Abell & Son has been serving the Lake Area since 1916. This 105-year-old family-owned business is currently on their fifth generation of ownership. Specializing in the agricultural industry, the company has branched out to serve the light construction, hobby farmer and home consumer markets. Abell & Son’s inventory includes products from leading manufacturers such as Mahindra, Kubota, New Holland, Versatile, Land Pride, Bush Hog, Echo and Kuhn. They have one location in Welsh and one in Lake Charles.
When the pandemic hit last March, company management let every employee know that the company would do everything they could do to protect them while keeping them working. As an essential business with contracts with cities, municipalities and contractors, and with many homeowners purchasing products during their own time off, business was fantastic, even as Abell’s stores closed for a short time. Abell & Son conducted business via phone and internet and employees took other common sense safety precautions for a couple of weeks.
The company put their employees first. If a family member of an employee contracted COVID, the employee was able to stay home for a couple of weeks while still getting paid.
Business stayed at record levels all summer, and then came the hurricanes. “We were extremely lucky that the Welsh location sustained no damage whatsoever, and the Town of Welsh’s internet service never went down. The Welsh location opened on generator power on the Monday following Hurricane Laura,” says owner Ryan Abell.
The Lake Charles location had around $150,000 worth of damage, and stayed closed for four weeks following Laura. When electricity came back on in Welsh, they relocated their large-scale generator to Lake Charles to get that store back open, although they had to conduct business via hot spots, as there was no phone or internet service in Lake Charles at the time.
“We are proud of the fact that we were able to keep all of our employees working despite the pandemic and the hurricanes. Our number one priority was to make sure that any employees who had homes damaged and destroyed were able to tend to whatever they needed to tend to for their families while getting paid. We encouraged them to take their time and handle their family business while not having to worry about work,” recalls Abell.
“We learned a lot from Hurricane Rita in 2005, so we were prepared in that we made sure we had everything that we would need and that our customers would need,” Abell said. “We consider ourselves very fortunate that we have great employees as a solid support system. They worked incredibly hard to get us through all of the challenges of 2020.”
Abell says 2020 was a banner year for the company despite the challenges, and since residual business lasted around a year from Hurricane Rita, he expects business to remain super strong throughout 2021. He does expect a slight slowing of the pace in 2022, simply due to the high volume of new equipment purchases made this year and last.
Advanced Office Products
Advanced Office Products, established in 1992, is Louisiana’s only complete network, data and document solution center. Providing a large selection of technology services and solutions, AOP serves a variety of customers and industries throughout the state.
With a highly skilled team, including hardware technicians, IT network engineers, customer service representatives and consultants, AOP continues to evolve and expand its services to fulfill the changing needs of its customers.
Evolving and expanding was the mantra for AOP last year. When COVID hit, AOP placed large orders to equip their staff and assist their customers with working remotely. In fact, several customers who AOP virtualized have stayed with the virtual business practice since last March, which helped them even more immediately following the hurricanes. While the printing aspect of AOP’s business slowed for a while due to the pandemic, the data and IT side of the business boomed.
Every single one of AOP’s customers remained online, as AOP was one of only three networks that never went down during and after Hurricane Laura.
Employees were at the business within hours of the storm passing, and AOP was able to install fiber infrastructure and advanced wireless internet throughout the city within 30 days, so they were able to provide internet services to a lot of local businesses that, without AOP, would have had no online access.
AOP amazingly maintained 100% uptime during Delta as well, as did AOP’s entire local customer base.
“Customers who we first served with printing solutions are now using our services to move to A.C.S, ‘Advanced Cloud Services,’ AOP’s cloud hosting service. We do not resell or rent hosting space from anyone: We are the cloud. Having a team that covers every time zone in the nation gives us the ability to never stop moving forward. While people get off work and leave the office, we keep working hard for them. Staying cognizant of new technology and providing efficiency to the administrative side of business helps us retain customers for years and years to come,” explains Brandon Greene.
“2020 was a benchmark year for us, as word quickly got out that we were keeping local businesses running, which led to us serving a record number of customers throughout the area,” Greene says. AOP also became a public utility company in 2020, which allowed them to install fiber around the state as well.
To become even more efficient, AOP is adding five more regional data centers in 2021, including New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Houston, Dallas and Atlanta.
With its customers’ needs in mind, the company’s data centers are complete with some of the fastest, most reliable internet connections and generators capable of powering the system indefinitely. This level of technology provides a stable environment that allows clients to trust AOP with hosting their entire network and keeping their data safe.
“We don’t ever want Southwest Louisiana to ever again have to experience what we went through last year, not only with the hurricanes, but with the vast service interruptions much of the area saw that even included mass service disruptions to critical emergency, health care and law enforcement agencies,” says Greene. “Our main goal is to give our customers the tools they need to be more nimble.”
Keeping to its roots, AOP still provides the best selection of printing solutions in the area, through partnerships with multiple companies that allow AOP to provide the best fit for each customer’s unique needs. “We are looking forward to continued growth, and we get excited every time we look at our future road map and see what we are about to do,” says Greene.
Alfred Palma, LLC
Alfred Palma Construction was founded back in 1986, when the construction industry in the Lake Charles area was at its worst due to the collapse of the oil industry and the rise of interest rates.
Despite the economic hardship in the area at that time, the company found success and continues to grow its impressive list of completed projects.
Alfred Palma serves the commercial and industrial markets within Southwest Louisiana. That diversity has allowed the company to maintain a steady work-force and produce quality work.
Upon learning of COVID, the company immediately sent out a letter to all customers with active projects that could have been impacted due to factors outside of the company’s control, such as illness, product availability, etc. The company also followed CDC guidelines at the time to help protect their dedicated workers.
Around 20% of their employees contracted COVID in the past year, and those employees were sent home, with pay, to quarantine for the recommended 14 days.
“We made absolutely sure that any employee who contracted the virus and was unable to work due to quarantine protocols continued to receive a paycheck, whether they were salaried employees or not,” says vice-president James Palma. The company also limited access to their main office, and coordinated to have pick-ups and drop-offs done outside for enhanced safety of personnel.
The company prides itself on prudent adjustments and foresight. For example, one major project was shut down due to Hurricane Laura, got going back strong, and then Delta hit. By the time this project got restarted again seven months later, material costs had risen, but Alfred Palma was able to anticipate that and factor in cost increases to keep the project rolling along.
The firm suffered around $100,000 in damages to their offices from Laura. Following the storm, the company first addressed the immediate needs of their employees and their families, and then moved on to addressing the needs of their many customers. They have been working diligently at this same feverish pace, even to this day.
Their inital plan of attack following each storm included first securing jobsites from possible looting and then limiting further damages.
The rising cost of materials has led to the postponements of a handful of projects, but the firm has been and is currently bidding on a tremendous volume of work. Due to the scale of damage in the area and despite all of the adversity, 2020 turned out to be yet another solid year for the company.
“I don’t expect the excess storm-related work to subside any time soon. In fact, using 2005’s Hurricane Rita as a barometer, and coupling in the severity of damage from Laura, we anticipate this type of work to continue unabated for the next three to four years,” says Palma.
Alfred Palma’s project list is impressive. The company’s larger projects to date include the Lake Charles Regional Airport Terminal Building, the Health and Human Performance Education Building, Lawton Building, the new, state-of-the-art McNeese Health and Human Performance Center, South Cameron K-12 School. and many, many more. CEO Alfred A. Palma, Jr., calls the St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church one of the “finest projects that we have built, and one of the finest that has ever been built in this area.”
All Star Buick GMC
All Star is a family-run, hands-on operation that opened in 1987 and is now owned by Kenny Phipps. It services a 60-mile area from its Sulphur location, which includes a state-of-the-art 16,000-square-foot repair facility, offering spray bedliners, running boards, bug shields, fender well liners, rain guards and much more. They also offer top-notch quick lube, tire and alignment, and body work services.
The dealership shut down for one week during COVID last March, then immediately reopened after having the facility professionally sanitized. Business slowed during this time, then resumed to normal levels within a few weeks.
All Star was out of commision for only five days after Hurricane Laura, as they were able to run on generator power. The roof at All Star’s main facility, built in 2008, was not replaced after the 2019 hailstorm, and the dealership had several roof leaks from Laura that they were able to tend to quickly. Hurricane Delta was not much of a problem for All Star.
All Star Body Shop is currently experiencing the largest backlog in their history, so the company has doubled their staff to tackle their nearly six month work backlog.
In March of this year, the dealership enjoyed the biggest sales month in their history with Phipps at the helm and they look to continue their upward sales trend.
Over the decades, All Star has made customer service with a personal touch the foundation of its business. They have continued their tradition of total availability for its customers. In early 2019, All Star became sister stores with the Autoplex Group.
Apex Disaster Specialists, LLC
Apex Disaster Specialists Louisiana, LLC is locally owned by Jennifer Rulon and is based in Sulphur. Founded in 2019, the firm has a staff of around 20 people, including well-known consultant Ray Wright, who has over 20 years of experience in the industry. From water extraction to mold remediation to fire damage restoration and beyond, Apex are experts in helping local home and business owners file insurance claims for loss recovery, restore damages and put their lives back on track. They perform mold remediation and water extraction and help homeowners and businesses mitigate fire, storm, hurricane and water damage. The company also performs biohazard cleanup services and is well-known for their quality HVAC & air duct cleaning services that improve air quality to reduce indoor allergens, and also extends the life of equipment and prevents unexpected breakdowns of heating and cooling equipment.
Early last March, Apex had just completed negotiations and was about to begin large-scale, professional sanitizing services for a couple of the local casinos … and then the COVID lockdown hit. Casinos closed abruptly, and life seemingly screeched to a halt for most people and many local businesses.
The company immediately shifted their focus to employee safety and retention and was able to keep most of their staff and workers intact, working and getting paid as usual. Due to the nature of their work, Apex stayed relatively busy. As things got back to some sense of relative normalcy after the initial pandemic lockdown, business steadily increased. June and July were extremely active months for the company. Then Hurricane Laura hit in late August.
Although their offices emerged unscathed from the hurricane, there was no electricity, and getting around the lake area was very difficult due to debris and heavy traffic. Instead of wasting precious time commuting from Lake Charles to Sulphur and back, the company smartly shifted to working from their own kitchen tables to coordinate and schedule response to the 200-plus calls a day they were receiving for their remediation services.
Knowing there was no way their current crew of 20 could handle the tremendous demand, Apex, within 10 days of Laura, lined up five subcontractors with a total of 27 additional crews to help the company take on the massive volume of work to address the needs of the people of Southwest Louisiana.
“This community getting hit by Hurricane Laura was by far the worst I’ve ever seen in all my time here. Laura made Hurricane Rita look like a minor hurricane in comparison, although it really wasn’t. The damage and destruction from Laura was devastating to our entire community,” says Wright. “We are committed to the people of this area, and we won’t ever stop until we can help everyone we possibly can,” said Rulon. In keeping with that promise to the community, Apex has performed services for well over 500 homes and dozens of businesses.
And the calls keep coming in to this day with no end in sight. Like many local businesses, Apex did lose a couple of employees who went to work for other storm-related contractors after the storm, but the company more than offset that minor issue with the addition of “several excellent employees so far this year,” says Wright.
“With or without the storms, we have been structuring the business to prosper well into the future, no matter the circumstance,” he says.
“We love Southwest Louisiana. We are honored to serve the great people of our region,” Rulon says.
Autoplex is celebrating 30 years as one of the first places people stop to buy quality preowned cars, and a leader in the rent and lease-to-own markets, as well.
The group has two locations — in Moss Bluff and Sulphur — that are serving customers from all over SWLA and beyond.
Like their sister store All Star Buick GMC, Autoplex also shut down for one week during COVID to professionally disinfect their facilities before reopening, and business returned to normal levels rather quickly, followed by a tremendously busy summer.
Hurricane Laura caused substantial damage at Autoplex’s Sulphur location, and they were down for about two weeks until electricity was restored. The Sulphur dealership sustained significant damage and had shattered glass everywhere from blown-out windows and blown-out roll-down doors in the service department. The roof of the service department was pulled off and laid back down, and some of the steel support beams were bent as a result of the force of the storm. Damage at the Moss Bluff location was bad, but nowhere near as severe as it was in Sulphur. Some vehicles in their inventory were also damaged, but less than was expected.
Their main showroom roof was replaced following the 2019 hailstorm, and thankfully, the new roof held up well to Laura.
Post-Laura, the dealership saw immediate, incredible revenue and sold a large volume of cars and trucks as people were replacing a large number of vehicles that were damaged or destroyed during the storm. Hurricane Delta did not pose any significant trouble for the dealership.
2021 is off to a record-setting start for the dealership. With the stimulus money and tax season hitting simultaneously, business is booming. Autoplex expects this year to be one of the best, if not the best ever, in the 30-year history of the dealership.
Autoplex Group’s unique “multi-store” website allows buyers to shop the inventories of both dealerships with just one click. The company’s in-house credit program makes driving away with a quality used car a reality for buyers of all financial backgrounds and credit levels.
As preowned sales continue to climb, Autoplex has also drastically expanded their Moss Bluff location’s inventory to keep up with the demand.
Big Easy Foods
In 1995, Mark Abraham and Larry Avery founded Gulf Island Shrimp and Seafood, producing and packaging shrimp at its two plants in Dulac, La., and Cajun food products such as sausage, boudin, Cajun entrees, stuffed chicken and turduckens at its plant in Lake Charles.
Abraham and Avery haven’t been hesitant about investing in the company and changing to meet market demands. In 2011, the company changed its brand name to Big Easy Foods to increase awareness that the company was a Louisiana-based food company. In 2014, the company added a state-of-the-art shrimp cooker and a new line of products, including Bacon Poppers — bacon-wrapped jalapeno stuffed with sausage or boudin. In 2015, they added Shrimp Poppers — bacon-wrapped jalapeno and shrimp layered with pepper jack cheese.
The company supplies its Cajun specialties to grocery stores nationwide, and revenue is up, thanks to today’s trend of eating healthy, and the continued demand for healthy wild caught shrimp.
