ROCKY MOUNT, N.C.—When Hurricane Floyd dumped as much as 2 feet of rain on eastern North Carolina in mid-September, Rocky Mount Tire and Auto Service Inc. was one of hundreds of businesses forced to close due to flooding. "Everything just floated around," said Fred Horns, co-owner with Harold Truelove of the independent Goodyear dealership. The showroom and shop area were covered with 6 feet of water, Mr. Horns said, and there were tires all over the place.
Shop equipment, furniture, computers, files and five vehicles were destroyed, Mr. Horns said. To make matters worse, three large drums of used oil awaiting disposal spilled during the flood and deposited a slick coating on everything as the water receded.
Mr. Horns credits dedicated employees, loyal customers and patient creditors with having a hand in Rocky Mount Tire's quick recovery. The dealership reopened Oct. 11, just four weeks after the flood.
Mr. Horns had special praise for his employees, who volunteered to spend 12-hour days, seven days a week cleaning and rebuilding Rocky Mount Tire. "It was really due to their efforts that we reopened as quickly as we did," he said.
Mr. Horns said North Carolina has a system that allowed him to sign his employees up for four weeks of unemployment benefits quickly via the Internet. He did that right after the flood.
He said 15 of his 16 employees—one employee's home was damaged in the flooding—worked as "volunteers" to clean up the dealership.
Mr. Horns also gives credit to government agencies that helped him rebuild, since the dealership didn't carry flood insurance. Mr. Horns said he received $300,000 in disaster relief loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration—$200,000 to replace destroyed equipment and $100,000 for economic loss.
He also applied to a new state program called Business Advance Payment (BAP) that provided interest-free $10,000 loans to help businesses start up quickly after the hurricane.
Rocky Mount Tire was the first company to be approved for the BAP program. Mr. Horns and Mr. Truelove accepted the check from Gov. Jim Hunt the day the dealership reopened.
"My partner and I were wondering how we were going to advertise our reopening," Mr. Horns said. "It was wonderful."
The check presentation drew a crowd of 200 and received statewide media coverage. Rocky Mount Tire's employees appeared on TV and talked about helping save the dealership, and Mr. Horns said that drew new customers, who were impressed by his workers' comments. Many regular customers told him they waited until his dealership reopened to have service done.
The funds from the SBA were released on Nov. 15, Mr. Horns said, and he immediately wrote about $200,000 in checks to pay for replacement equipment and repairs. "All but a couple of creditors were cooperative," he said of the more than 50 vendors who had waited to be paid until the business was back in operation.
He also praised his Goodyear rep and the expedited replacement of sales counters and other point-of-sale material destroyed in the flood.
Rocky Mount Tire's business has returned to pre-flood levels, Mr. Horns said, and November's sales were slightly ahead of last year. "We have kind of jumped right back in there," he said.