions and concerns.
A Data-Backed Approach to Severe Weather Preparation
The unpredictable nature of Mother Nature may never be fully understood, let alone controlled. Technology, however, is helping us to better protect our businesses. The best way to prepare for a weather disaster, mitigate the risks to your business and ensure safety is to use advanced weather intelligence to understand what risks the weather and the environment pose to your store — and how to avoid them.
Floods, winter storms and tornadoes don’t have to be the cause of business failure if a comprehensive all-hazards emergency preparedness plan is in place. As a national and global community, the more we learn, the more we are empowered to face weather-related challenges in our retail businesses. When they run smoothly, we all benefit from steady supply chains — no matter where we are located.
Staci Saint-Preux is an Industry Manager at StormGeo. As part of the sales team, she has the crucial role of serving current and prospective clients in the retail, hospitality and healthcare industries. Prior to her time at StormGeo, Saint-Preux worked as a flight planner and meteorologist for a private aviation company in Houston. With a degree and background in meteorology, she understands the importance of accurate weather data and forecasting and knows the value of having a team of weather experts on your side.