The company has almost 300 employees, most of whom work at their three plants, one of which is in Lake Charles. During COVID, the plants remained open and the company added employee temperature checks to their long-standing and sanitary food prep practices and protocols that already included gloves and masks. Despite their large number of employees, a fairly low number of Big Easy’s employees contracted the virus throughout the past year. As a safety precaution, the company locked the doors of their corporate office in Lake Charles to prevent random walk-in traffic. Business remained strong through the pandemic ordeal.
The Lake Charles corporate office and plant were closed for 16 days due to Hurricane Laura and five days due to Hurricane Delta, as they had no potable water available. The company had water brought in daily from Beaumont for both situations at great expense to keep things running and their employees working.
Their Lake Charles facilities sustained $1.5 million in damages from Laura. The roofs that were patched following Laura leaked during Delta, and the company mitigated the water damage and eventually had both roofs replaced. An estimated $200,000 of on-site product was lost during Hurricane Laura.
Despite the challenging circumstances of 2020, Big Easy Foods saw their revenue grow over 30% for the year, as they added many new retail outlets to their lineup that already included Wal-Mart, Kroger, and now, over 50% of the Albertsons nationwide.
Revenues continue to grow in 2021, driving more hiring and investment, and expectations are that their growth trend will continue far into the future.
Bolton Ford first opened its doors in Lake Charles on Oct. 1, 1976 and will be celebrating 45 years in business later this year. Bolton Ford has a “customer-first” focus, which is why they’ve become the number one volume selling Ford dealer in the entire state of Louisiana and the number one volume dealer in the seven state Memphis Region.
When the pandemic hit, Bolton Ford put customer and employee safety first. They intially shut down a portion of the dealership and waited for regulations to come out that dictated proper and safe business practices. Soon thereafter, the dealership resumed working with a skeleton crew while putting in place common sense practices, such as providing masks and hand sanitizers to every employee and customer.
The dealership also began making vehicle deliveries to the homes of customers as an added special service and convenience.. As a result of their quick pivot and adjustments to the way they do business, sales remained super strong during the pandemic and picked up last summer to incredible levels.
Then Hurricane Laura hit. Their sales showroom was heavily damaged and will soon be replaced with new dealership showroom facilities. Construction is slated to begin this summer, and the estimated time to complete the construction is ten months.
Bolton Ford President and Dealer King Bolton said “All of Southwest Louisiana is dealing with and overcoming unprecedented adversity due to the recent hurricanes, and Bolton Ford is no different. Our sales team has been working out of a portable, temporary building ever since the storms, and despite that, Bolton Ford has continued to serve our customers with distinction.”
Following Laura and before acquiring the portable building, the Bolton Ford sales team worked out of a small area in the Quick Lane facility, which weathered the storm well. The dealership has won several consecutive Ford President’s Award, a prestigious honor that is awarded to Ford dealers who provide the highest level of customer service, customer satisfaction and overall customer experience every day.
Despite all of the inconveniences, stress and adversity of 2020, the Bolton Ford team continued working hard and ended the year with a phenomenal level of sales. In fact, it was one of the absolute best years in the company’s long history in the lake area.
And despite the temporary microchip shortage, Bolton is having a tremendous 2021 so far. “We’re confident this temporary shortage will soon be resolved as the world emerges from the pandemic and the related issues with the supply chain,” Bolton says. “We are incredibly excited to get construction underway on what will be our spectacular new showroom. This new state-of-the-art facility is really a testament to our customers, and we would like to thank the people of Southwest Louisiana for allowing us to serve them over the years with top-notch vehicles and excellent service.”
Bubba Oustalet Automotive Group
The Bubba Oustalet Automotive Group is run by the second and third generations of a 69-year automotive family which carries on a long tradition of quality service and customer satisfaction. Bubba Outstalet first opened his Ford dealership in Jennings in 1952. He added Lincoln to the mix in 1954, and Toyota in 1976. Bubba Oustalet Chevrolet and Cadillac opened in 1988.
Today, family members Rick Oustalet, Joel Oustalet, Jimmy Oustalet, Jimmy Lyons, Darren Oustalet, Brian Oustalet, Jolie Picou and Chance Oustalet are running the business.
When the pandemic struck, the dealerships immediately put into place common sense and recommended measures such as utilizing masking, hand sanitizers and social distancing and was able to keep all employees working. Initially, traffic was light, and a lot of customers shifted to purchasing vehicles via Bubba Oustalet’s online portal. As a result, sales dropped around 25% for a short time.
Business picked back up to normal levels in the following months and throughout the summer.
After Hurricane Laura dealt its heavy blow to Southwest Louisiana, the dealerships remained closed for five days due to the lack of electricity and the fact that showroom windows had been blown out.
It took six months for their Ford dealership windows to be replaced.
“We were very fortunate to keep all of our employees during this time, as many who had severe damages to their homes were able to stay with relatives. We assisted our employees with time off to meet with adjusters and tend to damage. Family comes first,” said president and owner Richard Oustalet.
Their body shop found itself with an large backlog of storm-damaged vehicles to repair. “There are only so many paint bays, only so many employees and only so many hours in the day. We’re working through it diligently and we really appreciate everyone’s understanding,” Oustalet says. The backlog had almost been eliminated as of press time.
Hurricane Delta knocked out power for a couple of days, but there were no other lingering effects for the dealerships from that storm.
Overall, 2020 sales ended up a mere 5% less than 2019, which was a superb year. “Everyone put their nose to the grindstone and worked really hard last year. We are very proud of our team and their can-do attitude in the face of adversity,” Oustalet recalled.
2021 has been “unbelievably great” with new vehicle sales up around 25%. Oustalet attributes part of that rise to the fact that used vehicle prices are high due to pandemic-related shortages, so more and more people are purchasing new vehicles instead. This is occurring despite the fact that the dealerships have their lowest inventory ever due to the global microchip shortage that is stunting production. “As vehicles come in, they are sold immediately off the truck in many cases,” he says.
The dealership usually works with a 60-day supply of inventory, but is now working with a 15-day supply. Based on info provided by manufacturers, Oustalet expects inventory to return to a 30-day supply by August or September and is expected to return to the normal 60-day supply by the end of the year.
“We are expecting an excellent rest of the year, and we are thankful that sales are up 25% despite normal inventory being down around 75%,” says Oustalet.
Business Health Partners
Business Health Partners was founded in 1995 to assist the local industries and businesses of SWLA in meeting the increasing testing and screening requirements of federal agencies, insurance providers and industrial facilities. Since then, BHP has grown to offer injury treatment, corporate wellness programs, and the best safety training and on-site services in Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana.
Local owners Stacy Byrd and Bryan Hollingsworth adhere to the same high standards of commitment and service BHP was founded upon 26 years ago.
Business Health Partners has grown into a multi-million-dollar-revenue company. In 2019, BHP combined their satellite offices in Beaumont and Baytown into a brand-new stand-alone facility in Nederland. With offices now serving the Golden Triangle area of Texas as well as the Lake Charles/Sulphur/Westlake/
When the pandemic first hit, BHP immediately located and procured a lot of the finger-prick antibody tests with the 15-minute results window and then obtained a large volume of the nasal swab tests that provided results in 24 hours. This smart move enabled BHP to continually test employees to keep everyone working and also proved to be a tremendous safety asset for their customers as well. BHP also purchased the technology and devices necessary to quickly set up their own test labs at their locations.
During the first month of the pandemic, their usual patient count was down as many physicals for new hires at local businesses and industries were put on hold for a short time due to the pandemic. Their rapid set-up of testing services allowed BHP to offset lost revenue due to the lockdown and enabled the company to keep employees working.
The roof at BHP’s Sulphur location was replaced last year following the hailstorm of the previous spring, and the new roof held up extremely well to Hurricane Laura. Other than a couple of broken windows, overall damage was minimal due to the structural integrity of their new roof. There was no electrical power after the storm, so BHP immediately purchased and placed generators at the Sulphur location, which amazingly, was back up and running just 48 hours after Laura wreaked its havoc.
“We never want to make any excuses to our customers who depend on us to serve them with the quality and the capacity they expect. We were determined to get back up and running very quickly despite the circumstances, and that’s exactly what we did,” says co-owner Stacy Byrd.
Always on the cutting edge, BHP was also one of the first in the area to offer COVID vaccinations, ramping up their vaccine program in early February of this year. They were performing 200 vaccinations per day initially and have done nearly 4,000 vaccines so far for local residents just out of their Sulphur location. Their Nederland location has also performed a large number of vaccinations.
Due to a lot of major local industrial work being postponed last year due to the virus and the two hurricanes, the rest of 2021 looks very bright for the company.
“We fully expect the rest of 2021 to be super busy for us, and we look forward to another banner year in 2022 as many of these large-scale projects that were postponed continue to get rolling,” says Byrd.
Due to their quick adjustments, 2020 ended up a strong year for BHP despite all of the unexpected adversity. With continued expansion in the company’s technology and services and their strategically located offices, BHP will continue to grow and serve a wider market base. The future is very bright due to their expanded client base and increased demand for their services and expertise.
Cal Cam Termit & Pest Control
CEO Kevin Savoie began Cal Cam, based in Moss Bluff, in 1988 and has grown the business on a foundation of honesty, integrity, hard work, and a willingness to develop a relationship with each customer. “We have built this business one customer at a time,” Savoie says. “We have customers who have been with us for over 30 years.”
The company has continued to grow, thanks to its affordability, dedication to customer service and innovative and leading-edge services, such as being the first to use a termite detection dog and thermal remediation for bed bugs.
Heading into the COVID lockdown and not knowing what to expect, their main goal was to adapt to not performing in-home services, but they left it up to each customer’s personal preference. Some utilized heavier preventative treatments outside the home; some preferred to maintain their in-home services. Sometimes this was done with the customer at home, but occasionally some would request the in-home services at a time when they were not at home if they were more comfortable that way. “We of course honored what each homeowners’ individual preference was. Their personal preference and level of comfort is all that matters to us,” says Savoie.
The company had always already used gloves due to the nature of their services. After the pandemic first hit, gloves became hard-to-find and nearly tripled in price due to demand.
“Adapting to the pandemic prepared us to deal with the hurricanes that were to come,” Savoie says.
The business itself suffered roof damage from Hurricane Laura, and thankfully, they were able to get the roof replaced just before Hurricane Delta struck.
Like almost everyone else, most of Cal Cam’s had no electricity to their homes for an extended period of time. Savoie personally supplied his employees with portable generators. “This enabled our people to remain in their homes and tend to what they needed to tend to for their homes and families while continuing to be able to work during this time,” Savoie recalls. “The spirit and the resiliency of the people of our area is absolutely amazing,” he says of watching everyone pick themselves up and dust themselves off and get to work on overcoming the unheard-of adversity.
The company picked up the contract to service Entergy’s 16 ‘tent cities’ set up from Vinton to Cameron to Egan and all points in between.
Post-hurricanes, many people with damaged homes discovered the presence of termite damage and activity they had no prior knowledge of. “People were shocked at the termite intrusions and are now more aware than ever about the value of protection from termites,” Savoie says. “As a result, our termite protection services have doubled, which is super for local homeowners because of the protection and peace of mind.”
When it comes to termite control, Cal Cam uses a liquid barrier application, which is proven to provide 100 percent control of infesting termites within three months or less of application. Other pest control companies use baiting stations, which termites could completely bypass and infest your home.
Savoie was the first to discover and document the presence of “crazy ants” in Louisiana. These ants are not attracted to ordinary ant baits, are not controlled by over-the-counter pesticides, and are harder to fully exterminate than many other species because their colonies have multiple queens. Cal Cam eliminates crazy ants with their anti-termite agents.
Cal Cam is also on the leading edge of local mosquito control, and offers backpack fogging for prevention and outdoor event protection. Cal Cam has recently added to its fleet and arsenal for mosquito control and offers truck fogging for industrial and commercial applications. Cal Cam is one of the few companies certified in mosquito control application, so they are able to provide mosquito control using truck-mounted fogging units. This method is extremely effective for large areas like golf courses, industrial parks, resorts, etc. Cal Cam’s app makes it easy to request service and free estimates, reschedule appointments, pay bills, request WDIRs and more. Their expert techs carry iPads, and their paper-free system is another way the company provides top-notch service and cuts down on clutter, making everything easier for their clients.
The expanding local economy has had a positive impact on the company, says Savoie, and he expects the company to continue to grow along with the area. The company is continually expanding routes and providing great customer service.
Century Group got its start over 79 years ago, when Mr. Alma Como invented the precast concrete step. The company is now owned by the fourth generation of Como’s family, and has diversified, now also selling railroad crossings and railcar spill containment systems to the petrochemical and railroad industries. It also sells precast concrete pipeline weights, pipe stands, security barriers and bollards and precast concrete monument signs to the business community.
Century shut down for three months last year due to the pandemic. In June, the company got back to work to handle the backlog of burial vaults, which is an essential product for the community. During this time, the company had a skeleton crew working answering phones and handling business, along with a core crew that produced five burial vaults a day. Deaths in the area had been on the rise due to the increased population and the stress of the past year.
“It wasn’t the greatest summer ever, but it wasn’t terrible either due to many industry-related orders that kept coming in,” says Secretary/Treasurer Rusty Vincent.
Hurricane Laura delivered heavy damage to their Sulphur production facilities. These buildings are relatively new compared to the 60-year-old corporate office, which only sustained two cracked windows and minimal water intrusion. One of the only things left standing in all-but-destroyed local mobile home parks were the concrete steps produced by Century. Hurricane Delta had minimal impact on the business, except for damaged windows and metal at their production facilities.
As a result of hurricane damage to homes of employees and other factors, Century is currently operating with only around half of their usual 45 employees.
Despite the current employee shortage, Vincent says 2021 is looking great and sales are up. The main challenge Vincent sees is “getting employees to come back to work with the typical great work ethic and dedication we have been used to seeing over the years,” he said.
The company now has five locations, including Sulphur; Muskogee, Okla.; Princeton, N.C.; Greenville, Ala.; and Lebanon, Tenn.
