By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
PORT TREVORTON — Persistence, a belief in God, and the hard work of 77 employees have paid off for the owners of Keller Marine & RV — proving that not even a disastrous six-alarm fire on March 22, which burned down their warehouse housing millions of dollars of inventory, could destroy their spirit and determination to rebuild a successful and thriving business.
A new, 20,000-square-foot warehouse is being built on the site where the old one burned down. Meanwhile, a makeshift warehouse built over a parking lot now houses much of the inventory that is the core of the business — boat and recreational vehicle accessories.
Keller’s information technology crew was able to keep the company computers in working order throughout the crisis and by the Monday morning after the Friday fire, a new office area was established in one of several buildings that had been used as a conference center.
“Everyone was back at work the Monday,” said Michael Keller, a co-owner of the company along with his sister, Lori Morrow. “Those first few weeks, we worked 90 hours. Our employees were great. We’d all start at 4:30 a.m. and finish after midnight.”
The company usually fills its orders at a 95 percent rate, Keller said. “Immediately after the fire, our rate was 25 percent, it was dismal. Some people thought we’d go out of business. Our competitors said we were done. A lot of our own people even wondered if we were going to keep going. But our people pulled together.”
Keller said it never entered his mind to close the business down, one that his father started in 1958.
“My sister and I never gave a thought to quitting,” Keller said.
By June of this year, they had turned a corner and their fill rate was back to 95 percent.
“Still, it was a tough year, 2013,” Keller said. “Our business was down 7 percent. But considering all that happened we have felt real fortunate and blessed to be in the position we are in now. Next year, we want to be up and I think we can be. In many ways, due to the fire, we had to reinvent the business. But we did. You learn about crisis management in school, but until it happens it’s only book learning. In our situation, we had to do what we had to do to survive. And we did that. We survived.”
There were also lessons learned over the past year, Keller said.
“We have great people working for us, very dedicated,” he said. “But I think they also learned something about the Keller family as well and our commitment to this business and to this community.”