Hurricane Katrina was devastating. But somehow, out of chaos and destruction, Mike Massey managed to rebuild his store and throw his support behind New Orleans.
Perhaps that’s why Massey’s Professional Outfitters was chosen as this year’s overall SNEWS-Backpacker Retailer of the Year award winner, an honor Massey said instills great pride.
“I was blown away,” he said of his reaction upon hearing the news at the Retailer of the Year party at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2012. “I was literally drinking my beer and listening to everyone talk, and I knew when [Michael Hodgson] said 'Katrina' it was me, and I thought, ‘Oh God, I totally did not expect this.’”
Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans at the end of August 2005. Massey's flagship store was located Metairie, La. Like many other places the town was flooded, and water sat in the property for 30 days until Massey and his team of two were able to get in and see what they could do to fix it.
Though the damage to the store was significant, Massey didn’t see it as so terrible when compared to everything else that was happening in the area.
“When you experience coming into your neighborhood and every tree is on its side, and coming back into town and seeing the more memorable places destroyed, the store really didn’t seem that bad,” Massey said.
So he got to work. He and his team toiled without power or air-conditioning, and food was hard to get. They slept in Massey’s house every night and went to work rebuilding the store every morning. Forty-five days later the store was up and running. But there were no customers.
Back then, the Metairie store was the base of operations, but Massey decided he wanted to do something to support New Orleans, so he moved headquarters into one of the worst-hit neighborhoods.
“We were the first ones to move back into the neighborhood,” Massey said. “There were still floods. There was nothing. People thought we were crazy.”
There was an enormous amount of work to be done just to renovate the old (built in 1907) building where Massey decided to set up shop.
“The city rallied around us — somebody from the neighborhood who said, ‘We’re going to plant our flat right in the middle of where Katrina hit,’” Massey said. The statement was: “This is our element."
It took six months to get everything up and running and tweaks are ongoing. Plus, Massey has added a bicycling shop and is continually looking for ways offer more.
“We’re always looking for something that’s new and unique that’s going to get our customers excited,” Massey said.
Taking care of the family
When it comes right down to what makes Massey’s Professional Outfitters successful is the people, Massey said. “We’ve always been family.”
And one thing that makes that family loyal to Massey is that after Katrina, even when business was shut down and flooded out and no money was coming in, Massey still cut every one of his employees a regular paycheck.
“We were insured and we were able to pull ourselves up,” Massey said. “It was tough because we wanted to keep our commitment to our staff. Even though they weren’t working we needed to pay them.”
All of those family members who got that regular paycheck during Katrina are still with the business, Massey said.
And while it’s a family business that Massey has been in since he was little and returned to after pursuing a career in finance, he doesn’t know whether he wants to groom his own kids for it, mostly because it seems to be a calling more than anything else.
"It’s rewarding but in a way that’s rewarding for unique individuals,” Massey said. “I don’t think that it’s rewarding for everybody.”
For Massey, it’s rewarding to mingle with staff and customers and listen to what they have to say. The store, which still has the Metairie location, another in Baton Rouge and one in Covington, does not engage in flashy marketing or advertising to get customers, rather it focuses on relationship building.
“For us, the only thing that we’re really, truly passionate about,” Massey said, “is getting people outdoors.”