Century Group services the entire country with railroad products and provides concrete steps to nearly 30 states.
Changing Spaces was founded by local real estate broker Robbie Ingle and local home stager Lana Schafer. The two friends began staging homes together in 2015, working out of an outdoor storage unit. Their inventory, and their business, quickly grew. As clients would contact them to stage a vacant property, they would scramble to find the needed furniture and decor to complete the job. They realized the area was lacking affordable furniture and décor options with a designer look.
They expanded from that small storage unit into a warehouse, quickly filling it, and they soon needed a second one. In June, 2016, Justin Babineaux joined the ownership team and they opened Changing Spaces Furniture on Ryan St.
The store was closed during the COVID lockdown, but fortunately the business was somewhat insulated due to the fact that the company was still doing a large volume of home staging during that time.
Business was picking up again through last summer, and then the hurricanes hit. Changing Spaces had dozens of homes they had staged with their furniture and accessories when Laura hit, and a whopping 80% of those staged homes suffered damage from the storm.
In the days following Laura, staff immediately began to retrieve and remove furnishings from the staged homes. This was a monumental task due to the extent of the damage and limited accessibility due to debris-blocked streets at that time.
The store itself suffered roof damage from Laura, and the business sustained some water damage due to Delta. Changing Spaces is now operating as normal and “business has been super,” says Schafer.
Their main goal is to offer on-trend looks at the best possible price with the best possible service. The Changing Spaces team strongly feels that design should be for everyone, and they strive to provide current trends at an affordable price in an inviting, friendly environment.
Along with home staging services, Changing Spaces offers in-home decorating, dramatic lighting options and custom upholstery. They have everything you need to furnish and decorate your home or business … from the sofa to the drapery panels and everything in between.
Their expert staff truly cares about helping their customers create their dream rooms. Just one year after opening the store, two additional stager/decorators were hired to assist with the workload. Changing Spaces also employs home stagers and decorators, a talented in-store decorator, a manager and a warehouse staff who are all ready and willing to help their clients.
Changing Spaces is also honored to be a part of the St. Jude Dream Homes, contributing to the project every year since 2018. “Having our work displayed in such a beautiful setting for the public to see during the Dream Home tours has really helped us educate the public about some of the services and furnishings we offer,” says Schafer.
Coastal Crew Change
Twenty years ago, Larry and Kay Woodcock started Coastal Crew Change with just two vans and two cargo trailers. Business was good, with the oil and gas industry across the Gulf peaking in 2012. Coastal Crew Change had established itself in the business of transporting workers during crew changes.
In 2015, the Gulf saw a major downturn in oil and gas. Coastal Crew Change was ready to adjust. In 2012, the company had added motor coach buses for large oil and gas crew changes. When the downturn occurred, these motor coach buses put Coastal Crew Change in an ideal position to diversify, and the company began to transport high schools, dance teams, universities and church groups and other clients outside of oil and gas.
In 2017, the oil and gas industry rebounded, but without returning to its previous high point. In 2018, the LNG boom kicked in, and in 2019, Coastal Crew Change won a contract to transport workers for one of the major LNG projects in Cameron. Coastal Crew Change was contracted to use 29 motor coaches to move workers from a remote parking to the LNG facility.
A few months later, Coastal Crew Change was acquired by Wynne Transportation Holdings LLC. Julie Woodcock took the helm of Coastal Crew Change. Nothing else really changed; it was just that in the future, it would operate under the umbrella of Wynne.
Coastal Crew Change continued to thrive right up to March 17, 2020, when, as company president Julie Woodcock puts it, “the world ended.” On March 17, the LNG project decided it would stay open, but it wanted the vehicles transporting its workers to be filled only to half-capacity.
Virtually overnight, Coastal Crew Change increased its fleet size from 29 buses to 50. As it happened, Wynne Transportation’s charter service had been completely shut down by COVID, so it could provide any buses that were needed.
The Monday morning after that fateful March 17, the drivers of Coastal Crew Change reported to work. CAUTION tape had been used to prevent riders from sitting in half the bus seats. Each bus was sanitized four times a day.
When Hurricane Laura assailed the shores of Cameron Parish, the LNG project took a direct hit. Transportation to the project was shut down for two weeks — the amount of time needed to clear the roads of debris. The project took another huge blow from Delta, with a one-week delay required for road clearance.
By December 1 of 2020, the LNG project was fully operational again. The Coastal Crew Change buses went back to full capacity, although riders were required to wear masks. The company’s fleet had grown from 25 vans and 2 motor coach buses prior to the LNG project to encompass 125 vehicles: 80 motor coaches, 15 shuttle buses and 30 vans. Coastal Crew Change shuttles workers intra-plant and to and from the remote parking lots as well as continues to transport crews along the Gulf Coast.
Now, says Woodcock, “we’re approaching the peak of the [LNG] project. It will go through mid-2022. We are excited to have several other industrial opportunities on the horizon.”
In 20 years, Coastal Crew Change has grown from an oil and gas crew change operation to one that includes charter buses and can handle industrial projects.
Our “greatest accomplishment recently,” says Woodcock, is its new contract to provide transportation for the McNeese State University Athletics Cowboys and Cowgirls. That work will begin July 1.
Coastal Crew Change is constantly looking for safe, reliable, professional motor coach operators and van drivers to join their team.
Cutters Outdoor Power Equipment
The original Cutters opened on 6th Street in Lake Charles in 2005. Michael and Brittany Welch purchased the business in 2014 and moved the business to its current McNeese Street location in 2016.
The Welches shut down the business in the early stages of COVID, but stayed at work with the doors locked and a sign outside with the number to call for access to sales or service. They reopened after two weeks, then paid their employees to stay home for an additional three weeks to ensure their safety. Sales remained fairly normal, as people were still cutting their lawns and requiring service and equipment maintenance.
Sales picked up quickly over the summer, so much so that the business broke its all-time revenue record in 2020. They were even on track to meet their own lofty sales goal for the year. Then came Hurricane Laura.
The front of the building took substantial damage. The doors were smashed in, the front facade was ripped off and there were several roof leaks that were quickly repaired.
In addition, the main power connection to their building was completely ripped out by the storm. This caused Cutters to remain closed for nearly two full months, even through Delta, which thankfully caused no further damage to the business.
Being off-season at that point, they came back with limited hours from late October to the end of January of this year. In spite of that, sales were still incredibly strong due to people replacing damaged equipment, a trend that still continues to this day as insurance checks continue to trickle in to the community.
The business resumed normal hours in mid-February of this year as the new lawn and garden season kicked off, and they were greeted with an all-time, record-shattering volume of business that saw the business amazingly matching a typical quarter’s worth of revenue in just one single month.
Cutters is currently dealing with some occasional shortages with some models due to the global disruption in the supply chain caused by the pandemic. The Welches are confident this will level out soon, and are extremely optimistic about the rest of 2021 and the future success of the business.
“We did not submit to fear in 2020 and we have absolutely no plans of submitting to fear, ever,” says Michael Welch.
Cutters sells and services Bad Boy and Dixie Chopper mowers and Maruyama, efco and EGO hand-held outdoor power equipment.
Fix My Phone
Nicholas Fontenot founded Fix My Phone in 2013. The company provides quick and expert repair of iPhones and Smartphones, tablets, iPods, computers and game consoles. In addition to the Lake Charles location, Fix My Phone has a Sulphur location and has added franchise locations in Houston and Katy Texas, Colorado, and now Washington and Idaho.
As an essential business, Fix My Phone never closed during the pandemic, as they provide repair services to local police departments, the sheriff’s department, and many other first responders and doctors for whom constant communication services are an absolute must.
The company put in place several sound safety measures during this time. According to studies, iPhones and other Smartphones are already notorious for having more bacteria than even toilets. Fix My Phone provided customers with sanitizing wipes so they could wipe their phones down while dropping them off for service as an additional safety measure for their employees, who mask up and wear gloves as well. Business remained brisk during the pandemic and also throughout the summer, with retail sales and repairs remaining at normal levels.
Hurricane Laura caused extensive damage to the Sulphur location, which is expected to reopen in the next few months upon completion of repairs being made to their building on Cities Service Highway.
The Lake Charles location suffered some water intrusion, and the company quickly replaced a couple of interior walls, mitigated water damage and reopened within a week of Hurricane Laura devastating Lake Charles.
Business remained strong during this time as well, and they continued to maintain a strong pace throughout the year and into 2021. Although most people do not budget for unexpected phone repairs, the need for communication in today’s world means that almost everyone places phone repairs above most other typical monthly budget items.
Fontenot says the keys to the company’s success are simple: customer service, honesty and skilled employees. He fully expects business to continue to grow in both the number of repairs and in sales of retail items such as protective cases, screen covers and other accessories. As it has in the previous eight years of Fix My Phone’s service to the community. Fontenot says his goal is to stay ahead of all the latest technology while continuing the terrific growth rate.
“At Fix My Phone, we always strive to make customer service our number one priority. Our constant goal is to provide such an unbelievable experience for our customers that they brag about us to everyone they know,” said Fontenot.
Gulf Coast Floors And Home Decor
In 2018, longtime manager Janina Keller and her husband Patrick purchased the business from founders John and Jodi Fontenot, who founded the business in 1994.
Although the pandemic forced the business to shut down for a couple of weeks, they still had employees taking turns going in to work 2-3 days per week to serve customers who were building or beginning home improvement projects during the lockdown.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Laura damaged their building so severely that it had to be torn down. The entire side of the building that housed their decorative items was completely destroyed, and all of their large inventory of decorative items and accessories was a total loss. The Kellers were able to secure a trailer office to work out of after Laura hit, which they are still working out of in their parking lot today.
The Keller’s shop at their home (which they lived in while building their home) burned to the ground due to a power surge during Hurricane Laura. They quickly and smartly constructed a warehouse on their property in place of where the shop was, which they are utilizing as a temporary warehouse for their inventory of flooring, as the warehouse at the business itself was wrecked.
The wisdom of this decision was proven after Delta completely flooded what was left of the business. Patrick still transports product and flooring every day from their home warehouse to the business and/or the home and businesses of customers as needed for installs.
The Keller’s personal home was gutted, and they are still living in a camper in their driveway. Repairs to their personal home are proceeding slowly, as workers are hard to find and the Kellers are more focused on helping get their customers back in their homes and helping the community get back on its feet. Janina says, “we are exhausted, but we are fighting through it. The only silver lining is knowing that we are helping people get back in their own homes as quickly as we can.”
Up until mid-June of 2021, Gulf Coast’s showroom was still located at the same Common St. location south of McNeese Street in which John and Jodi Fontenot started the business in 1994. The Kellers briefly considered trying to secure a different location for the business, but quickly decided against that, since the business has been in the same location for nearly 30 years and is well-known for being on Common. Their showroom recently temporarily relocated a few blocks north to 3902 Common Street, and will remain there until their new warehouse and showroom is completed.
Gulf Coast normally offers flooring and installation, countertops, window treatments, decorative items for the home, and beautiful metal and canvas awnings, and also normally offers mirrors, grills, unique furniture pieces, jewelry, purses and much more. But their focus, for now, is flooring, backsplashes and showers, as this is what is needed most to serve the community. They are also currently doing window treatments as needed. The company will return to their normal product lines and also resume installing countertops and cabinets once their new showroom is completed.
Harlow Lawn Mower Sales
The weekend before the COVID lockdown began was the scheduled weekend for Harlow’s annual spring open house, which ended up being the worst open house in their history. As an essential business, Harlow did not shut down during the pandemic. They stayed open with a skeleton crew and limited contact with vulnerable employees and customers.
COVID caused a lot of shortages in inventory that the company is still feeling the effects of due to disruptions in the global supply chain.
Owners John and Cindy Palma rode out Hurricane Laura in Lake Charles, which allowed them to “quickly tend to sections of the roof that were torn off, windows that were smashed out and overhead doors in their shop area that were blown out,” says John.
Damages to Harlow from Delta were minimal. “Delta was just a strong thunderstorm in comparison to Laura” he says.
2021 looks to be a bit of a challenging year as well, as some orders the company placed for mowers in late 2020 had not yet arrived at Harlow by May of 2021.
The Palmas are optimistic that things will eventually get better and that things will get back to normal as the year goes on and inventory catches back up with demand.
Tha Palmas purchased Harlow from its second owner, Colleen O’Neal, back in November of 2004. Harlow opened its doors as a small repair service run out of a garage back in 1950 across the street from it’s present location on Hodges Street.
Harlow provides high-quality lawn care equipment, specializing in Exmark and Toro lawn mowers, and Echo and Shindaiwa handheld equipment. Their friendly, knowledgeable staff is ready to assist with your equipment or parts needs. The company recently added new products, including battery-operated Shindaiwa hand-held equipment (blowers, hedge clippers and weed trimmers).
Harlow also services and repairs a wide range of walk-behind and riding mowers, as well as other small-engine equipment. The company also offers an online parts search and order service on its website, harlowlms.com.
Health Systems 2000
Health Systems 2000 was founded in 1994 by Lisa Walker, an advanced practice registered nurse and clinical nurse specialist, as a home-based home health agency called Home Health Care 2000. The company expanded greatly in both geographical area and the services it provides, and today, the business provides care for clients in the entire five parish area. The organization provides home health registered nurses; physical, occupational and speech therapy; hospice care; private duty care; and medical supplies and equipment.
In regards to the COVID lockdown and the pandemic, owner Lisa Walker said “We are a multi-location Louisiana based home health care organization, and our employees are health care professionals and paraprofessionals who visit patients in the comfort and convenience of their own homes.”
“As health care workers, the COVID-19 pandemic placed us on the first line of defense. We were charged with having immediate and adequate knowledge related to the pandemic and carried the responsibility of how to protect both our patients and our staff while providing them with adequate clinical care. In the beginning of the pandemic, the scarcity of personal protective equipment (PPE) was a huge concern for our business as well as for our employees. Everyone in every area began to work in unison and pool our resources for the PPE that we did have and were able to acquire. We were so appreciative of the community, both locally, across the United States and beyond. Everyone was working together on obtaining both information and resources on how we would provide the adequate care that our patients needed in their homes and protecting our clinical staff at the same time. At one point, we closed our offices and worked from home. Providing health care for over 26 years, we believed we were responsible to both our staff and to the community at large to provide infection control education in our areas. We are currently offering the vaccine to our staff and patients. Health Systems 2000 is very proud of our accomplishments during the pandemic,” Walker said. Thankfully, the pandemic did not affect the number of employees.
