Thanks to Phastek Performance LLC’s location on Houston’s northwest side, the online auto parts retailer avoided a direct hit from Hurricane Harvey.
But when the Army Corps of Engineers announced plans to release water from two area reservoirs on Monday in the wake of the Category 4 hurricane that made landfall Friday night, Phastek CEO Jason Calzada knew his business could be at risk.
Water was released Monday from two reservoirs in order to stem rising water levels in downtown Houston. Phastek, which is seven miles from the Addicks Reservoir and about 10 miles from Barker Reservoir, had been spared any damage to that point and has not since flooded, but Calzada was concerned the situation could change at any moment.
“I loaded up two truckloads of all the product that we needed to ship to our customers,” he says. “We loaded up all our UPS products, all our Postal Service stuff, and we drove to College Station, which has a UPS distribution center. We drove all the mail another hour and a half to Austin to deliver all the USPS stuff.”
The effort has helped the online retailer, which specializes in after-market parts for Chevrolet Camaros, avoid flood damage from Harvey so far. Phastek is No. 934 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 1000.
“We’ve been so lucky it’s unbelievable,” Calzada says. “We were within a mile or two of our business being ruined. As a business owner I have to worry about myself and my employees. Everything depends on keeping this business running. The business is not responsible just for me, it’s responsible for my employees and their families as well.”
On Monday, Calzada and two of his employees who could make it to the office, got to work processing orders, answering customers’ emails and taking phone calls until 1 (the retailer’s other five employees were either flooded in their neighborhoods or couldn’t find a route to get to the office). Calzada did not say what time specifically they got started. “At that point it was still raining and we didn’t know how things were going to go,” he says.
Calzada spoke with Internet Retailer on Wednesday afternoon on the road to College Station, Texas, which is about 80 miles northwest of Phastek’s office. He says he and his team will continue to make trips to College Station and Austin, which is about 150 miles west, to ship orders for as long as UPS and the USPS have suspended service out of Houston.
“What we’re doing is we’re processing [orders] up to a certain time and then we’re shutting off so we can get to the (USPS) by 5, and UPS closes at 7,” he says. “We’ll keep doing it until the service is right. It’s not my customers’ fault that we are located where we are.” Phastek does have natural disaster insurance and business interruption insurance, Calzada says.
On Tuesday, all eight of Phastek’s employees, including the ones who couldn’t make it in on Monday, began moving the company’s inventory to higher ground to ensure it was safe in case the overflow from the reservoirs reached company headquarters. By Thursday, the boxes were returned to the lower shelves.
“We pulled up all the inventory on lower shelves, put everything on higher shelves just in case it would reach us,” Calzada says. “Our inventory is a mess right now. Everything in the entire place had to be four feet and above, just in case.”
Despite the scrambling, the business continues to operate and his employees are safe, he says.
Conversations about how to prepare for the hurricane began Thursday, Aug. 24, the day before it was supposed to hit the coast. On Friday, the retailer put its computer systems about six feet off the ground and sandbagged the doors of the business as precautions and told customers via its Facebook page that it would close early to give staff time to get ready for the storm.
After it became clear that the business would be spared damage, Calzada and his workers used social media to notify Phastek’s more than 29,000 Facebook fans that they were open and operating. In addition to Facebook, the e-retailer posted on Instagram and online forums for Camaro and car enthusiasts.
Phastek Performance is up and running!! #HurricaneHarvey will not keep us down!! *************** Orders are being processed and shipped as soon as possible!! Our phone lines are open, just very busy with calls coming in!! *************** #phastek #phastekperformance #camarosix #camaro #camaross #camaronation #camarofifty #camaross #camarozl1 #camaro1le #camaro5 #camaro5thgen #camarofest #camaronation #camarofamily #camaroexperts #notgonastopthistrain #weareopen #openforbusiness #comeondown
This, he says, was key because as news reports continued to circulate about the severe damage in Houston and the surrounding area, some customers considered canceling their orders.
“We knew that we could end up with canceled orders if we didn’t act fast,” he says. “We did get messages from people saying, ‘It looks like y’all are out of business, can we cancel our order?’”
Calzada paid to boost a post from Phastek’s Facebook page to notify shoppers that the business was up and running. He declines to say what he spent for the boosted Facebook post, but says only about 2% of all orders wound up canceling this week. In fact, Tuesday produced better-than-expected sales, he says. “We thought we would lose orders.”
The devastating storm has taught Calzada some lessons, the main one being that the next time there’s a major weather event in the forecast, he and his staff will prepare for the worst-case scenario.
“We didn’t have a plan because nobody thought it was going to be this bad,” he says. But as the weekend progressed and damage piled up, those opinions changed. In a staff meeting this week, it became clear: “We have to prepare for this again.”