Tips for Surviving a Business Fire

Like many small business owners, Todd Quick and Jake Eggert never expected disaster to hit them.

They realized how wrong they were in 2012, when lightning struck their adjoining businesses in Parkers Prairie. The resulting fire destroyed inventory, tools and the buildings. They also temporarily lost a way to make a living.

“You think it won't happen to you,” Eggert said. “The little bit of insurance I had didn't do anything.”

He'd started his auto body shop, Unique Paint Body Trim, at age 20, renting bigger shops as his business grew. His insurance coverage didn't keep up. While he didn't own the building that burned, some customer vehicles were destroyed and he faced a lawsuit and legal fees. He has reopened in the same location and now owns his building.

Meanwhile, Quick, his good friend, learned that he'd done some things right and some things wrong when it came to surviving a disaster. Right: Every night, he brought home a disk containing all his inventory and accounting records. Wrong: He failed to insure new items he brought into his shop, so he recovered nothing on $60,000 worth of good-quality tools he'd collected over 20 years working as a mechanic. 

Quick, whose Napa Auto Parts store is once again open on U.S. 29, offers this advice to business owners:

  • Film everything in your business every six months to a year, even if it's just on your smart phone.
  • If possible, establish a savings account to fall back on in case the disaster prevents you from earning money.
  • Update your insurance as you bring new equipment, inventory or supplies into your business.
  • Keep inventory and accounting records off site.

“The biggest thing is making sure your insurance is where it needs to be and making sure you know what it's covering,” Quick said. “Cheaper isn't always better.”

Eggert advised business owners to think not just how to respond to a fire, but also to vandalism, break-ins and other pitfalls.

“I really wish I had planned for disaster,” he said. “It put me in a bad spot. You always think that something like that won't happen to you. Right now I got a very, very good disaster recovery plan. I'm insured to the gills now.”

When businesses put together a disaster plan, they need to consider their vendors, their suppliers, their inventory, their ability to acquire more inventory and a way to keep records in a place easily accessible before and after a disaster, said Patrick Waletzko, Otter Tail County emergency manager.

WATCH VIDEO: Hear Quick's and Eggert's stories and learn more about emergency preparedness.