Tulsa Woodcraft: Picking Up the Pieces After a Tornado

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When disaster strikes, it’s certainly a test of character in the days and weeks that follow. The Tulsa Woodcraft store owner and managers were put to the test in August 2017 when a tornado decimated their location.

Photo: Woodcraft of Tulsa sustained severe damage – doors ripped off the hinges, inventory scattered, the roof ripped off a portion of the building.

Allan Chaney, owner of the Tulsa store, faced the devastation head on. Shortly after receiving a phone call with the unsettling news, Gary Lombard, vice president of retail operations and franchise development for the Woodcraft corporate office in Parkersburg, West Virginia, felt confident that the store would eventually rebound. “I found Allan’s attitude to be very upbeat, very positive. It took a couple days for him to get his arms around it. But there was no doubt that they were going to move forward, and they were going to reopen that store,” he said.

At times, Allan wasn’t so sure. He is quick to credit his store manager Mark McNutt and assistant store manager Todd Phillips for their encouragement to keep going. “If it wasn’t for these guys, I may not have reopened the store,” Allan said. Mark has been the manager for 11 years, and Todd has been assistant manager for 3 years. “Because of their commitment to do whatever it took to recover from that mess and build a new store, also the fact that I could trust their experience to know what a new store looks like so I wouldn’t have to do it all myself. So we had a team.”

THE AFTERMATH

On Sunday, August 6, 2017, just before 1:30 a.m., an EF-2 tornado with up to 135 mph winds wreaked havoc on Tulsa, the most damage seen along its nearly 7-mile path in midtown Tulsa where several businesses, including Woodcraft, were located. Twenty-six injuries were reported and no fatalities. One blessing in disguise is the timing of the tornado hitting in the middle of the night – when no one was in the stores.

The photo below shows the path of the destruction with significant roof damage to AT&T and TGI Fridays, with part of Woodcraft’s roof ripped open between the two. The Woodcraft storefront is on the far right of the photo in the middle. Remarkably the Woodcraft sign was salvageable and was later repaired and moved to the new store location. “AT&T got pummeled. That place was immediately set up for demolition,” Allan said.

The next morning following the tornado, the team went to the site to assess the damages. “We were the only ones to show up,” Allan said. “We got there before anybody could tell us to get out,” and he was able to at least get the cash out of the drawers. Good thing, because it wasn’t long before the City of Tulsa arrived and condemned it – no entry or they could have been faced with “imprisonment or $500 fine.” “That was basically it, we were shut out,” Allan said.

Ceiling tiles coming down and machinery tossed about. 
Todd assesses damages inside the store. 
Allan and Mark walk behind the building to the rear dock.   
The mangled front door glass. 

Allan had already alerted his insurance company, who quickly assigned a task force to help with the claim. Though he had located his policy the night of the tornado, he admitted he hadn’t looked at it in 17 years since he first opened the Tulsa store. “Ninety pages, double sided,” he said. “I had no idea what my coverages were.” After meeting with his emergency response adjuster, he was stunned to learn he was underinsured. “She kept repeating that – you’re really underinsured. So I’m starting to have my first freak-out moment from the whole thing.” The adjuster convinced him to focus on recovering as much inventory as he could because anything recovered wouldn’t have to be included in the claim.

Leaving from that meeting, Allan realized there were three things he didn’t know. “I had no idea whether I was going to be able to get back into the building to recover anything since the building was condemned. I had no idea the condition of the inventory because it kept raining every night filling up the place with more water. When we finally opened the doors, the water just came running out. And third, I pretty much didn’t know what my coverage was.” When he learned that the insurance company could start applying underinsured penalties with no maximum, he feared the worst. “All I knew was there was the notion that I might have to reinvest for a second time to get the same store open.”

CRAZY PLAN A….PLAN B

By Tuesday, August 8, the property owner confirmed to Allan that the building would have to be demolished, so he began site selection for a new location. In the meantime, he had been given permission by the owner to store any recovered inventory in a vacant, undamaged space in the same shopping plaza. “That was wonderful,” Allan said. “So that kind of became our plan. Even though at this time, we still didn’t know if we were going to get access.”

That day Allan and his employees had a meeting in the parking lot. Unfortunately, part-time employees were not covered by his policy so they had to let the part-timers go. “That was a bummer.” Before long “Crazy Plan A” was developed. “If we could recover the inventory and we get it down into that temporary space, we would just open a couple registers and start selling and have a little make-shift operation,” Allan and his team decided. “It became very important that we recover as much inventory as we could out of there so I wouldn’t have to actually claim that.”

Engineers worked four days to shore up the walls and ceiling. Finally on Thursday, August 10, they regained access to the building. Calling back four of the part-time employees to help, Allan, Mark and Todd began the tedious process of sifting through the rubble. “We made one simple rule: If it’s dry, take it. If it’s wet, leave it,” Allan said. It was slow going but help soon arrived. “Bless their hearts, out of the blue, Habitat for Humanity shows up with six guys, and they worked their tails off to help us recover all that stuff.” The job took a week to move the recovered product to the temporary space and scan each item, while the wet inventory was taken by the salvage company to their warehouse in Dallas where they spent six weeks accounting for the loss. In the end, they recovered about 66% of their inventory “and that pretty much saved the business financially.”

