‘Bag the Elephant’

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

It may seem morbid to think about business opportunities

that are presented by terrible natural disasters.

However, such opportunities are endless for resourceful businesspeople who are also eager to help the Gulf Coast recover from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, according to Steve Kaplan, author of "Bag The Elephant!" a how-to guide for businesses to land contracts with large corporations.

Almost any type of business could capitalize on the situation in the Gulf Coast, if its executives think creatively, Kaplan said during a recent visit to Milwaukee. Retailers could set up mobile stores, if zoning allows for it. Anyone with expertise in the shipping and energy industry could pair with either rebuilding efforts in Louisiana or in some of the other ports that shipping has been diverted to, he said.

Kaplan said the rebuilding efforts could present opportunities for small businesses in Wisconsin to "bag their elephants," meaning they could land long-term contracts with large corporations that will lead to long-term big revenue streams.

To search for opportunities, Kaplan advises typing "hurricane business help" or "hurricane business relief" into Internet search engines. He also recommends carefully reading news stories about relief efforts in the region, because opportunities often are described in those stories.

Businesses that want to tap into relief efforts should work with the products or services they sell now, finding ways for people to use those products or adapt them to specific needs, Kaplan said.

"Think of things in process terms – look at what’s going on," he said. "Look at the processes and trickle effects that are going on."

For example, the cost of wood will likely rise dramatically in coming months because of reconstruction efforts in the gulf region, Kaplan said. Because wood costs will rise, so will costs for products such as paper, printing and even paper bags. This cost increase can open up opportunities for companies that offer alternatives, such as manufacturers of plastic and cloth bags.

"Look at your product and the uses for your product," he said. "How can you expand it out to recovery mode? Think of yourself as a business SWAT or emergency response team."

Service companies also can find opportunities in the recovery effort, Kaplan said. For example, a marketing company could broker some of its services, such as shipping and packaging of sample products, to companies in need.

"You can turn any operational cost or discipline you have into a revenue stream," he said.

However, before a company sends one or more people to Louisiana, Mississippi or Texas to make deals, sign contracts and spend months working on projects, a thorough analysis of the situation needs to be done, Kaplan said.

Particular attention should be paid to the supply chain, as raw materials and fuel are in short supply in the region.

"Make sure you do your cost analysis," he said. "You could ruin your business. You could build it ten-fold, but if your costs are eleven-fold, all you have done is hurt yourself."

Aside from analyzing costs to the greatest extent possible, Kaplan said companies interested in finding new opportunities should seek advice from other businesses or relief workers in the area.

"Look for disaster relief consultants, and ask a few of them how to help with this thing," he said.

There are also opportunities to partner with businesses in the gulf region or workers who have been displaced or unemployed because of the natural disasters, Kaplan said.

Look for companies whose products or services are complementary.

"The key is the ability to prove yourself and having a great story to tell," he said. "I’d advise you to document it, and then get in there and itemize it with bullet points that are good sales sound bites – things like good response time, flexibility."

Companies who decide to send one or more persons into the region need to have realistic expectations of what conditions will be like, Kaplan said. He said he knows of one computer consultant who is working in the gulf region, who will be sleeping on the floor of an office building while he’s working down there.

"There are people sleeping in cars down there," he said. "You’re going into a disaster area. Manage your expectations. There are challenges to business there. You’ll earn what you make.

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