Hurricane Laura dealt a heavy blow to the businesses office buildings, which sustained extensive damage. The company had just completed an upgrade, repair and major renovation before the storm hit.
“It was shocking and disappointing when we returned from our evacuation and saw the extensive damage. All of our hard work, as well as our files, were open to the elements. We salvaged what we could with little help and resources. There were workers coming in from many places helping,” Walker said.
It took some time for employees to return, as some of them had destroyed homes and nowhere to live. “It was very disheartening seeing our employees suffering” Walker says. Some have not been able to return yet. The company also relocated corporate operations to Lafayette for a time. “Our nurses and clinicians were able to provide care to our patients in the areas where we evacuated to. If we had a nurse who evacuated to Baton Rouge or New Orleans, we provided skilled nurse visits to patients who had also evacuated there,” Walker recalls.
Business was a little slow after the hurricanes, but most employees and patients eventually made their way back to Lake Charles. So far, 2021 is looking very good for the company. “We are excited about expanding both our specialty programs and our geographical reach, and we are looking forward to the future of healthcare and heading in a positive direction,” Walker says.
Henderson Family Enterprises
Henderson Family Enterprises (HFE), which consists of Henderson of Lake Charles, Henderson Wholesale, Henderson C-Stores, Henderson Storage and a few other exciting divisions on the horizon, has definitely “weathered the storm” and come back stronger than before. HFE did their best to navigate a pandemic, two major hurricanes and an ice storm while upholding their mission to “be a blessing through superior service and products.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Henderson of Lake Charles saw a major increase in activity as people began to purchase recreation vehicles like boats and ATVs instead of taking their usual summer vacations. Henderson of Lake Charles was very fortunate to be able to maintain a full staff during the pandemic, which helped with the increase in sales volume during that time. With the health and safety of its associates being the top priority, Henderson implemented guidelines put forth by the CDC to ensure they did everything possible to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
After Hurricane Laura, Henderson of Lake Charles closed for a few days, but with the help of their great associates, they were able to set up tables and offer chainsaws and other equipment to aid clean-up for the people of SWLA. After initial damage was inspected, the store opened its doors back up for those looking for outdoor power equipment and construction equipment to help remove debris. As with the pandemic, Henderson of Lake Charles was able to maintain its staff despite the fact that some associates were still dealing with the aftermath of their own homes. Overall, the store was very fortunate to have sustained minimal damage to its building, and is in the process of completing all repairs and upgrades to make the building even better than it was before. Like several other industries, Henderson is now seeing the after-effects of the pandemic. Inventory has been low as the manufacturers recover from shutting down their factories for several months last year. Although this has been an obstacle to overcome, the company is still in great position to continue to grow in 2021.
Henderson Wholesale, which distributes Hunt Brothers Pizza throughout East Texas and South Louisiana, saw an increase in sales during the pandemic for several reasons, including the closure of most restaurants. When the hurricanes hit the area, Henderson Wholesale was in position to provide food to its stores that were open. The Henderson Wholesale trucks were on the road as soon as possible to ensure their stores had pizza to serve the community. With so many stores sustaining major damage, Hunt Brothers Pizza was one of the few hot meals available in SWLA.
Big Lake Convenience Store, which was purchased by Henderson Family Enterprises in June of 2020, also saw an increase in sales during the pandemic. Big Lake was proud to serve its community and provide quick and easy food, including Hunt Brothers Pizza, Krispy Krunchy Chicken, in-house salads, and more while most restaurants were closed. While the store sustained some damage after Hurricane Laura, they were able to secure a generator and open their doors just days after the hurricane. The store was able to provide water, cold drinks, hot food, and several other items to those in the area as the community started to rebuild. Big Lake Convenience Store is almost complete with repairs from the hurricanes. They are making exciting upgrades as well by adding Ethanol Free fuel and a new self-serve ice kiosk. 2021 is looking great for Big Lake C-Store.
Despite the pandemic, two major hurricanes and an ice storm, Henderson Storage was able to begin construction on time and continues its progress to open at the end of 2021. Once completed, Henderson Storage, will offer over 139,000 total square feet of state-of-the-art storage, including video surveillance, climate-controlled units, and covered and enclosed boat and RV storage. Henderson Storage is located at 5411 Gerstner Memorial Dr., right around the corner from Henderson of Lake Charles. Because of the close proximity, Henderson of Lake Charles will be able to provide an easy and convenient storage option for any products they sell.
Even though 2020 was an unprecedented year, Henderson Family Enterprises never lost sight of their mission and always kept their associates, customers, and community in mind. The year 2020 made HFE better and stronger, and they will continue to serve the SWLA community for many years to come.
J&J Exterminating of Lake Charles, Inc.
In business for more than 60 years, J&J Exterminating of Lake Charles serves an area that extends from DeRidder to the Gulf of Mexico, and from Lake Charles to Jennings. The company takes tremendous pride in the fact that some of its customers have been with them for over 40 years.
As an essential business, J&J continually moved forward during the pandemics lockdown. The firm made a quick decision to defer to the comfort level of their customers for in-home pest control services; J&J techs wore respirators in addition to the usual gloves for all of this type of work. As a result, residential service stayed strong during this time. Industrial-related work saw an initial drop due to closures.
One challenge facing the company was due to the fact that many of their customer service reps who field calls and schedule services are mothers with children who immediately found their children staying home from school due to school closures. As a result, J&J reshuffled their phone service and even had managers and service techs filling in the gaps taking calls to maintain their high level of customer service.
Hurricane Laura dealt considerable damage to their Lake Charles office. The wind damage caused a water breach. As a result, there was water throughout the building, including ceilings, attic, insulation, etc. Air conditioning units were destroyed as well. As a result, this office didn’t reopen until nearly two months later. As several employees sustained major damage to their homes, J&J set up a rotating schedule to enable them to take care of their pressing family needs while keeping everyone working. “The way our employees adapted in the midst of such a stressful situation was incredible. Our employees are absolutely amazing people,” says general manager Bryan Gaspard.
The DeRidder office also suffered damage, as did a half dozen of the company’s service vehicles. Hurricane Delta added additional damage to the DeRidder office, as well as dealing additional damage to many of their employees’ homes that were already banged up from Laura. Through it all, J&J did not lose one single employee, and the company made sure that every single employee never missed a paycheck. “The caliber of our people is super. We wanted them to know we would take care of them just as well as they take care of our customers,” Gaspard said.
The hurricanes exposed unseen termite damage to many homes that J&J mitigated. In addition, several homes of customers were so badly damaged, they postponed services until getting rebuilt. Despite the initial slowdown in industrial-related work a year ago, that aspect of the business has already returned to levels approaching 100%.
Residential services have also rebounded dramatically, and the company has also picked up a lot of new customers this year. As a result, 2021 has “been an exceptional year for us so far” says Gaspard. This is a trend he sees continuing well into the future. The company is so busy, they are now actively seeking new termite technicians to help with their ever-growing workload.
The outlook for the company is great, and they continually look for ways to improve their services with new technology.
Kenny Fuselier & Co.
Kenny Fuselier and his wife, Lucy, opened Kenny Fuselier and Co. in 1988 in a small shop on South Ryan St. In 1991, the company moved to its present location at 3019 Kirkman St.
The company has built its reputation on excellent customer service and satisfaction, as well as on its knowledgeable and dedicated staff, some of whom have been with the company since it opened over 30 years ago.
Although business was slow during the pandemic lockdown, the company remained open. Business returned to normal levels during the summer.
Hurricane Laura caused some roof damage and as a result, the front sales office took on some water. All five of their overhead doors blew out during the storm. The main warehouse, which houses all of their ordered flooring products was somehow undamaged. Staff was out measuring and ordering flooring for damaged homes and businesses within a few days after the storm, although they were basically working remotely from home due to a lack of electricity at the business for a couple of weeks. Business has been non-stop since then.
“The volume of business after Laura far exceeds the volume after Hurricane Rita in 2005,” says owner Lucy Fuselier. She fully expects this to continue for quite some time, as the company is still doing dozens of quotes for jobs a week with no signs of slowing. “It’s an honor to help people get their homes and businesses back in order, and we are working as quickly as we can and our installation crews are working non-stop.”
During the first three months of 2021, the company did more business than they typically do during a six-month time period. Kenny Fuselier & Co. provides the Lake Area with quality flooring, window treatments, rugs, wallpaper and canvas and metal awnings. Lucy Fuselier and her experienced, knowledgeable staff are highly optimistic about the continued future success of their business.
Knight Media Inc.
COVID was an extremely difficult challenge for Knight Media. Knight typically prints a tremendous volume of material directly related to special events, such as event programs, banners, posters, mail-out and other collateral material. The sudden drop-off in business related to cancellation of special events due to the pandemic was a serious obstacle for the business to overcome, and they ended up losing a handful of employees as a result.
Thanks to the loyal business-related customers that Knight has been able to service over the past 35 years, the business was able to stay somewhat busy despite the shock to the system that the initial COVID lockdown created.
Fortunately, the business did not sustain much physical damage from the hurricanes, and business has steadily increased during the ongoing recovery.
Knight Media looks forward to the resumption of normal business volume as the rest of us resume normal life as the pandemic subsides.
Knight Media Inc. was founded in 1986. In 2002 the company expanded with the acquisition of Andrus Printing, adding mailing, graphic design and web design services to the company’s offerings. It again expanded in 2004, when it began offering digital services.
Knight Media Inc. has a customer base that includes Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi, providing printing, mailing, graphic design and web design services.
In late 2018, the company invested nearly $500,000 on three new digital print machines that utilize the latest technology and provide a higher-quality finished product that is also printed even quicker for Knight’s growing customer base. This equipment allows Knight to print a high volume of up to 14-inch x 30-inch pieces, and is believed to be the largest digital machine of its kind in the Southwest Louisiana region.
All of this is in adherence to the company’s long-standing mission: to continuously expand and evolve with the technology of the printing industry. Knight Media Inc. will continue to bring cutting-edge printing techniques and insights to the area well into the future.
Lake Area Office Products
Lake Area Office Products will soon officially change their name to ‘The Office Guy.’ This popular business opened back in 2000 in owner John Ney’s backyard. In 2004, Ney moved the business to Kirkman St. Business quickly picked up, and in 2006, the business was relocated to Prien Lake Rd. Over the next several years, the company’s staff and clientele continued to increase, leading to the company’s move to its present location on Enterprise Blvd.
When the pandemic hit, LAOP had their phone number forwarded to their sales staff, who were working from home taking orders via laptop. Two employees remained working in the store to fill orders and keep up with paperwork, and a delivery driver came in every Tuesday to make deliveries.
LAOP reopened fully in mid-May, and business was slow at that time due to the volume of businesses that were closed and not using office products at their normal levels. Business slowly got back to normal through last summer.
While Hurricane Laura only dealt cosmetic damage to their showroom, two of their three warehouses were completely destroyed, including all of the office furniture that was stored in those warehouses. The company is now in the process of building one large warehouse to replace the two that were destroyed.
LAOP remained closed for around three weeks following Laura. The business took on some water from Hurricane Delta due to drainage issues in the area, which put some water in some office areas.
Business again was a little slow after the storms, but by mid-November, LAOP saw business return to normal levels.
2021 started out very well, and business is picking up. LAOP also acquired some new corporate accounts, and a lot of businesses have been, and still are, replacing damaged and destroyed office items such as furniture, chairs and copiers.
Lake Area Office Products offers everything from office supplies and furniture to commercial copiers, fax machines and printers. Ney’s business philosophy is simple: Offer top-quality products at low prices, and back it up with a level of service that none of his competitors could match.
As always, LAOP is extremely optimistic about continuing to grow. “The future is looking great,” Ney says.
The Johnson Firm
Lake Charles native, Terry J. Johnson, received a bachelor’s degree from McNeese State University and earned a Juris Doctorate from Louisiana State University. Terry founded The Johnson Firm in 1980, following his service as an Assistant District Attorney for both Allen and Calcasieu parishes. The firm specializes in personal injury, family, and criminal law.
Terry’s older son, Jonathan, a partner in the firm, received Bachelor of Science degrees in both accounting and civil law, and ultimately, a Juris Doctorate from Louisiana State University. He joined the firm in 2006 and manages both domestic and personal injury cases.
Another partner in the firm is Terry’s younger son, Adam, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business management from Louisiana State University and a Juris Doctorate from Southern University. Adam specializes in criminal defense and is driven by a passion for the courtroom and representing the interests of those in need of restitution, recovery, or exoneration.
Other attorneys within the law practice include Kilburn Landry and Erin Adams. Kilburn earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwestern State University and a Juris Doctorate from Louisiana State University. He specializes in civil litigation and personal injury and is devoted to helping victims of negligence receive both the justice and compensation they deserve. Erin, who specializes in family law, was born and raised in Southern California where she attended San Diego State University. She completed her Juris Doctorate at Louisiana State University and was an inaugural member of the Order of the Barristers and served on the Trial Advocacy Board.
The Johnson Firm was affected by the pandemic much like many other local businesses. With information changing so quickly, they had to adapt and respond in the safest way possible for their staff and clients. They closed during March and April, doubled down on technology, worked remotely, and continuously explored new ways to keep things moving forward. The most critical impact for their specific business was to the court system, and they are still dealing with associated delays more than a year later. Additionally, it was critically important to the firm to ensure their employees were not financially impacted by the effects of the pandemic. With that aim, they were able to retain all of their employees and avoid making any changes to compensation.
When restrictions eased and things opened back up, the firm resumed regular operations, implemented social distancing and mask usage, and operated with limited in-person contact throughout the summer. They also experienced a surge in business that continued up and until Hurricane Laura.
