What’s the worst thing that can happen to my business?

What’s the worst thing that can happen to my business?

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What is the worst thing that can happen to my business?

Someone I was working with recently voiced this question and said that he had googled it. So I thought I would write something about it but not in the way you would normally expect a resilience professional to write.

As professionals we talk about Business Impact Analysis, Maximum Acceptable Outage, Maximum Tolerable Period of Disruption and a whole host of other terms. These are of course necessary for us to work effectively but the language we use is sometimes a bit sterile and it could be easy to forget for a while that business resilience is about people, not just documentation.

People are what resilience is all about. It is people who make things happen and we sometimes forget when we are doing the paperwork and plans and checklists that it is people who are affected, often  emotionally when the worst thing that can happen, happens. It is people who invest not just their cash and time but a large part of themselves in their business.

The Upcycled Timber Co.

I was aware that The Upcycled Timber Company based in Lochgelly and owned by Catherine Fotheringham had recently suffered a fire that destroyed the premises.  So I asked Catherine if she would be good enough to share her personal experience so we can get a feel for the human side.


This is what Catherine wanted to share with you:

What is the worst thing that can happen to your business?  I’m sure off the top of your head you can think of a few things including your business premises having a fire.  Imagine that, one day everything is ticking along nicely and the next day your business, livelihood and passion is in watery, ashy ruins.  Can you imagine that or does it fill you with so much dread that you won’t even let yourself contemplate it?  If that’s the case, you need to get your head out of the sand and prepare that the worst could just happen to you.

The business in ashes.
The business in ashes.

It happened to me and it is literally one of the worst days of my life.  Let me explain a bit about my business.  I own The Upcycled Timber Co. where we hand make furniture and accessories from reclaimed timber including scaffolding boards and whisky barrels.  All that wood!!  I employ one Joiner to make the products and I do everything else.  Our business was closed for the Christmas and New Year period and we’d just started back on Monday 9th January 2017.  I was the last to leave that day and I checked everything was shut down before I left.  All doors were closed and everything that could be was switched off at the walls.  The next morning I got a call from my Joiner at 8am that the Fire Brigade were sitting outside our workshop.  I rushed there as quickly as I could and was met by four fire engines, two at the front and two at the rear of the building.  All were dealing with the fire that had been burning most of the night and the devastation was incomprehensible.  I sincerely hope that you never have to comprehend what it must be like.  So what caused the fire?  A lithium battery in the workshop radio.  It wasn’t plugged in or switched on but a freak accident meant that it started smouldering and burnt its way through the workbench and then through the ready supply of whisky barrel staves that were stocked behind the bench.  It made its way through a wall into my office/showroom and everything was ruined, either by the fire, smoke or water from the hoses.  It was a freak accident, nothing I could have done could have changed the fire happening.  I think that is the scariest part.  Thankfully no one was hurt and the businesses either side of my workshop weren’t affected.

So what do you do when this happens?  For me it was to phone my husband as the fire was being dealt with.  Then once everyone left it was to secure the building and phone my Insurance Broker and Landlord.  I had contents insurance but my Landlord was responsible for the buildings insurance which was included in my rent each month.

The insurance process was relatively straight forward but it did take a while.  Quite quickly the Loss Adjuster came out to determine the extent of damage and deemed it a total loss, I would be paid out the full amount for stock, materials, tools and machinery and IT equipment.  It was clear though that I was slightly under insured.  As a small business that had been going for just over a year, the policy that I had started with was more than enough at the beginning but as we grew organically, it soon wasn’t enough and we hadn’t realised this.

The Loss Adjuster did request that a Forensic Fire Investigator come out to conduct their own investigation to the cause as part of the insurance claim.  Seemingly this is quite common and the main reason is to see if they can sue the manufacturer of the cause of the fire, in our case the lithium battery manufacturer.  The forensic fire investigation wasn’t quite so smooth emotionally for me.  For the first time since the fire I felt like maybe I had done something wrong.  Lots of questions were fired at me, some of them I just couldn’t understand what they had to do with the fire but were about different aspects of how I ran my business.  It took a full day for two investigators to go through everything and they wouldn’t tell me anything, it wasn’t until they submitted their report to the Loss Adjustor that it was clear that they agreed it was the lithium battery but that was a very tense time.

During this time I had to alert my customers to the fact that the fire had happened and their orders were affected.  I emailed everyone separately and offered either a full refund or asked if they’d be willing to wait, not yet knowing when I would be set up again.  I was very fortunate that the majority of my customers were willing to wait and I only had to refund a small amount.  I also had to inform my suppliers and stockists but thankfully it didn’t adversely affect them.  I made sure that I kept in contact with everyone on a regular basis as to the progress and the messages of support really helped.

How long would it take to get trading again?  Because it was a total loss the workshop had to be emptied of the fire damaged contents and taken back to a shell.  With estimates of anything from 3-9 months before it would be habitable again because of asbestos concrete roofing, I had to secure new premises.  In all, from the date of the fire until the date I moved into new premises it took six and a half weeks and that included the insurance claim being paid out.  That might not sound like a long time but when it’s happening to you, it feels like forever.

Emotionally it was a roller coaster and it felt like a bereavement.  Every time I had to go back to my old workshop to meet someone about the insurance process or start to clear out the fire damaged contents it would set me back again.  I seriously considered packing it all in and walking away, it was such a horrendous time.  It was scary, emotional and boring.  Waiting on decisions being made and payments being released was incredibly boring.

It was a huge task to kit out a new workshop again with new tools, machinery, stock etc and I underestimated how big a task it would be.  Regarding IT, I had everything saved to the cloud so this was hugely important in being able to contact customers, stockists, suppliers, update my website, write blogs as it was happening, share on my social media channels, sort out all the financials and keep track of new purchases.  Without access to all of my administration, sales and marketing information then I can’t even imagine how much worse the whole thing would have been.

Where am I now?  I’m in new premises and trading again.  The whole fire saga feels surreal and like it happened to someone else.  It’s taken a while to get up and running again and get outstanding orders out, we’re still not quite there but have very patient and understanding customers.

Rising from the ashes.

What you should take away from my experience is this:

  • Ensure you’re fully covered with your insurance policy. Keep a list of all your equipment as it is bought and its value, and regularly ensure that your insurance policy is still adequate in terms of cover
  • Back up data to the cloud
  • Keep your customers, suppliers and stockists up to date, it may surprise you how great people can be if they’re kept informed. It will also help protect your reputation
  • Make sure you’re legally covered with an up to date fire risk assessment



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