• Clint Engel

Louisiana flooding takes out two Olinde's stores

denham-springs-floodingBaton Rouge, La.-based Olinde's provided this aerial view of Range Avenue in Denham Springs, La., where its Ashley HomeStore was flooded by about five feet of water.

DENHAM Springs, La. — Top 100 company Olinde’s has lost everything at its Ashley HomeStore here from the devastating flooding that has claimed lives and wiped out thousands of homes and businesses in Louisiana this month.

Tom Olinde, president of the 12-store Baton Rouge, La.-based Olinde’s, said the HomeStore on Range Avenue in Livingston Parish — among the hardest hit areas — was nearly submerged during the worst of it and looked like it was in the middle of a lake.

“The water rose about eight feet,” Olinde told Furniture/Today Friday. “The store is up about three or four feet so there was about five feet of water inside — destroyed pretty much.”

Olinde’s Mattress Superstore in Walker, La., just a few miles away also was damaged by about a foot of water in the showroom. Both stores were among Olinde’s smallest, he said, but still strong performers. He estimated the inventory loss before freight at about $600,000 between the two stores. Add up all upfront costs, including gutting and rebuilding and “I’m probably going to lose a couple of million bucks,” Olinde said.

The homes of about 50 Olinde’s employees were flooded too, inflicting more pain while making staffing a challenge early on as well. One of Olinde’s first moves following the record rains and flooding was to contact all employees and help them out as much as possible, he said.

Because many roads were impassible earlier this month, deliveries were halted for a while, which freed up Olinde’s warehouse manager — an outdoorsman — to bring out his boat and rescue some 50 people in the space of a couple of days, Olinde said.

olinde's post floodThe interior of one of the Olinde's stores after the flood waters receded.
The American Red Cross is calling the flooding in Louisiana the worst natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy in 2012. A CNN report pegged the cost of Sandy at $8.3 billion, noting it was the second costliest U.S. flood behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005 ($16.3 billion).

In a preliminary analysis, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber noted 20 Louisiana parishes have received the federal disaster area declaration, including eight of nine parishes in the Baton Rouge region. More than 110,000 homes in the region were located in flood area, the report said.

“It’s a pretty devastating deal,” Olinde said. His damaged stores, like the vast majority of businesses and residents in the affected area, were not insured for the catastrophe, but Olinde has been here before, not so much with Katrina as Hurricane Rita, also back in 2005, which destroyed the retailer’s 70,000-square-foot store in Lake Charles, La.

Indeed, Olinde ended up calling on the same salvage company out of Dallas to take a look at the damaged goods in the HomeStore to see if it could get anything for them (but no one wanted to touch them, and the retailer ended up hiring another company just for removal).

“We jumped on it right away because we know time is of the essence,” Olinde said. “We’re fighting to come back. I’ve got a salvage crew ripping all that stuff out and a contractor coming in behind them. When you have these kinds of things happen, time is money. You have to jump on it because the contractors become a real premium.”

Olinde said it’s going to be a good while before the HomeStore opens, but he’s hoping to have the bedding store back up in a month or so.

Despite the setback, he said, that “we’re blessed” and that he knows single-store operators in the area who have faced flooded homes and business who are “at their wit’s end.”

But for the most part, “people over here are real upbeat,” he said, “helping each other. They’re really kind of spiritual. It’s inspirational and encouraging.”

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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