The Business: Claire’s Flowers Inc., a Las Vegas florist with 10 employees at 4500 W. Charleston Blvd. The shop provides a wide variety of flowers, plants, gourmet baskets and other decorations for special occasions.
The Players: Greg and Linda Anderson, who have operated the shop since 1986. The couple inherited the business from Linda’s parents and grandparents, who opened the original shop near the present location in 1967. The business is named for Linda’s grandmother, Claire Hoppe.
The Problem: Recovering from two fires in the mid-1990s, each of which caused major damage to the shop.
The Background: The business was started more than 30 years ago for several reasons. Linda Anderson’s parents, Joe and Joyce Swessel, were in the plant business and owned a nursery — a flower shop seemed a natural extension of the opera-don. The Swessels decided to join forces with Joyce’s parents, Ed and Claire Hoppe, to start the new business. The family believed the business would be a good outlet for Claire, who had a knack for design and other creative endeavors.
When they took over the business, the Andersons moved into a new, free-standing flower shop, which they felt was almost perfect for their needs. They developed a strong customer base and had few problems until the building caught fire in July 1994. The fire was caused by a transformer that blew up.
After recovering from the fire and rebuilding the shop, Claire’s again burned in January 1995. The fire again was caused by an electrical problem. The damage was worse than the first fire. The challenge for the Andersons entailed staying in business and keeping their customers while they again rebuilt their shop.
The Solution: In both instances, the shop did not miss a day of operation. The Andersons operated out of a trailer in back of their business after the first fire. Following the second fire, they rented a small nearby house and converted it into a flower shop.
The couple also wrote letters to customers letting them know they were still in business and would honor any obligations. The flower shop had business booked more than a year in advance to provide floral services. Despite all their efforts, some customers still believed them to be out of business. Linda Anderson said she ran into former customers years after the fires who were surprised Claire’s still existed.
The Andersons worked closely with their insurance company and contractor after both fires. They were able to salvage some of their equipment after the first fire, including their computer system, which maintained the client database and information on customer orders. The roof had collapsed on the showroom, but some square footage at the rear of the shop was salvageable, and the coolers where they kept flowers were still in operation. One of their wholesalers provided a place to operate immediately after the fire until they obtained a trailer to serve as the showroom. The shop was rebuilt quickly and was back in operation by October 1994.
The second fire in January 1995 proved more of a challenge. The Andersons were helping to decorate a golf course when they got word their shop was burning. “We had just gotten in a shipment of white [stuffed] bears that were on display in the front window,” Linda Anderson said. “When I got there, the bears were bobbing around in the water and there was smoke everywhere. It was horrible.” This time, while the couple was again able to salvage the computer system, the building was too badly damaged to use. They found a warehouse in which to set up a temporary operation, and quickly located a nearby house that could be converted to commercial use for a showroom. Because the cause of the fire was difficult to determine, the Andersons were questioned closely by fire investigators. It was also necessary to again dispatch letters to their customers. “It was a grueling week and a half,” she said.
Fire officials discovered the cause to be electrical, and the Andersons were able to rebuild. The couple was on-site everyday to check the progress of reconstruction. The same contractor was used to rebuild the shop, which made it easier to duplicate the operation exactly as it had been before the disaster. The insurance paid to replace everything, but would not pay for anything that was not part of the shop prior to the fire. It took four months for the project to be finished.
Claire’s Flowers has thrived ever since. Because of the Andersons’ experience, the shop has become a resource in the floral industry for flower shop owners nationally who have had to cope with fire damage. Linda Anderson advises businesses to check their fire insurance and make sure they have good coverage. Salvaging equipment that can be saved is also important. The Andersons found some of their equipment appeared to be OK, but had smoke damage that could not be fixed.
She advises others who have seen their businesses go up in smoke not to panic and to find a way to stay in operation. “Talk to somebody who has been through the same experience,” she urged.