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A small business owner’s advice after a disaster: Hire a public adjuster

The remains of Garrison’s Home store. (Handout)

The remains of Garrison’s Home store. (Handout)

The morning of Sept. 9 started out as any other for Brian Garrison, owner of Garrison’s Home and Garrison’s Sleep in Southern Oregon. Just a few hours later, he saw two of his four stores burned to the ground in a fire that swept through the Rogue Valley.

Fortunately, Garrison and his business are doing OK.

“We had just finished a massive remodel (of the two stores that burned) two weeks ago,” said Garrison. “The stores looked so good, and sales (after the COVID-19 shutdown) were starting to improve. The staff was so proud, and we had so much positive energy.”

Increasingly, small businesses are victims of natural disasters – whether it’s fires, hurricanes and tropical storms, floods, or blizzards. Emergency preparedness now needs to be part of your business plan.

“Every year when we’d sit down with my insurance agent, it felt like I was paying so much for something I’d never use,” said Garrison.

Like most small business owners, Garrison had little reason to expect such devastation. His businesses weren’t even in a fire-prone area.

“The devastation (was) unfathomable,” said Garrison, “I got to see the store site and see the ash and rubble, that’s all that’s left.”

He prepared his business for an emergency like this one, and took a step that few small business owners know about: Garrison hired a public adjuster.

Because of his insurance, Garrison is confident his business will recover, and he quickly turned to take care of his employees. He was able to keep all seven of his employees of the burnt-out stores on the payroll of his two other stores. He told them to take whatever time off they needed to handle personal issues.

Hiring a public adjuster

Fortunately, business owners who had gone through other disasters reached out to Garrison with a recommendation: hire a “public adjuster.” A public adjuster is a state-licensed professional hired by the insured party to help navigate the claims process.

“We work to make sure the insured gets paid everything they’re entitled to, help figure out what everything’s value is, whether it’s a total loss,” said Steve Severaid, Principal with Adjustors International.

Public adjusters handle all the financial paperwork and communication with the insurance company and are an independent party to talk through a business owner’s options.

“Without someone who knows all the ins and outs of how settlements get made, you (a business owner) tend to ask questions of (insurance company representatives) that might not be in the best interests of your claim,” added Severaid.

Garrison said that hiring a public adjuster frees him to focus on the future of his business rather than having to focus on insurance matters.

What can you learn from Garrison to help you both prepare for, and recover from, a natural disaster?

Even in the midst of his own loss, Garrison started a GoFundMe fire relief fund to help those who’d lost homes and did not have insurance. Garrison matched the first $15,000 in donations



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