We all occasionally think about the worst that could happen, like a disaster befalling your business or family. The kinds of thoughts that creep into your brain in the wee hours of the morning, that prompt you to think about how you might handle it. Luckily, for most of us, those imagined catastrophes never materialize.

For John Murphy, though, that nightmarish scenario came true when a building fire broke out in his office/warehouse and shop that housed the company’s paint and fine finishing division. The fire destroyed the building and nearly all of its contents. 

In this episode, John tells Tim and Steve the story of the fire, the immediate aftermath, and how his business survived.

John started Murphy Bros. Design | Build | Remodel in Minneapolis, MN, in 1983, just over a year after he graduated from college in 1981. John had worked part-time in construction starting in high school, and thought his degree was the ticket out of hard physical work. He started his new career in life and annuity insurance sales. After a year, he’d made only about half of what he’d earned as a carpenter. He was married with a new baby. Rather than ask for his job back, he decided to go it alone. The company was first named John Murphy Builders but became Murphy Bros. about a decade later — John’s brothers had joined the business. He says he’s still not sure his degree paid off, but he hung up his tool belt around 1997, and promoted himself to an office job.

Early on the morning of May 23 — the business’s anniversary date — John’s phone lit up in the kitchen. He heard it from his the bedroom, but didn’t answer it until it started ringing again a few minutes later. Picking up, he learned only that there was a fire at the business. He jumped in his truck, got to the office and saw all the emergency vehicles and their flashing lights. He says at first glance it didn’t look terrible from the front. The damage was immense, however. This wasn’t the only thing on his mind, either. His brother had been battling lung cancer, and died only days after the fire. John talks about how he handled it all emotionally and professionally in the short term and beyond, including:

  • Assessing priorities after the fire
  • The benefit of having strong community relationships 
  • How he and the company dealt with jobs in progress
  • The help offered by other remodelers
  • Keeping the business going forward
  • The benefits of having a second office and showroom location
  • Maintaining their public image
  • Why proper record keeping (and storage) is necessary
  • Making the company leaner, stronger, and better
  • Dealing with insurance companies
  • And more …

To help disaster-proof your business, John recommends storing your records and operating in the cloud, an annual detailed review of your insurance policies with your agent, and taking safety training seriously. Here’s the link to the security video of the fire on the Murphy Bros. blog.

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