Once all the recovered inventory was moved, “we immediately realized Plan A was stupid,” Allan laughed. The temporary space was only about 4,000 square feet and “there’s no way we were going to operate a store out of that. So we trashed Plan A and somehow we came up with Plan B.”

Walls and ceiling shored up by engineers
Temporary storage space

Plan B percolated into a way to move the inventory that was just sitting there “while I went through who knows how long to find a new location.” Allan also owns a Woodcraft store in Oklahoma City, so the Tulsa store, in essence, became a fulfillment warehouse for Oklahoma City while site selection continued. “The Plan B was ‘hey, ding!’ So every week we’d rent a U-Haul truck and take the orders to the Oklahoma City store while nothing else was going on,” Allan said.

WHERE TO NEXT?

Meanwhile, the search was on for a new location. “Every time I would find a place, I would bring these guys to show them what I was looking at and we would walk through it and kind of powwow,” Allan said. By October, they had found one that looked promising. “This place was operating kind of like a glorified garage sale, but we saw potential. This place clearly had potential.”  Before long, it was a done deal.

New location before makeover

It has potential

The inside and outside of the new building were completely overhauled in order to make it Woodcraft-ready. “Once we got rid of the floor and ceiling, we took it right up to the deck,” Allan said. After wading through wet, slippery ceiling tiles and slick floors recovering inventory from the old store, he vows “I’ll never do ceiling tile again. And everybody (here) hates floor tile.” The polished concrete floors and exposed beams give the new place a sleek, industrial look to complement the wooden signage and “Woodcraft green” trim.  

The Woodcraft sign from the old store was repaired and attached to the outside of new building. “The great thing about our new location is it’s only a half mile from our old location, and it’s even on the same side of 41st Street,” Allan said.

Scaffolding up during facelift

The inside is looking good

The goal was to be open in time for Christmas shopping, since they had already lost four months of retail sales, including Black Friday. To prepare for their new opening, Todd came up with a clever idea. “We have this long-time woodworker that would play Santa Claus. We thought it would be fun to have him come in and kind of do a ‘you’re approved to open,’” Allan said. Tulsa news channel 8 KTUL covered the story. “Santa” played the part to a T saying when the tornado destroyed the Woodcraft store, “It devastated all my elves. They were like, ‘what are we gonna do, Santa?’” The jolly guy was happy to declare the new store ready for woodworkers to find their favorite tools and supplies once again. 

Photo: Santa gave Allan his blessing on the new store and the elves were happy to have their favorite woodworking supplier back in business.

LESSONS LEARNED

In addition to learning (the hard way) about the business insurance coverages, Allan found that fostering good relationships helped things go a little smoother when the chips were down. “I had great relationships with the property owner and manager, the franchisor, the vendors,” Allan said. In turn, the property owner never charged him for the use of the temporary space, utilities or the engineer work shoring up the aftermath. The property owner told him, “I have a few tenants I wish the ceiling would fall in on. You’re not one of them.”

Vendors like Festool worked with him on shipping and payment. “The second day we were slopping through the muck of that store, Festool calls me up and says ‘Our board met. We want to offer you 180-day dating on your opening store order.’” Allan was floored but grateful.

The team back at the Woodcraft corporate office was able to get the store’s server up and running and got Allan hooked up to it at his home. This allowed him to corroborate data the insurance company needed, among other things. “I can’t tell you how thankful I was that I had a franchisor that was pulling that information. It wasn’t something that I had to convince the insurance company that my inventory value was because it was there. It was in the data,” he said. Woodcraft helped with social media and keeping the Tulsa customers informed. “I’m very thankful for having a franchisor who had my back.”

The relationship Allan has with his employees proved to be a vital component in the rebirth of the store also. He relied on Mark and Todd’s experience throughout the process and said he truly couldn’t have done it without them. Thanking them, he said, “These guys are warriors.”  

Photo: Assistant Manager Todd Phillips, John Wagers of JL Concepts and Manager Mark McNutt on opening day. John made the first purchase at the new store and was awarded a gift card. 

Though Allan hopes to never go through something like this again, he appreciates everything it took to recover from the disaster and move forward. “Probably the most satisfying moment was when I finally decided that I wasn’t going to allow a tornado to keep us from opening. We don’t want to be closed because of that. I want to be closed when I decide to retire. You know, I want it on my terms.”

We hope that’s not for a long time, Allan. Great job, Tulsa team!

To learn more about the classes, tools and supplies available at the Tulsa location, visit their website or Facebook page. To find a Woodcraft store near you, click here

Interested in owning your own Woodcraft franchise? Find more information at woodcraftfranchise.com. 

We hope you'll be inspired!

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