As a result of Laura, the firm’s office at 910 Ford Street sustained damage and required extensive repairs. In response, they sourced temporary office space and ultimately purchased a new building at 1400 Ryan Street in early 2021. Their team came together, moved their entire office in two weeks, and they were operational soon thereafter. During the transition, they forwarded calls to cell phones, worked remotely, and were highly focused on communication with their clients along with their clients’ wellbeing during the aftermath of Laura. The firm did not lose any team members due to the hurricanes and once again made sure none of their team members suffered financially because of the storms.
“The events of 2020 can be viewed many ways, but for us, they were opportunities for our team to come together and meet the moment,” says Adam Johnson. “Make no mistake, things weren’t easy, and the damage to our office building wasn’t something we would’ve chosen. But relying on our faith and trusting in the greater framework allowed us to simply continue putting one foot in front of the other. We’re extremely proud of our team and believe we’re stronger and better today than we were in March 2020,” he continued.
“Pre-pandemic, we’d purchased property on Ryan Street with plans to build new offices and begin construction in October 2020,” says Jonathan Johnson. “Obviously, the hurricanes changed those plans. In keeping with the theme of 2020, we adapted and purchased a new location at 1400 Ryan Street, just across the street from the property of our future office. And we plan to build once things settle a bit. We’re grateful our business is strong and continues to grow. In fact, we’ve added three new attorneys in the past three years (including one this month), along with additional support staff. Our commitment to the fundamentals of our business hasn’t wavered, and we see that as key to long-term success. And we’ll continue to passionately represent our clients and believe that will never go out of style.”
Lake Area Marine
Gerald and Debbie Link founded Moss Bluff Marine in 1985 on Hwy. 171. When the highway was four-laned three years later, the business moved to its present location on Hwy. 90 in Lake Charles, which facilitated a name change. Gerald selected Lake Area Marine, and the rest is history. With over 50 years of combined experience, owner Gerald Link along with son, Kyle Link, are committed to delivering the best possible boating experience for their customers.
Lake Area Marine is an authorized sales and service dealer for a large selection of respected industry manufacturers such as Tohatsu, Suzuki, Yamaha and Evinrude Outboard Motors. The company is also a premier boat dealer for the Alweld, Ranger, Blackjack and Frontier brands.
When the pandemic hit, the company locked the doors and immediately shifted to serving customers over the phone and via pre-set appointments. As an essential business, they never closed during the pandemic. Anytime an employee contracted COVID or had to quarantine, the company made sure they still received a paycheck.
As many people were working from home and spending more time with their families, boat purchases were strong throughout the summer, and the company did a record volume during the months leading up to late August and Hurricane Laura.
The business sustained a little over $250,000 in hurricane damages to their facilities. Their 30,000 square-foot roof was heavily damaged and is being replaced, and the roll-down doors on their mechanic shop and shop were destroyed, as was their boat hoist. They were closed for nearly three weeks as a result. During this time, employees were helping each other out with their homes, and the company paid their employees during this time as well. “We have loyal, hard-working people, and everyone pitched in to help everyone else dig out from the damage of the storm. What a great team we have,” Gerald says.
The business reopened and worked with no electricity, which was finally restored four days before Hurricane Delta struck. That storm brought some water into their building via the already-damaged roof, but that was quickly mitigated. The company had absolutely no phone or internet service for 99 days following Laura’s landfall, but they made do with a hotspot during that time period.
Their usual slow season is during the fourth quarter, but October, November and December of 2020 kept the company running full speed every day, and with a large increase in service. They were also performing a lot of insurance estimates for their customers’ boats. Additionally, many boats ordered earlier in the year began arriving during those months, so they were delivering new boats almost non-stop during this time. 2020 ended up being the second-busiest year in the company’s 36-year history.
Activity this year has also been great. There are a lot of boats being purchased this year, despite the fact that they have to be ordered and customers have to wait an extended period of time for the boats to be manufactured and delivered due to the raw material shortage and supply chain disruptions that were caused by the pandemic. “In our business, everything hinges on product availability,” says Gerald. “We are optimistic this will change soon, and our customers know it’s an industry-wide issue that every dealer in the country is facing. Regardless, the orders don’t stop coming in. We appreciate our customers and are glad they share our optimism for the future.”
Kyle Link shares these sentiments when he said, “This entire area had the fight brought straight to them last year, but we are all pitching in, fighting back hard and winning. We know Lake Charles and the area will only continue to get better, day after day.”
“We admire the courageous, strong people that define our area. Serving them is an honor,” Debbie said. “We know we couldn’t do all this by ourselves. We have diligently worked hard and been blessed by God every step of the way,” says Gerald.
Lake Charles Auto Auction
Lake Charles Auto Auction was founded in 1991 by Mike Pedersen. The company started as a simple weekly auction at a location on Broad St., and quickly grew — from selling around 150 vehicles a week during its early years to more than 400 vehicles in 2019. Pedersen added a 6,500-square-foot office facility a few years ago. They also took the auction online, servicing about 80 to 100 dealers every week on its simulcast auction — a move that added about $15 million a year in new revenue. Mike’s son, Matt, runs the business, and says that the company was selling around 11,000 cars per year.
Like so many local businesses, though, Lake Charles Auto Auction had adversity to overcome in 2020.
The facility suffered major damage during Hurricane Laura’s visit. “The detail shop was gone,” says Matt. The whole metal building was gone. We didn’t even find it anywhere.”
The storm also destroyed all 11 of the bay doors on the facility’s auction barn. Every structure, including lean-tos and awnings, was destroyed. “They weren’t even on the property,” Matt says.
About 90 percent of the cars on the company’s lot had busted windows and damage from shrapnel. The front office, built less than two years before the storm hit, was damaged, but repairable.
They put a tent up for auctions and by the fourth week after Laura were holding auctions again. The week after that, they planned a special sale to commemorate their 29th anniversary and mailed out 5,000 flyers announcing the sale. Despite the flooding produced by Hurricane Delta, they were able to go ahead with the sale.
Matt says he and his staff have received tremendous support from other auctions throughout the state.
“Some of them came out and cooked for all of my employees and (for other) people in the area,” he says. One auction sent me a check. We’re in competition for each other every week, but at the end of the day, they came out and helped us.”
The company was quick to help the community after the storms, serving as a food distribution site.
By November of last year, business was increasing — about 166 cars were sold at a single auction that month.
“We’re making our way back up,” Matt says. “The team I have is the reason. They all had my back and we came together to take care of it.”
Lake Charles Office Supply
Lake Charles Office Supply opened in 1996 as Office Plus on Ryan Street. After seven years, the company had outgrown that location, and the owners bought the building and name of the former Lake Charles Office Supply.
The company has grown into one of the largest privately owned office products and furniture stores in Southwest Louisiana, thanks to its knowledgeable staff and sales teams, many of whom have over 25 years in the office supply industry. Lake Charles Office Supply has five locations in southern Louisiana.
When the pandemic first hit, LCOS sent non-essential employees home for a short time and the business never closed, as they kept an active crew at the business to accommodate customers. The firm brought back their employees as soon as was possible to make make sure they didn’t lose their jobs. The sales team canvassed the lake area to determine who was open during this time and devised a way to service all of their customers who had to adapt to working from home.
Business steadily picked back up to pre-COVID levels during the summer. Hurricane Laura caused extensive damage to the business. They lost part of their roof, almost all of the glass storefront was smashed in, their suspended showroom ceiling was destroyed, as was carpet, A/C units and showroom inventory. The overhead doors on their warehouse were blown out, as was the wall separating the showroom from the warehouse.
Long-time LCOS general manager Sean Douget estimates the building took well over an hour of 130-mph sustained winds, which created a wind tunnel blowing through their showroom and warehouse. Broken glass from the front windows was embedded into carpeting throughout the showroom as well.
Douget and a crew of workers made it to the store by 7 am the following day while hurricane winds were still strong. Box trucks loaded up any salvageable office products. By 6 pm, they were able to clean up most large debris and closed up and boarded up the entire showroom and warehouse area.
LCOS also set up generators that day to power the business, phones and computers. Internet service was uninterrupted over their LTE network. LCOS coordinated with one of their main vendors to bring in over a dozen pallets loaded down with water, cleaning supplies, bleach and disinfectants, which they farmed out to employees in need and also to their customers. Hurricane Delta then knocked out power temporarily.
Business has been very strong for the first two quarters of 2021, and Douget expects that trend to continue well into the future due to the large scale of recovery. LCOS is still seeing a steady flow of customers replacing furniture and supplies, even to this day. Business has been super strong, and the rest of 2021 and 2022 looks very promising.
LCOS is known for its fast local delivery. It offers a tremendous selection of office supplies, office furniture, janitorial and facility supplies, and more.
LCOS also offers free space planning, along with 3-D renderings, installation and product support.
Lake City Trucking
Trucking and transportation is an essential business but work was still slow during the pandemic due to the widespread COVID lockdown as many projects were put on hold and many businesses were closed.
The company was basically paying drivers just to keep them on staff during this time, and the company lost many drivers “due to the government incentivizing workers not to work,” according to CEO James Gobert.
Business picked back up last summer, and then came the hurricanes. Although damage to the business itself was minimal, the company lost several drivers who never came back to work after they evacuated or had their homes destroyed.
The company made it through all of the adversity of 2020, despite dipping temporarily to an all-time low number of employees and ever-increasing insurance costs.
“Every obstacle imaginable has materialized in the past year, but we have overcome them all to this point and we are confident better days lie ahead,” says Gobert.
Lake City Trucking was founded in 1988 and serves 48 states, with primary concentration on the Gulf Coast region. Its mission is to provide safe, efficient and reliable transportation services to meet the specific needs of its customers.
Lake City Trucking maintains a diverse fleet to serve the oil, petro-chemical, steel, timber and construction industries. Its lineup includes vans and dump trucks, as well as a variety of trailers, including flatbeds, step decks, tandem and tri-axle dumps and roll-offs.
The company’s added tandem and tri-axle dumps to accommodate the construction industry. Services also include transporting hazardous cargo and waste.
Lake City Trucking’s staff and drivers are dedicated to making sure customers’ cargo is handled safely from loading to final destination. The company complies with all USDOT safety standards and maintains a Satisfactory inspection rating from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Landmark Title Services
Landmark Title Services of Lake Charles, Inc. was founded in 1997 by Dee Sarver as one of the first full-service title companies in the area. Local attorney and now Judge Ron Richard purchased the company in January 2016, and in the years that followed, he and his team worked hard and diligently grew the business by over 700 percent in the first couple of years. Richard also moved the company from Clarence Street to the first floor of the Capital One Tower.
Landmark handled the COVID lockdown extremely well. An essential business, the company took the same safety precautions as everyone else and continued working from their office, albeit with modified protocols for closings. Only signees were allowed to come in to sign closing documents (no family members or realtors were allowed in) and each party involved in a transaction were only allowed in one at a time.
Their volume of business remained at a very high level during the pandemic, as many people were refinancing due to low interest rates and many homes were being bought and sold. The phenomenal year continued … until Hurricane Laura hit.
At that time, Landmark was located on the first floor of the Capital One Tower. Employees who evacuated watched TV coverage in disbelief on the night Hurricane Laura smashed it’s way through the area, including the now-famous live video of hundreds of windows being smashed out at the tower.
Fortunately, they had moved all of their computers to a central, four-walled interior room, so they survived intact. Richard was able to get into the severely-damaged tower very quickly to retrieve their computers amid all of the broken glass and destruction. All of their office furniture, filing cabinets, etc. were completely unsalvageable.
Following the storm, the company was able to rent space through Robbie Ingle at Ingle Safari Coldwell Banker’s main office on Lake Street. As the real estate industry screeched to a resounding halt throughout September, this allowed the company to reconnoiter. Richard was able to find their current location, at 716 Hodges Street, during this time, and the company moved in on November 1. This building was essentially the only available downtown location that Richard could find that wasn’t heavily damaged or destroyed.
Immediately following the storms, Landmark was doing closings on a lot of cash sales, as lenders require inspections. Building inspectors were hard to come by then, and most properties in the area had some type of damage, so cash sales dominated at the time.
December, which is typically the slowest month of the year, turned out to be just as busy as a normal busy summer month, and business hasn’t slowed since.
Although it’s a seller’s market right now due to the availability crunch, business remains super strong and the lack of available homes hasn’t slowed it down one bit. Many people are refinancing due to offset having to tend to their homes due to delayed or minimal insurance payments received.
The company is a member of the elite Fidelity Club of top-producing title companies in the nation.
Richard says despite the adversity of 2020, the outlook remains outstanding, thanks to his great staff. “I surrounded myself with great people at Landmark and stay out of their way,” he says. “Our incredible team of lawyers, notaries and staff members make it happen. They serve our customers with excellence and have been responsible for the tremendous growth of the company.”
Landscape Management Services
Deemed an essential business, Landscape Management remained open throughout the COVID lockdown. As most people were forced to stay home during the lockdown, the company stayed extremely busy, since most of those who stayed home engaged in numerous home improvement-type of projects, including taking care of their yards and sprucing up their landscaping.
The company’s main concern during this time was the safety of their employees and workers in regard to COVID. Smaller crews rode together, masked up and with the windows down, and they were able to keep their COVID illness numbers extremely low.
The company’s main truck warehouse collapsed due to Hurricane Laura. The firm quickly deployed some cranes to hold up the building while they retrieved and recovered as many of their trucks and as much of their equipment as possible.
The company’s administrative offices did not get internet service back until November, so they set up a hot spot and managed to keep things flowing.
Although the company lost several of their 40-plus fleet of trucks due to Laura, they used the opportunity to build a brand new facility to house their fleet, complete with single bays for each vehicle.
This year, the company did not get as many seasonal workers as they usually do, as trying to find local workers became more difficult due to the large number of people who were displaced from the storms. The business is doing more with less on the employee front, even though they offer great benefits to employees and their starting pay is well above market average.
In spite of the employee issue, business remains incredibly strong for Landscape Management and is forecast to continue to grow at a healthy pace.
