Cashing in on hurricanes

Helping customers has a much better future than taking advantage of them

It seems we’re having a very active, and for far too many disastrous, hurricane season, but it brings with it so many business opportunities.

For instance, there are the looters. I imagine many of them would consider themselves smart entrepreneurs, who don’t need venture capital. We used to shoot looters on site. I’m not sure what happens to them now, but it seems to have become a desirable career for far too many.

Then, hardly one step above, there are the supposedly “legitimate” businesses that like to take advantage. We’ve had reports of $99 for a bottle of water in Houston and $300 for a case of water in Florida. Whoever would have thought water could be more expensive than single-malt Scotch?

But the profiteers were not all small businesses. As the hurricanes approached, plane tickets from some of the Caribbean islands were $6,000 or more, one way, and that was coach – not first class!

Getting out of Florida as Irma approached was far more reasonable, at only $3,000, or thereabouts. Of course, some airlines blamed it on their computer pricing models, but once Florida’s attorney general got involved, the prices came down quickly. Some airlines capped all flights out of Florida to wherever at $99 or $95. Amazing! I wonder if the attorney general got them a break on the price of fuel or something?

In all fairness, what do airlines have to lose? So many people already hate them anyway. When’s the last time you flew because you wanted to go for a plane ride? They took the fun out of flying oh so long ago.

The seats are so close together, we wonder if we should take our legs off and put them in the overhead. Don’t worry if your legs aren’t detachable; mine aren’t either. In any case, there’s no room in the overhead compartments.

Years ago, flying was such a pleasant experience. The seats were comfortable; you were treated like a real person. On longer flights, you got a meal.

OK, even in first class, it wasn’t like eating at a great restaurant, but it was usually reasonable. I used to look forward to the hot towels just before landing. Now, it’s just a cattle car, and they wonder why we don’t want to fly unless we absolutely must.

If you paid $6,000, or even just $3,000, to get you out of harm’s way, what would you think of that cattle car company? Would you recommend it?

I’m not saying I’ll never fly again. If I have a client who calls from San Jose, I’m not going to drive.

But I can tell you I gave up flying to St. Martin to sail in the Heineken Regatta years ago. It just didn’t make sense to spend all that money to build up that sailing euphoria and not even be able to get it back to Logan Airport. Yes, the airlines are doing well, but they have no idea how much more they could be making.

If they really wanted to make money off the hurricanes, they should have offered more flights to get people out of harm’s way. Yes, I know, they’ll tell us they didn’t have the planes or the crews, but that’s only because they’ve been trying to get their load factors to 100 percent and keep us as miserable as possible. It leaves them nothing in reserve.

If they cared at all about us, their load factors would be lower and they would make a lot more money. You see, people like me, and there are so many of us, would fly, even when we didn’t absolutely have to.

Let’s take a look at a few other companies that took advantage of the hurricanes.

Home Depot and Lowe’s called the governors of the affected states and asked, “What can we do to help?” They already had ample supplies of plywood and other necessary items, and the prices stayed the same.

Interestingly, long after the crisis has passed, their customers will remember. Is it any surprise companies like this always seem to do well?

What kind of business do you want to be? Helping customers out of a jam has a much better future than taking advantage of them.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or