Four years after Harvey, the storm’s effects are still visible at Alspaugh’s Hardware Store in Kingwood’s Town Center. To this day, Rick Alspaugh struggles to balance inventory with service, the thing that made his business formula unique. This is the story of how Harvey affected him, his business, his customers and 60 employees.
Bob: Your family’s first hardware store in Kingwood was up near the front. When did you move to Town Center?
Rick: We bought our property from Friendswood in 1993 and opened our store in ‘94.
27 Years of Success Based on Unique Formula
Bob: You’ve been there 27 years! Did the entry of Lowe’s into the market affect your business?
Rick: Not really. They don’t do what we do.
Bob: How would you characterize that?
Rick: They have great inventories. But we have people who can walk you through a project. We were the go-to place for service. People don’t come here for lumber, tile, sinks and carpet. They come for parts, paint, smaller things. And we have this amazing boutique with unique things that nobody else carries. With goods at all price levels. Plus free gift-wrapping. You can’t get that anywhere else in the city.
Back before Harvey, we also had a huge selection of barbecue equipment. We’re struggling right now, but God’s going to get us through it.
Bob: Let’s go back to Hurricane Harvey.
3.5 Feet of Water in 16,000 SF Store, But No Flood Insurance
Rick: August 28th 2017. I’ll never forget it. Everything went underwater. Deep under water – three and a half feet.
We lost twenty-seven computers. They were all on desktops, but that wasn’t high enough.
Bob: Were you insured for that?
Rick: Not a bit.
Bob: (shocked) You didn’t have flood insurance?!
Rick: About a month before Harvey, my insurance agent came in. We talked about how we had grown and increased my coverage. Then Harvey hit. I’ll come back to that in a minute.
60 Employees Help Jumpstart Business
Rick: At the time, I had about 60 employees. The day after Harvey, everyone showed up and started cleaning. It was amazing, Bob. They rebuilt the store. It was unreal. It was just… We came together!
Within three days, we were able to open by working out of trailers and a cargo container outside with one surviving computer from the paint department. We ran wires out there. And we re-opened out of that container.
I ordered about $400,000 worth of stuff that people would need for cleanup.
“I Just Assumed I Had Flood Insurance”
Rick: In the flood, we also lost three trucks. A generator. And our forklifts. I used up all my cash reserves to get going again and keep people working. So, I called my agent to make some insurance claims and he says, “For what?”
“We flooded in Harvey! This was a total loss,” I said.
He goes, “You’re not covered for rising water. You don’t have flood insurance.”
My agent never once asked me if I wanted flood insurance. And I never asked if I had it. I just…assumed. I assumed I had it.
Luckily, the three trucks were covered under our automotive policy. So, I got money for them. But it was not enough to replace them.
Bob: How long did it take to reopen?
Doing Business Outside While Rebuilding Inside
Rick: By September 1st, we were selling outside. But for all of September and October, and most of November, we were rebuilding the inside.
At lunch, our barbecue vendor came in to cook for us. We would pressure wash the tables, turn a bunch of buckets upside down, sit, pray, and eat. That really brought us together.
Before the store was even cleaned out, I targeted reopening inside for the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Everyone just looked at me with giant eyes. But by God, we got to work. And we made it happen.
Bob: Were there any setbacks?
Rick: We received three 18 wheelers of shelving…in the wrong order. We needed uprights first. But they came on the last truck…a week late. So, we literally lost a week of assembly. But we were back in the store by Monday before Thanksgiving.
Rick: In about eight weeks, we completely redid the store. But that was eight hours a day for 60 people.
$3.2 Million in Flood Losses
Bob: How much did you lose in Harvey?
Rick: $3.2 million dollars. We lost the entire inventory. We trashed it all because I was concerned about contamination. It was nasty. We’re less than a quarter of a mile downriver from Kingwood’s main sewage treatment plant. We just had to trash everything.
But when we reopened, everything was 100 percent clean. Brand new. We threw out everything touched by Harvey. Four trailer loads of barbecue pits were crushed and hauled straight to the scrap yard.
Bob: I had no idea. Did any of the newspapers write that story?
Rick: No. I never felt I was special to where I needed to talk about it. All the people around me suffered similar losses. The jewelry store. The photofinisher. The barbershop. The cupcake guy. Everybody in Town Center lost everything.
Bob: Did you ever think the water would get this high?
Rick: I knew it could reach Town Center because of the 1994 flood. So, during Harvey, we tried to raise everything up about a foot. But I never thought three and a half feet!
If you had three and a half feet of snow, it would melt by next week and it would be business as usual. But when you have three and a half feet of water in your store…well, here I am talking about the recovery four years later.
Plagued by PTSD
Bob: How has this affected you personally?
Rick: People don’t realize how real PTSD is. I have my eye on the Weather Channel all the time now.
Bob: Do you have flood insurance now?
Rick: Yes, sir. And I’ve got a different insurance agent, too.
Business Since Harvey
Bob: So, you lost $3.2 million worth of inventory and computers. You had to start over. Without help from insurance. How has Harvey affected your business since then?
Rick: Harvey not only destroyed our store, it wiped out 3000 homes within a nine-iron shot of here. This entire neighborhood…gone. Customers didn’t need most of what I had at that point. They needed major remodel stuff: carpet, tile, wallboard, like that. They needed contractors, not light switches. Plus, they didn’t have flood insurance and had to bear the cost of recovery out of pocket.
We have problems. But not like most people. We’re not on the way to M.D. Anderson. Having burned through my own savings, I just don’t have enough money to offer the kind of service people came to expect.
Government Grants Slow in Coming
Bob: What comes next?
Rick: We’re poised to recover. I just need inventory. We filed for some Harvey help.
I got some tax relief, which was very nice. An SBA loan which we’re paying back. The Humble Chamber helped us, which was a huge blessing.
Congress appropriated $100 million to small businesses for Harvey grants. But they take forever. Worse, they had $250 million worth of need.
Luckily, friends in the community stepped up to help fill that gap. That’s why we are here today. I’m not begging friends anymore. I’m just not. But I would like to get some of this Harvey aid. I certainly qualify.
Banking on Community Spirit
Bob: So where do you go from here?
Rick: We’re here every day. The lights are on. And we still have stuff to sell. Just not as much as we used to.
Bob: You know, I can’t imagine cooking barbeque without your store.
Rick: Thank you.
Bob: I see Alspaugh’s as a central location for community spirit.
Rick: It used to be. And it can be again. There’s not a whole lot that we can’t do as a community.
Posted by Bob Rehak on September 15, 2021 based on an interview with Rick Alspaugh
1478 Days since Hurricane Harvey