Landscape Management was founded in 1991. Owner Doyle Pennick has been in the landscape industry for over 40 years. The company provides landscapes, irrigation systems and landscape maintenance for everything from small starter homes to large businesses. Landscape Management’s services also include erosion control and retail sales to the public.
Pennick attributes the company’s success to its diversity, its commitment to quality service, and its experienced staff.
Lee Dee Wholesale Distributing Company
Lee Dee Wholesale Distributing Company, Inc. has been in business since 1946, supplying automotive, paper, tobacco, candy, soft drinks and snack goods to convenience stores in over three-quarters of the state.
Lee Dee adapted to the pandemic in fine fashion. They adopted social distancing at their offices and warehouse, implemented safeguard policies to help their employees and customers conduct business safely and did not close at all during the COVID lockdown.
“Business was very good, and we remained open due to being an essential business,” says Mark Medlin. The company also did not lose any employees during this time.
Hurricane Laura saw the business close for over 2 weeks, as the company suffered some roof damage, damage to fencing and took on some water in their building. The firm was only closed for three days due to Hurricane Delta. Unfortunately, the company lost two assistant managers and five warehouse people due to the storms and their aftermath.
As Lee Dee was without electricity for quite some time following Laura, another wholesaler in Louisiana delivered a generator to Lee Dee on a flatbed truck to help get the company back up and running.
Following the storms, business was good, as Lee Dee was open and serving customers who were open at the time. Over time, as more and more customers reopened, business returned to normal levels.
The main challenge for Lee Dee so far in 2021 has been finding workers to fill positions, as the company has seen a reduction in applications. The company is hopeful that the number of applications received should return to normal levels over the next few months.
With stores trying to reopen, business is trying to get back to where it was before the hurricanes, and the future looks very bright for this 75-year-old local company.
Lloyd Lauw Collision Repair Center
On June 11, Lloyd Lauw Collision Repair celebrated their 20th anniversary providing quality service in the Lake Area. The company is a “Class A” collision center and, with a 22,000-square-foot facility, is one of the largest collision repair facilities in Southwest Louisiana. The company has been a multi-million-dollar business since 2005.
During the initial COVID lockdown, Lloyd, his son Duke, and a couple of other employees continued working to complete body work jobs, as, at the time, they still had a large backlog of vehicles to repair that were damaged in the hailstorm of 2019.
During Hurricane Laura, the business sustained nearly a half million dollars in damage, including to the roofs of both buildings, which combined had at least 30 leaks, some of which were massive. One area of the paint shop in particular had roof damage that was so severe, that area of the shop would receive just as much rain as was received outside the building.
Lloyd was able to return to the business the day after Laura to assess damage and serve as security, since all seven of the roll-down doors at the paint shop and the main facility were blown out. The business was without electricity for 13-14 days before reopening to the public. The heavy rains from Hurricane Delta revealed the extent of the roof damage, and as of late April, the business was still fighting with the insurance company to get their roof issues properly addressed.
At present, LLCR has a three-month backlog of jobs. As it’s difficult to find employees, LLCR is now completing jobs with four less paint and body techs than normal while facing two to three the normal volume of work.
LLCR is a direct repair facility for several insurance companies and a proud part of the Certified First Network. The company is also a member of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Chamber Southwest Louisiana, and the Better Business Bureau.
One of the keys to the company’s success over the past 20 years has been a willingness to keep up with new trends in the industry. LLCR’s commitment to their customers is to return their automobile to pre-accident condition in a timely manner and to lessen the inconvenience of a collision as much as possible. LLCR also offers a written lifetime guarantee on all repairs and paint. Lloyd Lauw and his staff have worked hard to become the local experts on repairing aluminum bodies of newer vehicles. The business continues to grow, due to the referrals of their customers and also because of the area’s increasing traffic and number of accidents. Despite all of the trevails of 2020, Lauw remains extremely optimistic about the company’s continued success.
Louisiana Radio Communications, Inc.
Louisiana Radio Communications, was founded in 1947, and was bought by Robert Vincent in 1950 as a service facility for two-way radio communications for public safety organizations and the petrochemical industry. The company was instrumental in developing some of the first wireless communications for area industrial and oil businesses. It has grown along with technology in the decades since. Now managed by Perry Vincent, the company serves the U.S. from California to Florida.
Louisiana Radio is an essential business. LRC Wireless supports and maintains communications for most of the first responders in this market, supplying mission critical response 24/7/365. As a result, even with COVID, it was understood that Louisiana Radio would remain open and responsive around the clock, every single day. During the pandemic, the company strived to protect its employees and clients by adhering to best practices, including wearing masks, maintaining 6’ separation, fewer people in vehicles, and using hand sanitizing stations. LRC also introduced a weekly COVID task force headed up by our HSE person with all department heads in attendance. This kept everyone in the company up-to-date on what LRC could do to keep everyone safe and productive. As a result, Louisiana Radio maintained a consistent level of employees during the pandemic.
Hurricanes Laura and Delta put LRC’s emergency preparedness to the test, and they passed with flying colors. The company’s building was constructed with a 200-mph wind rating. The firm also has a generator to keep them 100% operational. Louisiana Radio had a full staff on-site during both hurricanes, and they were on the streets assessing damage and making repairs within two hours after the hurricanes passed. Louisiana Radio never closed once during this time.
Perhaps the single, largest lesson that most local businesses learned from the storms was the fact that if a business doesn’t have internet, they cannot operate. Louisiana Radio offers wireless internet through Fulair, a division of Louisiana Radio, and has done so for 16 years. During the hurricanes, multitudes of businesses were without their traditional internet suppliers and were told that it would be months before they cold get internet. As a result, businesses had to find an alternate resource for the internet and Fulair was exactly that. To meet demand, LRC Wireless pulled from its pool of 50 plus technicians to get businesses up and running.
A perfect example of this are insurance companies. Multiple insurance companies could not process thousands of claims from storm damage, because they had no internet and were told that it could be months before they would be able to get it. They called Louisiana Radio and we had them up and connected to the internet in short order. At one time, we had over 600 requests and worked 7 days a week to accomplish this monumental task. As of today, Louisiana Radio is still the only source for some businesses for their internet. One of the largest take-aways from the storms is that people now realize that they are dependent on the internet and as a result are installing Fulair as a backup to their traditional internet providers so this never happens again.
Overall, through a pandemic, two hurricanes and a snowstorm, Louisiana Radio withstood the tests. It is now 2021, and Louisiana Radio is still strong and growing with yet another year of increased business forecast. The company is preparing to celebrate its 75th year anniversary soon.
Luxury Limousine was founded in 2001 by Eric and Michele Trahan. They initially started with just one used limousine, and since then the company has grown exponentially over the years. They are now the second largest fleet of limousines in Louisiana, and they are the largest limousine fleet between Houston and New Orleans. Their expansive fleet includes luxury SUVs, limousines and party buses.
When the pandemic hit last March, business literally came to a screeching halt. The entire fleet was parked for months, as there were no special events, weddings or much of any type of social gatherings going on during this time.
There was a smattering of business over the latter part of the summer, and things continued picking up until Hurricane Laura. The storm caused minor damage to two of their luxury limousines and two of their famous party buses had windows smashed out.
As a result of COVID and the hurricanes, 2020 was, unfortunately, the worst year in the history of the business. The company maintained insurance on their expansive fleet, and also honorably refunded all deposits for limo services that were pre-booked for most of the year. Despite everything, the company was able to retain all 15 of their experienced, licensed chauffeurs.
Fortunately, 2021 has seen the company make a swift return to their normal, busy scheduling patterns, as the vaccination rate has risen and most people have returned to their normal lives without living in fear as they were in 2020. In fact, pre-bookings for their limousines services have hit record numbers, as pent up demand is clearly evident. Their bookings for the 2021 wedding season is record-setting, as many weddings scheduled for 2020 were pushed back to this year due to the pandemic. Also, due to the fact that many local wedding venues suffered hurricane damage or were destroyed, weddings that were traditionally held on Saturdays and Sundays are also being held on Fridays at record levels.
As November through February is typically their busiest time of the year, this year the company is pleased to report that pre-bookings for homecoming, Christmas parties and Mardi Gras balls for 2022 are also at record levels, ladies’ night out excursions are on the rise again, and the future looks incredibly bright for Luxury Limousine.
“We appreciate the people of the Lake Area, and it is our honor to serve them with elegance, comfort and professionalism,” says Eric Trahan. “Everyone here has been through so much adversity in the past year, and we are so excited and happy to see everyone pulling together and working as hard as we all are to resume normal life.”
National Networks was founded in 1998 by a father-and-son team as a computer repair business. It has grown into a 40-member team of friendly, highly skilled individuals who have expertise in a wide array of technology disciplines. National Networks is aware that businesses don’t want the latest, flashiest technology just to show off. They want IT systems that work reliably and efficiently while meeting security standards and enabling the pursuit of organizational objectives.
The company, with offices in Lake Charles and Nederland, Texas, provides service nationwide, installing and upgrading infrastructure, technology services, computer repair, custom IT service including security and cabling, cloud services and managed print services.
When the pandemic first hit, owner Shawn Maggio immediately shifted employees to working from home as they relied on the preferences of their customers on whether they were comfortable with work being performed on their site, and most were.
The company also set up a multitude of customers to be able to work from home, which included National Networks securing a great supply of laptops, monitors, printers and other needed items that were suddenly in short supply around the country at that time.
The business picked up many new customers over the summer, but unfortunately, the company also lost a few business customers who were forced to go out of business by the pandemic. The summer of 2020 was extremely busy for National Networks.
Hurricane Laura broke a few windows at the business, but the company was able to make repairs and mitigate the minimal water intrusion quickly.
National Networks, running on generator power, was able to keep everything online and running, including internet service, air conditioning and electricity. The firm also welcomed several of their clients, including insurance agents, to work out of their own offices right after the hurricane. “We tried to help every single client and customer in the best way we possibly could, depending on their individual needs,” says Maggio.
The main challenge for the company immediately after Laura was coordinating with employees whose homes suffered damage to be able to tend to their own family needs while at the same time deploying available employees to provide whatever services were needed for their clients. “We handled this stressful situation very well and our employees did a fantastic job,” Maggio said. The company also worked with some customers on delayed payments for necessary services to allow them to get back up and running with less worry and headache.
2021 is going extraordinarily well for the company, as their cabling infrastructure department, which had hardly any work immediately following the storms, has been non-stop ever since running cable and establishing service for new clients.
This year, Maggio launched 365 Alarms, an alarm company that is utilizing the expertise and connectivity of National Networks. And despite the current uncertainty with gas prices and inflation, Maggio is highly confident that the rest of this year, and well into the future, looks very bright indeed for National Networks.
Sammy Navarra opened this full-service jewelry store back in 1962, and the local landmark business has long been known for quality and professionalism in fine jewelry. Sammy’s son Tommy joined the business in 1983 and the store has been running under his leadership since 1992. The Navarra name is synonymous with business in the Lake Area, as Tommy’s grandfather Thomas J. Navarra operated a tire store in Lake Charles nearly 100 years ago. Tommy’s wife Pam also works at the store, as does their daughter Melissa, who marks the fifth generation of the Navarra family living and working in Lake Charles.
Navarra’s carries engagement rings, wedding bands, bracelets, pendants, necklaces, earrings, watches and more, including lines from stellar companies such as Luvente, Coast Diamond, Mastoloni, Simon G, True Romance, Vahan, Swiss Army, Bulova and many more. Navarra’s even carries their own private-label engagement rings and fashion jewelry, has a well-known bridal registry, and sells many gift items from such famous names as Arthur Court, Beatriz Ball, Bernardaud, Casafina, Kate Spade, Lenox, Mariposa, Match, Mikasa, Mottahedeh, Pickard, Phillipe Deshoulieres, Reed & Barton, Reidel Crystal, Spode, Vera Wang, Vietri, Waterford Crystal and Wedgwood. Navarra’s is also known as the local Mardi Gras experts, serving dozens of krewes for many decades.
They also offer custom engraving, jewelry repair, laser welding and pearl and bead stringing. You’ll also find CounterSketch Studio at Navarra’s.
It’s a creative software program with full 3D capabilities, including features that allow Tommy to interact with customers to design a piece of jewelry in real-time.
When the pandemic struck, Tommy immediately made himself available to all customers via their website, and went into the store for a half day every day to answer calls, fill orders and take in jewelry repairs.
Most business at that time was for birthdays and anniversaries. Although the store was fully open in early May of 2020, it was not an ordinary May by any stretch of the imagination, as Mother’s Day and graduation gift-giving did not approach usual levels.
Also, many weddings slated for that time and into the summer of 2020 were postponed until 2021, so COVID definitely had a negative impact on the business.
Summer is not typically one of the busiest times of the year for the company, but business during this time was quickly picking up to normal levels.
Then came Hurricane Laura. Navarra’s famous building was built in 1923, and is as solid as can be. As such, the business sustained only minor cosmetic damage from the storm.
After Hurricane Laura, the store was closed for a month.
A week and a half after reopening, Hurricane Delta blew through Southwest Louisiana. Fortunately, the business once again was fine, and was able to reopen after a couple of days. As the year wore on and the holidays approached, business was brisk and returned to normal levels.
2021 has been “very good” says Navarra, noting that the situation is similar to the time after Hurricane Rita struck the area back in 2005.
“Many people who had put off purchases for special occasions, anniversaries and engagement rings have been shopping Navarra’s this year due to all of the pent up residual demand that carried over from all of the downtime of 2020,” he says.
“Engagement rings in particular have been one of the brightest spots, as people are catching up with weddings that were put off last year and engagements that were delayed by the pandemic.
Also, many who did not make usual birthday and anniversary purchases last year are coming back in full force,” Navarra added.
Navarra is extremely optimistic for a successful future as Lake Charles continues to heal and things get back to the normal hustle and bustle of everyday life.
“We love serving people, and the relationships we have formed with our customers over three generations at Navarra’s. Serving our customers is what we are most proud of … we love Lake Charles,” Navarra says.
