Hurricane Irma versus $35,000,000 worth of cars

By Author: Harvey Briggs, Date: Sep 27, 2017
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When category 5 hurricane comes steaming up the coast toward your home or business, you better have a plan and pray for a little luck. Fortunately for the folks at Dimmitt Automotive Group, one of the largest purveyors of luxury and ultra luxury cars in the state of Florida, they had both when Irma came a’calling.

Dimmitt doesn’t just sell luxury cars, they sell ultra luxury cars. As hurricane Irma was building strength they had to activate their plan to protect the 10 Aston Martin, 18 Bentley, 9 McLaren, and 7 Rolls-Royce new vehicles they had in inventory. Of course they also had a bevy of ultra expensive used cars on the lot as well in addition to over 250 new Cadillacs and a broad range of other premium used cars. So how does one go about protecting all those cars from one of the most potentially destructive storms to hit the Sunshine State in generations? To find out I spent some time speaking with the Executive General Manager of Dimmitt’s ultra luxury operation, Eric Shepherd.

Rides & Drives: First of all, I’m glad to hear you, your store and your employees came through Irma relatively unscathed. I’m guessing that had a lot to do with planning. How you go about preparing for an event like this?

Eric Shepherd
Thanks, the planning certainly helped and we were a bit lucky the storm had lost some steam by the time it got to us. Like any business should, we have a disaster plan in place that we update every year. So when we saw the storm forming out in the Atlantic and it looked like we might be in the path, we got the team together and started getting ready.

The plan covers more than just the cars. It’s also about business continuity and employee safety. We’re a family business and the people who work here are family, too. Everyone has a job to do, but their first priority is to make sure they and their families are ready to do what they need to during a natural disaster like this.

So in the days leading up to the storm what did you guys do?

Well first, we developed our schedule. Since Irma was due to hit on Sunday afternoon, we wanted to be ready by 3 PM on Friday so our employees had a full 48 hours to prepare and evacuate. Next, we called our customers who had cars with us – both new cars prepped for delivery and cars in the service department – and asked them what they wanted us to do. As you can imagine, they have garage space and could protect their cars at least as well and maybe even better than we could, so a lot of those cars were returned to their owners. We did get some calls asking what they could do to prepare. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do except make sure your car is covered both physically and with insurance.

Then we figured out how to get as many cars inside as possible. We packed our three showrooms with cars. Obviously the Rolls, McLarens, Bentleys, and Astons had high priority and we figured out how to get all the new cars put away first. Our Aston Martin showroom usually has seven cars on the floor. We put 15 in it. Then we prioritized our used cars by value and got as many of them inside as possible. In addition to the showrooms, we filled our service department, putting cars on every lift and then tucking cars under and around them. We did have some customer cars in the service department so we had to make sure we took care of those, too.

What else did you have to do?

Well, obviously we didn’t have enough room to put every car inside, so we started by taking down all the signage and anything on the exterior of the buildings or around the property that could become a projectile in the high winds. We then took all the Escalades on the lot and ringed them around the showrooms first to protect them as much as possible by putting them under the overhang, but they also provided protection for the showroom by blocking any debris that might fly that way. Other cars left outside were moved away from trees and to the highest points on the lot to protect against flooding. Once the cars were all put away, we called the manufacturers and ordered parts that are commonly damaged by weather events like this so we’d have them on hand as soon as possible after the storm.

One of the final things we did was distribute water to all our employees. We noticed the stores in our area were running out of bottled water and we always have a lot on hand for our customers. That week it was between 90 and 100 cases, so we gave a case to every employee as they left for home on Friday.

So how much damage did you suffer?

Luckily very little. We never lost power, which was great. We actually opened the showrooms up and contacted our customers and neighbors letting them know we had coffee, hot water, WiFi, and places they could charge their phones and computers.

We did lose one palm tree, one oak tree, and one license plate holder. There was a little water damage inside one of our showrooms, but not because the roof leaked. The rain was blowing sideways and got into the showroom through vents in the roof. So we have to replace some ceiling tiles. That’s it.

What about your customers, any problems with the storm?

Not from the storm per se, because they all prepared for that. But unfortunately the post-storm flooding has caused some problems. We’ve all heard not to drive through standing water because you never know how deep it is. Unfortunately, not everyone listened to that advice. The intakes are so low and so far forward on cars now, especially supercars, it doesn’t take much standing water to do catastrophic damage to an engine. Telling someone their car is totaled because the engine ingested water is not a fun conversation to have, believe me.

Anything you learned that you might do differently next time?

Not really. The one big thing we learned was to make sure we have lots of water on hand. We were kind of lucky with that this time. And from now on we’ll make sure we’re well stocked before any big storm just in case.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. We’re glad things worked out so well for you. Hopefully it’ll be a long time before the next storm.

Thank you, it’s been a pleasure. Come down and visit us sometime!

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Harvey Briggs

Harvey Briggs is the Founder, Editor, and Publisher of Rides & Drives. He has also written for Car and Driver, Winding Road, and the luxury lifestyle blog, Pursuitist.com. His passions run from fast cars, small planes, boats and motorcycles to music, travel, and sports. When he's not on the road testing the latest cars, he been known to turn up on stage playing rock and blues guitar at clubs around his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Follow Harvey's adventures on Instagram and Twitter @harvey_drives and find him on Facebook. Though keeping up could be a problem. As Harvey says, "If I don't slow down, time can't catch me."

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