After the storm: KB Marine picks up the pieces
IN the wake of a severe storm that ripped apart its workshop earlier this year, KB Marine on Sydney's northern beaches is ready once again to pick up where it left off.
For Ken Bullen of KB Marine at North Narrabeen on Sydney's northern beaches, the morning of Tuesday 21 April started out as just another typical working day. The wind was blowing hard and the power was out, thanks to an intense low pressure system that had brought flooding and severe property damage to communities in the Hunter Valley and along the Central Coast. It wasn't enough, however, to stop Bullen and his staff opening the workshop and getting down to work as usual.
The first indication that something was wrong was when a falling brick scraped Bullen on his back as he was inspecting an engine.
“Luckily I wasn't standing upright otherwise it would probably have hit me in the head,” he recalls.
Moments later another brick landed at his feet and a staff member noticed that the entire workshop wall seemed to be moving. Within seconds, a section of the wall collapsed, landing on the exact spot where Bullen and his brother-in-law had been standing just moments before. A second section soon followed, then a third and a fourth, going down like dominoes. In the space of just a few minutes, the workshop which had been the heart of Bullen's business for the past 18 years was reduced to rubble.
It might sound strange but, looking back on those catastrophic few minutes, Bullen is quick to acknowledge he has reasons to be thankful. At the time, he says, it was like watching a disaster movie in which your eyes can't quite believe what they are seeing, but horror turned to relief when he realised that, remarkably, nobody had been hurt.
“From looking at the wall to getting out of the workshop was no more than about 40 seconds. Everyone got out without a scratch and, luckily, we were pretty blessed.”
The dust had barely settled before Bullen and his staff got to work securing what they could safely rescue. In the immediate aftermath, customers' boats in the yard were wheeled off-site and the site evacuated so the emergency services could assess the damage. People from neighbouring businesses jumped in to help move boats across the road to the relative safety of a nearby park.
The bigger task of rebuilding the workshop while keeping the business running was obviously going to take a lot longer. It is the sort of challenge that can send many a small business into oblivion but, while acknowledging it has been tough for the business (going from doing an average of about 30 jobs per week to just three or four) Bullen and his staff are still there, preparing to move back into a rebuilt workshop.
To get to this stage, Bullen is immensely grateful for the support he received from many people within the marine industry and beyond. Steve Parker of Lewis Ski Boats in Berkeley Vale, for example, stepped in immediately to help rescue boats and provide off-site storage. Likewise with Steve Crawford of Col Crawford Motors at Narrabeen. Many others in the industry rang to offer support and assistance.
“There have been numerous people who have helped or offered help. It's very encouraging when you get that.”
Customers too responded with support and understanding in the difficult circumstances.
“We've got some very loyal customers who have accepted the situation and have been very patient with us to be able to still do our work.”
No stress, no drama
Foremost among those Bullen singles out for thanks are Lyndon Turner at Nautilus Marine Insurance and his insurance broker, Jeremy Craig at InterRisk Australia, both of whom immediately began the process of ensuring that any claims were dealt with rapidly and with the minimum of fuss.
“They were straight onto it. There was no query, no stress, no drama, nothing was a problem to them. I can't thank both of those guys enough.”
An immediate part-payment of $20,000 was made to cover the loss of tools and ensure the business could get back to work as quickly as possible. Equally important was the provision of business interruption cover which provided a lifeline as the business struggled to look after its customers without a proper workshop.
Bullen says many small marine enterprises probably ignore business interruption cover believing – or hoping – that nothing untoward will ever happen to them. He is living proof that disaster can indeed strike in totally unexpected ways.
“This business would not have survived without business interruption insurance,” he comments. “We will never, ever steer away from having it. You've got to have business interruption insurance.
“I can't emphasise enough to everyone in the industry, spend time to read and get to know your insurance policies and make sure you have the right insurance policies for your business. You never know when that claim is going to come around.”
Given what has happened though, was there ever a time when Bullen thought about throwing in the towel and walking away?
“Never,” he says emphatically. “It never crossed my mind in the slightest. I'm blessed in the job that I do. I get to assist people with their boating and I just love what I'm doing.
“I never thought 'This is getting too difficult'. It's just another little speed bump you've got to negotiate over.”
On the day that Marine Business visited KB Marine, Ken Bullen was eagerly counting down the days to when he and his staff could return to working in the rebuilt workshop. Two shipping containers that had been functioning as temporary workshop facilities were empty and ready to be removed. With Spring just around the corner, the timing of the resumption of normal business couldn't be better.
Battered but unbowed, KB Marine has negotiated its 'speed bump' and is getting back to business.
First published in the October-November 2015 issue of Marine Business magazine.