Overcoming Adversity: The Aquascape Roof Collapse

Published on July 1, 2011

Leadership Team 2011
Leadership Team 2011

Just when you think you’ve finally freed yourself from the cold grip of a recession, you waken to find a new challenge on a new day. This is what faced the team at Aquascape on February 13th when an emergency call chain notified employees that Aqualand, the corporate headquarters for Aquascape, had suffered a partial roof collapse.

Record snowfalls followed by periods of thawing and freezing, swept through the Chicagoland area resulting in numerous roofs that suffered extensive damage. The sloping green roof of Aquascape’s LEED-certified building was no exception. The portion of roof that collapsed on Sunday afternoon was directly over the parking garage. No one was injured, and no vehicles were damaged.

An employee left the building approximately eight minutes before the collapse, while another employee arrived just minutes after the collapse occurred. The fortunate timing of the collapse between the departure and arrival of two employees is a blessing felt deeply by team Aquascape.

**Devising a Plan of Action**

As soon as word of the roof failure had been received, the company’s call chain was immediately implemented to alert the team of the disaster. The management team then rallied at the home of Aquascape founder and CEO, Greg Wittstock, to determine a recovery plan of action.

Top priorities were communicating to employees and minimizing disruption of service to customers. Establishing phone lines and securing data servers were critical short-term goals. As word in the local community and customer channels spread, the team at Aquascape found itself the welcome beneficiary of an outpouring of support.

FONA (Flavors of North America), a business just down the street from Aquascape, offered its training facility as a temporary location for office staff. FONA and Aquascape had been swapping the use of meeting rooms for years, and the strength of this business relationship was realized with FONA’s generous offer of help. Office staff were back at work on Tuesday, just 2 days after the roof collapse.

Temporary warehouse space was secured nearby and product was quickly moved from Aqualand, with staff members sometimes working 12 to 14 hours per day to ensure customers experienced little to no disruption of service. Hundreds of Certified Aquascape Contractors around the country felt no impact resulting from the disastrous roof collapse.

Authorized AquascapePRO Distributors also lent their support upon hearing of the calamity. Most distributors were already well-stocked for the beginning of the season. When an east-coast distributor found it needed product quickly, a west-coast distributor filled the order while Aquascape continued its move to the temporary warehouse.

Throughout the transition, the Aquascape team invested countless hours beyond the call of duty, remaining focused on communicating with customers, employees and vendors alike. Customers were ensured that Aquascape had warehouse and shipping available for order fulfillment. Within 10 days, the warehouse was completely moved and fully functional.

In the meantime, a team was employed to locate a more long-term temporary office space so that FONA could regain its training facility. Within 5 weeks following the roof collapse, the office was moved a second time and did not lose any business days during the re-location.

**Keys to Disaster Recovery**

Certainly, the outpouring of help from the community helped speed the disaster recovery for Aquascape. Strong community relationships built over the years led to quick support. Aquascape has developed ties to the community through its interaction with local government and by reaching out to local businesses.

Aquascape installs water features in public locations throughout the community, leading the mayor to officially declare St. Charles as the Water Garden Capital of the World, with signs at every entry point to the city proclaiming this pride. The mayor was onsite immediately after the roof collapse, lending help and encouragement to Greg Wittstock and Aquascape president, Colleen Heitzler.

“City officials have been extremely supportive in helping Aquascape through this challenge,” said Heitzler. “It was obvious they wanted us back in business as soon as possible.”

A strong company culture also helped aid in the quick recovery. “Humor is often the best medicine and silly bouts of laughter were followed by moments of tears,” added Heitzler.
Wittstock’s dynamic leadership set the tone and all employees played an integral role in getting the company back on its feet. Ensuring customers felt little to no impact was the goal of each and every team member.

**The Silver Lining**

The old saying goes, “in every cloud there’s a silver lining.” It’s not difficult to identify the blessings identified during this recent challenge. Existing bonds of camaraderie were strengthened by working as a team toward a common goal. A heightened sense of what others experience during natural disasters was also gained. And of course, being able to celebrate that no one was hurt was the brightest spot on the horizon.

Good teams can certainly benefit from challenges, but being prepared in advance is a smart and strategic approach for companies looking to provide a firm foundation for their business. Aquascape quickly learned the reward of being ready with a good insurance plan, an emergency call chain, and strong community and business ties.

Adversity is not always a known entity, but every business will face it at some moment in time. Whether it’s a failing economy or natural disaster, being prepared is the best offense in winning the battle. Reaping the benefits of readiness will certainly be evidenced, as it was in the case of Aquascape.

Along with smart business practices, relationships are key to overcoming adversity. Aquascape’s culture is all about relationships and this proved advantageous in getting back on its feet. One supplier provided free shipping for the month of February to offset the challenge of the roof collapse. Other vendors held product and didn’t impose the usual fine for not taking the order according to schedule. Even former employees returned to offer their knowledge to help through the recovery process.

**Moving Forward**

The word is still out on the exact reason for the roof collapse, but speculation points to the record snowfall followed by a thaw/freeze period. Another business just a half mile from Aqualand also suffered a roof collapse on the same day. Aquascape’s intent is to rebuild the roof to its original “green” state.

While the rebuilding of Aqualand will take months, Aquascape does not plan to move back to its headquarters during the busy season, thereby alleviating any disruption of service to customers. Aquascape has been granted permission to hold Pondemonium®, its annual training event, at Aqualand and preparations are currently underway for seminars and networking opportunities.

Despite this overwhelming challenge, Aquascape booked and shipped more orders through the first quarter of 2011 than it did in 2010. When Aquascape moves back to its prized LEED-certified building, it can rest assured that its team is efficient and stronger from this recent adversity.

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