Is not every night you go to sleep worrying if the plant your family built will still be standing in the morning. But that's exactly what Benjamin Breskman, president and CEO of Sentry Paint, faced when a 500-year flood hit Darby, PA in the wake of Hurricane Floyd.
As a result of the flood, Sentry's Darby facility was almost completely destroyed. However, with a lot of help from friends and the federal government, Sentry Paint has rebuilt and is stronger than ever. In recognition of the gargantuan effort it took to recover, the company was recently selected as winner of the U.S. Small Business Administration's (SBA) 2001 Phoenix Award for Outstanding Small Business Disaster Recovery.
Picking Up the Pieces
Floodwater began to descend upon Sentry Paint at about 10 a.m. on Sept. 16, 1999, and by the time Mr. Breskman sent his employees home shortly before noon, the severity of the situation was obvious to everyone. However, after a restless night, every employee showed up for work the next day ready to pick up the pieces.
"I don't think there was ever a point where we looked at each other and thought,'This is a total loss-what are we going to do,'" said Mr. Breskman. "Once we got over the shock of it, everyone started to help clean up."
This can-do attitude was called upon repeatedly in the next few days, as Mr. Breskman and his employees formulated a recovery plan and worked with local, state and federal agencies to assess and contain the damage. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) immediately declared the site a disaster area, which automatically qualified Sentry Paint for SBA assistance. This was essential to the company's speedy recovery. In spite of significant insurance coverage, SBA provided Sentry with extra funds necessary for the multi-million dollar clean-up.
Also helping Sentry Paint during its time of need was the fact that it had family connections in the business and another manufacturing plant in Indiana. Mr. Breskman sent a letter to his major customers the day after the flood that outlined Sentry's plan of action-part of which was to ensure uninterrupted service by outsourcing its products to other facilities.
Mr. Breskman and the rest of the Sentry Paint team set out to rebuild the plant in the smartest manner possible. In fact, by taking advantage of the opportunity to buy new equipment and make improvements that would have otherwise been financially impossible, Sentry Paint is now operating more successfully than ever, according to Mr. Breskman.
"There is no question that we are better off now," Mr. Breskman said. "We have new equipment for development, production and safety systems that would have cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars before the flood. As a result of the disaster we were able to upgrade. We are much better off, and our customers definitely benefit from that."
Going to Washington
As part of National Small Business Week held in Washington, D.C. in May, Mr. Breskman and his family attended an awards ceremony along with other winners of SBA awards. Included in the festivities were a White House ceremony with President Bush, a reception at the State Department and a Capital Hill luncheon attended by a number of senators.
"It was really a very special experience," said Mr. Breskman. "I never expected any of this. We were too busy working to think that we deserved any kind of recognition, but it's nice to see that the government was there to help us when we needed them. They offer a lot of good services to small businessmen like myself that I had no idea existed. Had we not had the SBA resources, chances are we would have struggled." l, chances are we would have struggled."