Harvey recovery: From burned out to back in business

DICKINSON, Texas — Cecile Vaglio was beaming as she took delivery of a new 2017 GMC Terrain SLE on Monday afternoon, Sept. 4. She had been drawn to Gay Buick GMC, about 30 miles south of Houston, by an online listing for a used Chevy Traverse, but salesman Darren Dunn got her into the Terrain, which had arrived only the day before.

This was no ordinary Labor Day sale. It illustrated how quickly dealerships were getting back to business in Houston.

Harvey’s record-shattering rains walloped the Buick GMC and Kia stores of Gay Family Auto along Interstate 45 in Dickinson, totaling upward of 700 new, used and customer vehicles. Although complete recovery is projected to take months, the 69-year-old auto dealership group managed to sell a half-dozen Kias, two GMCs and a used car on Labor Day. It was a remarkable rebound.

Damage

When General Manager Kevin Lardie finally got through the floodwaters to take stock of the damage, he and his team found up to 2 feet of water in some showrooms and buildings. Costly electronic equipment, ranging from diagnostic scanners to tire mounting-balancing machines, was under water. A shop building that housed 30 percent of the dealership’s Buick and GMC service bays was gutted by a fire that had been sparked by a short circuit on a customer’s vehicle.

“We had a hurricane plan and reviewed it two days prior and executed it, but you don’t ever plan for something this bad,” Lardie told Automotive News. When Harvey’s growing severity and potential for disaster were reported, Lardie decided to call Servpro disaster recovery service’s toll-free number.

Within an hour, he said, a representative called him and arrangements were made for Servpro to handle the initial cleanup and restoration.

“We wound up being first on their list,” Lardie said. Servpro set up dehumidifiers, and except for the large white plastic ducting overhead and the din of diesel generators, the showroom seemed almost normal on Labor Day.

“Servpro’s service has been excellent,” Lardie said. “When they leave in two to three days, we’ll be ready to start rebuilding.”

Lardie emphasized that “the biggest concern before starting recovery is the employees and the personal issues they’re dealing with. We’re making it work. Everybody who could has come to work. They’ve all pitched in. We sent several of our employees early on to some of the employees who had been devastated to help remove carpet, Sheetrock and furniture.”

The disaster plan called for the backup, disconnection and protection of servers, computers and networking equipment, all of which Gay’s employees did. Though little data is stored online, Lardie said, Gay Family Autos’ website and Facebook pages were maintained throughout the historic storm, and by Labor Day the systems were “100 percent; we have phones, Internet, power and cable TV.” Gay didn’t lose any data from its Reynolds and Reynolds dealership management system, he said.

While Gay’s burned-out shop is being cleaned and rebuilt, technicians will work temporarily in another building. “We can’t just sit around and wait for the adjuster,” Lardie said.

A state fire marshal told Lardie that because the water level did not get up to the light switches, most of the repairs won’t require permits.

On the other hand, the stores’ regular insurance adjuster said that it would be two weeks before he could inspect the stores’ buildings.

New stock

So Lardie and his team began slogging it out, hauling flooded vehicles to nearby holding lots to make room for new inventory.

Many of the flooded vehicles wouldn’t start due to today’s extensive electronics and pushbutton starters.

As soon as the flooded highways started to open, Lardie sent salespeople to acquire 30 vehicles from Classic Auto Group Galveston, which sells Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Cadillac, Buick, Toyota and Honda vehicles.

“I have been through major disasters as well, and know how it feels to have everything taken from you,” said Classic owner Howie Bentley. “I reached out to Kevin and told him I am here for them. Yes, we are in competition. However, you put that all aside when you know that they have employees without work, vehicles and income.”