Navarre Auto Group
Billy Navarre founded what would become SWLA’s most successful car dealership in 1982, when, at the age of 25, he opened a small Chevrolet dealership in Sulphur in a building that had been closed for six months. Today, Navarre Auto Group has hundreds of millions in annual sales, selling thousands of vehicles per year, and has been the top ranked locally-owned business for the past five years.
Navarre Auto Group now sells Cadillac, Honda, Hyundai, Equus, GMC, Nissan, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram.
Navarre’s built its success and reputation on customer service. And, under the management of Billy’s son, Ryan, who took the reins of the company when Billy passed away in 2016, Navarre Auto Group has taken customer service to a whole new level. A few years ago, the dealership added a state-of-the-art quick-lube and carwash facilities at both the Lake Charles and Sulphur locations. Navarre Auto Group has been the top-ranked locally-owned business for the past four years.
Navarre Auto Group shut down normal operations on March 24 last year as the pandemic took hold and shifted to an appointment-only method for vehicle sales and service. The company remained on limited staff with reduced hours until June 16. Owner Ryan Navarre informed his employees “Even though we are essentially shut down, we will keep paying everyone.” And, as a lot of local businesses were closed and/or struggling mightily, he also purchased thousands of meals from local restaurants to help boost their businesses while feeding his 500+ employees and their families numerous times during the pandemic.
As a result of the pandemic and the fact that many people were off of work and spending a lot of time with their familes, vehicle sales shifted to a lot of recreation-based models, such as Jeeps, trucks to pull boats with and convertibles. Sales steadily grew over the summer as the company returned to a normal pace of business.
Hurricane Laura caused nearly $20 million in damage to the Navarre dealerships. As a result, the Nissan store will soon be redone, and Navarre is building a google-style accounting office at Nissan’s old preowned facility, complete with outdoor spaces, an outdoor kitchen and a covered parking area for customers who need title work and other services. The building will also feature all-glass interior walls and offices.
Navarre’s preowned superstore at the corner of Ryan St. and Prien Lake Rd. had to be torn down due to hurricane damage, and will soon be replaced with a new state-of-the-art facility that will be called Navarre Select. The Honda sales building on College St. will also soon be torn down and rebuilt. The Sulphur dealerships fared fairly well during the storms, although the body shop on Beglis Parkway will soon be redone due to damage. They are still working to repair damages to the quick lube in Sulphur.
2020 started off with a GM workers’ strike, the pandemic, and then Laura, which caused the dealerships to shut down for nearly two months. All this time, Ryan continued paying his employees, as he didn’t want them to be stressed out any more than they already were while they were dealing with damages to their own homes and taking care of their families.
Business has been outstanding during the first half of 2021 despite the challenges caused by the disruption in the global supply chain due to the pandemic-related ingering effects. Ryan expects this to continue to improve as time passes. In fact, the company is on pace to sell over 10,000 vehicles this year, which will make for a remarkable, record year, especially considering the glitch in the supply chain.
“The resiliency of the people of Southwest Louisiana is amazing, and it’s an honor to serve our great community,” Ryan says. “I feel as time passes and a lot of projects get completed and homes and businesses are redone, the lake area will shine like never before. It’s our privilege to be part of our local comeback and renaissance.”
Port Aggregates, Inc.
Port Aggregates was started in 1979 in Mermentau, La., as a subsidiary of Guinn Bros., Inc. It became an independent company in 1985, when Andrew Guinn, Sr., took over as president.
The company expanded into Lake Charles in 1986. In 1993, Port Aggregates opened its BT-4 deep-water aggregate supply yard in Lake Charles, and in 2000 it opened its pre-cast concrete facility in Jennings. In 2002, the company expanded to include a concrete plant in Jennings, with five concrete trucks.
Since then, the company’s opened six additional concrete plants and two aggregate yards throughout Southwest Louisiana. In 2012, Port Aggregates purchased all Angelle Concrete western assets, and Port Aggregates is now the largest privately held producer of ready mix concrete in the state of Louisiana.
The company offers ready mix concrete, precast concrete, limestone, sand and gravel to a growing list of residential, commercial, petrochemical, transportation and oil and gas clients.
When the pandemic struck, business continued normally for this essential business at first, but as the pandemic drug past the arbitrary goals being set by the CDC and the governor’s office, the market slowed in response to the uncertainty of what the prolonged lockdowns would do to their sector of the economy.
Like most everyone else, Port Aggregates adapted to the pandemic on the fly. They closed their locations to the general public and limited the capacity of their office locations to adhere to COVID regulations. “It seemed like a daily adjustment was needed to accommodate the new regulations as they changed like the wind,” says President Adam Guinn. “We equipped our employees with proper PPE and took extra precautions to avoid possible exposure, and offered paid leave for employees in the event of possible exposure and/or a positive test result. We managed to work through it with minimal staff on leave at any given time, and were able to maintain service to our customers.”
The company’s employee count held steady, as they were able to pay them even while out on COVID leave. The only employee issue they experienced during that time was due to usual attrition, and hiring new employees proved to be a challenge.
After Hurricane Laura hit, it took a week and a half before Port Aggregates had any operations moving again in the Lake Charles area. They slowly reopened locations as they were able to get employees to return to work and get the locations cleaned up. They spent the first two weeks mainly cleaning locations and helping employees get their yards cleaned, and they were able to get their operations going again on generators to be able to supply material to the energy companies who were busy setting new power poles.
The firm experienced around a 10-to-15% loss of employees in the Lake Charles area by the time the dust settled on the hurricanes. Most simply moved out of the area following Hurricane Delta.
All in all, Port Aggregates experienced around a 20% reduction in sales in 2020 due to the pandemic and the storms.
“I believe the biggest obstacle the company faced was the same obstacle faced by everyone living in Southwest Louisiana,” Guinn says. “The battle of picking up the pieces and trudging on was the main challenge. It seems like a simple statement, but it is anything but simple. Everyone had a different struggle and a different mountain to climb to get back to some form of reality. The biggest obstacle we overcame was working with our employees to get our work done while allowing them to tend to their personal issues at the same time.”
“Out of the ashes comes new growth. We have been pleasantly blessed with a robust workload in 2021, and it looks to be strong going forward through the rest of this year and into next year. I presume it’s the heavy influx of stimulus and insurance money in the local economy that is driving the work. The future looks super for Port Aggregates,” Guinn says.
Bob Pumpelly founded this business in 1950 to serve as a complementary business to Pumpelly Oil, supplying tires, batteries and accessories to other automotive service businesses.
As an essential business, Pumpelly never closed during the pandemic lockdown. Business at their Lake Charles location saw around a 50% drop for around a month and a half, while the Sulphur location saw a remarkable increase in sales of 14% during the same time period.
Beginning in mid-May, Pumpelly Tire began a stretch of record revenue months throughout the summer.
Hurricane Laura peeled the metal flashing off of the Lake Charles building, and the winds whipped the metal all over the roof, slicing up the roof with over 70 massive cuts. All eight of the bay doors were also blown in and destroyed. The company patched the roof and reopened five days after the storm. The rain from Hurricane Delta breached the already-damaged roof in many areas, which left over an inch of water throughout the facility. The roof has since been replaced.
The Sulphur location miraculously had only one bay door damaged and a sign blown over from Laura, and suffered no negative effects from Delta.
Pumpelly Tire acquired and provided temporary housing for a handful of employees who were displaced from their homes due to the hurricanes.
Following Laura, Pumpelly Tire came back strong and broke every single sales record in the history of the company and finished the year with the highest revenue in their history, despite the Lake Charles store temporarily dropping off in revenue during the pandemic.
All indications are that business will continue to perform strongly, and ownership constantly looks for ways to better serve their many loyal customers with efficiency and stellar service.
Red Gator Rentals
Founded in 2009 by Lonnie and Terry Regan, Red Gator Rentals has rented and sold top-notch industrial, commercial and residential equipment to industry, contractors and homeowners. Although the bulk of their business is conducted here in Southwest Louisiana and the Golden Triangle area of Texas, the firm has also provided equipment and products for customers as far away as even Michigan and Maryland. RGR focuses on providing quality machinery and superior customer care.
Their philosophy is simple: They serve people who are wise enough to not shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars on machinery and often inferior equipment that they’ll only use a handful of times. RGR is the smart choice for Hotsy pressure washers, trash pumps, displacement pumps, pressure washer accessories, generators, Hammelmann tank cleaners (3Ds), Hammelmann 10k and 20k units, pull behind hydro-excavation units, pull behind vacuum units and much more.
When the pandemic hit last March, this Sulphur company, like many, could’ve sat back on COVID and recouped financial losses via insurance. “That’s not in our nature at all,” says co-owner Lonnie Regan. “We knew we would see an instant decline in business from industries, so we decided to invest our time and money to focus on the residential market.”
This proved to be a very smart move, as most people were staying at home and looking for things to do while in lockdown. “We were working 16-hour days delivering equipment all over Louisiana over to New Orleans and all over Southeast Texas. We stayed busy and picked up a lot of new clients as a result of the extra hard work and long hours,” Regan says.
Hurricane Laura caused minimal damage to the business. Their fence, like almost every single fence in the area, was blown down and the overhead doors on their new warehouse blew out. “We were extremely fortunate,” says Regan.
“We are also very proud that despite all of the adversity of 2020, we made sure that not even one of our great employees went without a paycheck,” says co-owner Terry Regan.
After Laura, the company made a quick decision to again reinvest into new equipment that would aid the local community in post-hurricane recovery efforts, purchasing more generators, skid steer loaders, decontamination equipment and more. This decision again paid dividends, as the Regans worked very hard to help get the local community back up and running by providing the quality equipment choices they needed to bounce back from the storm.
As many area industrial projects were put on hold due to the pandemic and then the hurricanes, the industrial side of business was gradually coming back up.
The Regans remain undeterred. “We’ve been working twice as hard and will continue to do so as the level of business continues to get closer and closer to normal. Industries are picking back up, and we expect to see record levels of business as we continue into the second half of 2021 and into 2022,” says Lonnie.
Terry echoed that sentiment and added, “It’s truly an honor to serve the great people of Southwest Louisiana.”
Renaître is a word that means “to be reborn,” and their business name makes perfect sense, as they are the number one choice for botox and dermal fillers in Lake Charles. They are one of the first local aesthetic practices with a strong desire to empower women and bring out their inner strength and confidence.
Renaître joined the Williamson Cosmetic Center & Perenack Aesthetic Surgery group in March 2020, with other locations in Baton Rouge, Gonzales and opening soon in Lafayette later this year. Together, they are in the Top 50 out of 35,000 aesthetic practices in the nation for Allergan the maker of Botox and Juvederm. The Lake Charles team consists of Hannah Grogan, FNP, Kara Babaz, FNP, and Morgan Fairchild, RN, BSN. Their services showcase their expertise in botox, fillers, facial rejuvenation, non-surgical skin tightening, laser treatments and hair restoration.
When the pandemic hit, Renaître was closed from seeing patients in-office for eight weeks. The pandemic was a very trying and uncertain time for everyone, including Renaître’s employees and customers. The company found ways to stay relevant and in touch with their patients via email and text communication, and social media became more important than ever. Although they could not treat patients in the clinic, Renaître kept up with their skin care needs with product pick-up and delivery or mail-service.
As soon as Renaître was able to reopen in May 2020, business immediately picked up where it left off in March and has been growing exponentially since reopening.
Renaître was closed another eight weeks due to Hurricane Laura and another week after Hurricane Delta due to lack of electricity and water. The company was very fortunate and did not sustain the massive physical damages that many other businesses did. However without electricity and running water, they could not safely return to work and provide medical treatments to patients during those time periods. In the aftermath of the storms, the internet outage throughout the Lake Charles area left the company unable to use their phones, computers or take payments. Thankfully, Renaître was able to access all patient information and to route calls from Lake Charles to their Baton Rouge call center seamlessly, which helped the company and their clients immensely.
The pandemic and hurricanes did not directly affect their number of employees.The growth of the business since reopening has allowed Renaître to double in size and hire additional employees.
Being a business that solely provides elective cosmetic treatments, there was initial uncertainty for the future after the pandemic and the devastation from the hurricanes. Fortunately, Renaître has been overwhelmed with community support and has experienced tremendous growth. “What we have found is that no matter what people are going through, they still desire to look and feel good. We are thrilled to be able to provide services that do exactly that,” says Hannah Grogan, FNP. The future looks extremely bright for Renaître.
Sabine Pools, Spas & Furniture
Sabine Pools was founded in 1975 by Houston Tassin, and is now owned by his sons Joey, Dean and David Tassin. Sabine Pools offers custom in-ground pools, above-ground pools, pool maintenance and repair, pool chemicals and supplies, spas and fine outdoor furniture. It services the I-10 corridor from Denham Springs to Vinton, with stores in Lake Charles, Lafayette (two stores), Gonzales and Baton Rouge.
Sabine Pools has repeatedly been named as a Top 100 company by Aqua magazine.
As an essential business involved in water sanitation, Sabine Pools did not close during the pandemic. The company saw an increased volume in pool construction and sales of hot tubs, patio furniture and above-ground pools due to the large number of people who were forced to stay home. During this time, Sabine Pools offered curbside water testing and supply pickup services that were extremely popular.
Business continued to grow throughout the summer, and the business was only closed for the hurricanes during landfall days, as damage to their retail locations was very minimal.
COVID and the hurricanes combined to create new and continuing demand, higher sales and the necessity for repairs to existing pools along with a nice compliment of new pool installations. Due to the high volume and demand, customers are waiting a little longer than usual for new pool builds and service.
Many products are delayed and some are temporarily unavailable due to raw material shortages and manufacturing and shipping delays due to the global pandemic.
The Tassins are looking forward to an improving supply chain to alleviate these nationwide issues, and are very thankful for the patience and understanding of their loyal customers as the company works through the record-setting demand and rigorous work schedules.
Ray Dingler and Thelma Manuel Dingler founded Solar Supply in 1954 in Lake Charles. Solar Supply is a wholesale distributor of air conditioning, heating, ventilation and refrigeration equipment, parts and supplies. The company distributes products from hundreds of vendors throughout North and South America to thousands of customers. The company has received numerous awards and continues to grow year after year.
