As told to Angus Loten
Before Hurricane Katrina, few outside of New Orleans had heard of the city's industrial canal. Located along this now-infamous waterway, the shop floor and warehouse at Ace Bayou, a furniture manufacturer supplying both Target and Wal-Mart, was submerged under 12 feet of water, losing all equipment and inventory. Yet, as its 25 employees fled the city, the company was able to staff up its out-of-state offices, managing to fulfill its orders. The rebuilding in New Orleans, however, continues.
We lost 100% of everything -- all of our patterns, all of our equipment, all of our research and development, all of our samples. One hundred percent of the product that we shipped out of the warehouse was lost, and 25 employees were scattered. So, we had a very difficult time in the first couple of weeks.
Frankly, we had a non-existent plan -- I'd like to say we had a bad plan, but it was really non-existent. The first problem we had was trying to find our employees. All of the workforce in New Orleans had to be evacuated, and I would say half had no homes to come back to. We were lucky in a sense. Because we do business with Wal-Mart and Target, we had offices and manufacturing facilities in Minneapolis and Bentonville, Ark. So, we went into battle mode, trying to figure out everything we needed to do not to miss shipments or invoices, while trying to rebuild our accounts receivables. Basically, the storm happened on Monday and the first people we relocated were there by the next Monday. We missed no shipments, though nothing has been shipped out of the New Orleans facility for months.
There is nothing in that building today that was there last Aug. 29. It's taken months and months and months of work. Literally, our electricity was just turned on. We still don't have water. You can't flush a toilet. The phones are, at minimum, a month away. So we're in another office in New Orleans for now and it's very cramped, but we're doing what we have to do. I'd like to think the building will be up and running again somewhere within the next two months. Originally, we expected to be back in there by April. The canal itself won't be repaired until September. And the other big fear is that we finally get water pressure, we move back in, and we're hit by another flood. Everybody is holding their breath and waiting to see.