Solar Supply has three operations in Lake Charles: its corporate office at 1212 12th St., its warehouse at 3935 Hwy. 90 E., and the sales outlet at 317 E. LaGrange St.
When the pandemic hit, Solar Supply initially adjusted by closing their offices to non-workers, employees masked up and social-distanced and they accepted only call-in orders. As many of Solar’s customers are wholesalers, the company condensed the usual several smaller orders for many customers into one larger order as a means to reduce contact.
In addition to Louisiana, Solar Supply has locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi and Florida, which meant dealing with the different pandemic protocols for each state. As an example, Texas was stricter than Louisiana was in the early stages. Adapting to each state’s changing protocols was a challenge that Solar Supply overcame. They also closed their offices at 2pm during this time and coordinated in-office work and working-from-home to minimize contact. The company remained incredibly busy during this time.
The corporate office suffered minimal damage from Hurricane Laura. However, their sales outlet on LaGrange Street had to be gutted due to heavy damage. LaGrange office personnel were temporarily moved to their 12th Street corporate office and remained working there until the rebuilt LaGrange location opened back up in April 2021. Their warehouse on Hwy. 90 suffered all-too-typical hurricane damage: roll-up doors blown off, roof damage, etc.
Several employees, whose homes were badly damaged or destroyed, were commuting from as far away as Lafayette. Following Laura, the company scrambled to set up generators to power the business and quickly acquired and set up AT&T Nighthawk hot spots, which they had up and running within a week after Laura.
Thanks to the company’s ability to pivot and adjust quickly to circumstances beyond their control, the firm stayed very busy throughout 2020 as they rapidly shifted as much of their business online as they could early on. This helped them a great deal after the storms, despite having no internet service other than hotspots for a four-to-five month period.
The future outlook is phenomenal. Many people are still replacing damaged or destroyed air conditioning units. The company is currently navigating some disruptions in the global supply chain, but thankfully, this has not affected the most popular units, only more random special order items.
Solar Supply is confident the supply chain issues will be rectified soon. Other than the minimal supply chain glitch, it’s back to business as usual and full speed ahead for Solar Supply.
The company is heavily invested in all geographic areas of the state, with operations in Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Denham Springs, Gonzales, Gretna, Jefferson, Hammond, Houma, LaPlace, Lafayette, Leesville, Mandeville, Monroe, Natchitoches, New Iberia, Opelousas, Ruston, Shreveport and Slidell.
The company has 33 sales locations in Texas, two in Alabama, one in Arkansas, seven in Mississippi and one in Florida. Solar Supply distributes HVAC products from dozens and dozens of the top brands available on the market.
Southland Coins & Collectibles
Southland Coins adjusted well to the sudden pandemic lockdown last year. Owner Malcolm Self sent his employees home and continued to pay them as he worked alone seven days a week from the business for over a month as he conducted phone and internet business. In fact, 99% of Southland Coins’ business is internet-driven and via mail order.
In addition to the missed month due to COVID, Southland Coins closed for two months due to the hurricanes. In spite of the large volume of missed time, business was up 100%, doubling their volume from 2019 and nearly tripling their business from 2018. 2021 has Southland Coins continuing their unprecedented growth.
“We make no bones about it: We serve a fear-driven market, as many people purchase precious metals as a form of a financial insurance policy. Fearful buying always rises along with the Cboe Volatility Index (VIX),” says Self. (VIX measures volatility in real-time, and how fast prices change. It is seen as a way to gauge market sentiment, and in particular the degree of fear among market participants.)
“Fearful buying rises in conjunction with the Volatility Index, which has been off of the charts for the past year especially,” says Self.
The company also added an employee last year to help keep up with ever-increasing volume. “We were also truly blessed that none of our employees contracted COVID,” stated Self.
“What’s remarkable is that for the first time in our history, we have had to occasionally turn down business. Some of that is due to the elusive availability of specific products and some precious metals. In spite of that, based on strong indications from the first part of 2021, and based on the political climate in the United States and abroad, we fully expect to continue to grow exponentially,” Self says.
Self founded Southland Coins in 1985 as a home-based operation. It was incorporated in 1987, and moved to its Lake St. location in 2009, doubling the business’ square footage. The store sells gold, coins and other collectibles worldwide.
Stine Home + Yard
Stine was founded as Starlin Construction Co. in 1946 in Sulphur by J.W. Stine and his high school friend, J.C. Carlin, upon their return from the the second World War as decorated combat pilots. After six years in the construction industry, they went their separate ways, and Stine went into the retail lumber business as a supplier for residential building contractors.
Beginning in 1966, all six of Stine’s sons joined Starlin Lumber. In the 1970s, small local lumber yards were being replaced by home center megastores, and Stine embraced the concept, opening a 10,000-square-foot store in Sulphur. New stores were added in DeRidder and Lake Charles. Stine’s sons took over the business in the early ‘80s, and by 2000, the company had grown to include 10 stores. Stine again met the challenge from big-box stores head-on, adding a much larger showroom, a garden center and drive-through lumber yard.
The company has 10 locations in Louisiana, and a store in Natchez, Miss. Stine is ranked among the top home improvement centers in the nation and is one of the area’s top employers.
When the pandemic hit, Stine, like everyone else, didn’t know what to expect even though they are deemed an essential business. As an employer with far more than 500 employees, the company was not eligible for PPP funding. Despite that, the company raised hourly workers’ wages by $2 an hour and added an extra $100 a week to all salaried employees’ pay. “We know that adds up quickly and is a lot of money, but we wanted to demonstrate to our employees that we understood what they were going through during that stressful time, and we wanted them to know that we appreciate their commitment and work ethic,” says Dennis Stine. If any Stine associate contracted COVID, or even if they were forced to miss work due to being quarantined due to a family member contracting COVID, the company made sure they didn’t miss a paycheck. The company kept this commendable policy in effect all the way through May of this year,
The company’s level of business really took off during the pandemic, as many people who were working remotely engaged in numerous home improvement projects, and Stine’s hard-working employees handled the surge in business extremely well.
In regards to Hurricane Laura, Dennis says, “our motto for hurricanes and severe weather is simple: Stine will be the last business to close before a storm, and the first business to open following a storm.” In fact, after Laura struck, Stine incredibly reopened at noon the following day. Seven of Stine’s stores were damaged by Laura, and the Lake Charles location suffered the worst damage. The roof was peeled off and blown into the parking lot. The morning after the storm, they pushed the roof out of the way so they could reopen. They moved into an immediate drive-through mode of operation and smartly prioritized and staged products according to relevant and immediate needs of the community. They pre-staged gas cans, electrical products and generators, and sold well over 10,000 generators following the hurricanes.
As roughly two-thirds of their corporate offices were taken down from Laura, they had 22 employees occupying the remaining one-third of office space while 25 other office employees worked off site and remotely for nearly seven months, not returning to the corporate office until this May.
Due to being in business for so long and having dealt with previous hurricanes, the company has a detailed pre- and post-hurricane plan that worked to perfection following Laura. They had 25 to 30 employees from their Lafayette, Baton Rouge and Natchez, Miss. stores come to work in Lake Charles to facilitate that store reopening as quickly as it did, and that’s why they were able to have products staged so quickly to address the needs of the community following the devastation.
Stine also moved in two camper trailers for associates coming in from outlying stores, some of which remained here for 40 days. They were also able to secure lodging for these employees, who commuted daily from Vidor, Lafayette and other locations. As no restaurants were open at the time, the company also fed all of their employees every day on-site through the end of October.
About 10 years ago, the company created the Stine Employee First Program, which was set up through the Baton Rouge Community Foundation, which also serves the Lake Charles area. Employees and vendors could donate to this fund, which was designed to provide $500 immediate grants for employees in need, and also provides larger amounts to employees as needed. “It’s a phenomenal program,” says Dennis. “It’s now been adopted by companies across the country, even as far away as California. We’re very proud of the program and how it has worked so well for our valuable associates.”
As a result of their diligent pre-planning for hurricanes, Stine’s revenue for 2020 was up 50%, becoming a record year for the company, and 2021 will easily be yet another record year for the company.
“We are extremely proud of our associates,” Dennis says. “Our team members and all of our employees poured their heart and soul into working hard during all of the stress of last year, and all to support our great community.”
Truck N Trailer Equipment Co.
Truck N Trailer has been putting trucks back onto the road and back into business since 1969. The company’s highly trained technicians understand how important trucks are to businesses, and they offer the best and most reliable service in the industry to keep their customers’ trucks running like new.
As an essential business, TNT stayed open throughout the pandemic and didn’t experience loss of business due to the pandemic, and not one employee contracted COVID.
Owners Fred and Jerry Naegele rode out Hurricane Laura in Westlake so they could immediately assess damage and identify needed repairs at the business quickly. It’s a good thing they did, as a large billboard between their facility and I-10 was blown down and went directly through the 3,000-square-foot parts showroom the company recently built. “Bubba Oustalet had a bird’s-eye view of our showroom,” says Fred Naegele. The business was without power and remained closed for two weeks following Laura.
Hurricane Delta’s heavy rainfall, and TNT’s proximity to a water pumping station left two inches of rain throughout their entire facility, and the business closed again for another week to clean up and mitigate the damage.
TNT usually employs around 33 people, but due to the hurricanes, they currently have 25 employees. Several of their employees are still displaced from the storms as area rental property is scarce and expensive.
As of late April of 2021, eight months after Hurricane Laura, TNT had yet to receive any insurance money to pay for damages and destroyed inventory.
Truck N Trailer offers a wide variety of services, from routine maintenance to major repairs — suspension work, collision repair, hydraulic work, and mechanical and electrical repairs. The company’s parts and accessories warehouse is always well stocked, which means in-house installations and reduced downtime. They also offer an on-site fabrication shop.
Turnaround Consulting Services, LLC
Turnaround Consulting has been providing consulting services in all areas and phases of turnaround and new construction projects since its founding in 2008. The company has the resources to provide restart assessments on idled facilities that are being considered for re-commissioning. One of the tools the company uses is its Turnaround Database, which allows them to plan and execute a turnaround of any size or budget.
In 2011, Turnaround Consulting Services (TCS) was reorganized as an LLC to become an employer. At that time, the company was supplying consulting services to petrochemical facilities. In 2014, it expanded to provide services to the refining segment.
As TCS was already set up to be able to work remotely, adjustments to the initial COVID lockdown were minimal. For Hurricane Laura, the business, located in Sulphur, took on some water due to roof damage, which was quickly mitigated and the roof was repaired. However, several employees lost their homes or sustained extreme damage to their homes.
Owner Kirk Burch immediately had a crew come in from Texas at his own expense to assist employees with whatever they needed in the hurricane aftermath, whether it be installing blue roofs, cleaning up downed trees, etc. Burch himself was out helping employees, even to the point of wiring generators into their homes to restore power. Although he had sustained damages to his own home, Burch put his employees first before tending to his own damages.
As a result, TCS shifted back into a normal workflow quickly after the storms. The company’s ability to easily pivot to working remotely proved to be a blessing for the business, as was the fact that damage from Hurricane Delta to the business was basically non-existent.
Due to the pandemic and the hurricanes, many of TCS’s clients postponed several projects that were slated for 2020 until 2021. This year has seen the firm playing catch up on these projects, and the company has also added several new clients to their portfolio. TCS used the unexpected downtime during 2020 to become better organized and even more efficient.
Being consultants instead of laborers, most of the company’s regular client contracts continued unabated, as most of TCS’s work is performed off-site anyway. TCS expects this year to continue to be incredibly busy, and the firm expects 2022 to be another record-setting year, judging by some of the large-scale projects already slated and pre-scheduled for next year.
United Office Supply
United Office Supply, located in Sulphur, was purchased in January of 1989 by Carolyn Chitty, who has built the store into one of the largest locally owned office supply stores in Calcasieu Parish. In the spring of 2018, United Office Supply moved in to their all-new, state-of-the-art location at 4005 Maplewood Dr. in Sulphur (next to their old location). The expanded showroom in the spacious, beautiful new facility allows for more display items and a greater selection of quality products than ever before. The company sells office supplies and furniture, office machines, copier and computer supplies, janitorial supplies, promotional products, printing, rubber stamps (same day), business cards, fine leather gifts and much more.
When the pandemic hit, Carolyn immediately went outside of her normal supply chain and quickly located a myriad of COVID supplies for customers, such as toilet paper, disinfectant sprays and wipes, hand sanitizer, masks and gloves. Employees were intially sent home for one week, just to be safe. Many typical office supplies were not purchased during this time, but UOS’s success at quickly locating pandemic supplies filled the gap. Business picked back up again during the summer.
UOS’s 16,000 square-foot building is incredibly strong, so Carolyn rode out the storm there during the wild night of Hurricane Laura’s landfall, which dealt the business a cracked window and blown-in warehouse roll-up doors. She witnessed the destruction of their Last Chance Showroom (which was next door to their new building). Amazingly, UOS’s main showroom was back up and running just a week after Laura hit.
Carolyn’s home on Moss Lake sustained some hurricane damages, and luckily, kept it’s streak alive of never, ever flooding, not even during Hurricane Delta. However, Carolyn had to live at the business for months while insurance was settled and repairs were made to her home. The only damage at the business from Hurricane Delta was a couple of doors that were blown off into the parking lot, but the doors didn’t even break.
To replace their popular Last Chance Showroom, UOS recently purchased property adjacent to the west side of their showroom and is building a new, 6,300 square-foot air-conditioned, warehouse-style showroom.
Business returned to near-mormal levels by the end of the year, and 2021 is off to a great start, as many businesses are still replacing a large amount of office furniture. The office supplies side of the business is also picking up steam as more and more businesses reopen and rebuild. Carolyn is proud of her employees and customers for handling all of the unexpected adversity with a can-do attitude, and is looking forward to a strong finish to the year and many more years of continued success.
The staff of United Office Supply pride themselves on quick, personal service and the company also offers free local delivery.