It has been more than four months since Hurricane Katrina first slammed into the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, spawning historic evacuations of areas in Louisiana and Mississippi as apocalyptic destruction of homes and businesses coupled with inundating flood-waters and unfortunate lawlessness turned the region into a debris-strewn landscape of chaos and devastation, and pro dealers throughout the region are still pulling together and picking up the pieces as the struggle to rebuild and renormalize the tragedy-stricken areas continues.
“You can still take a ride down Highway 90 and look at that beach and you just wouldn't imagine,” says Steve Braun, vice president of Bailey Lumber and Supply in Gulfport, Miss., one of the hardest-hit areas. “It's pretty bad—everything that was within a mile of the coast was completely destroyed—it's all gone.” Even though Bailey had yards in Gulfport, Ocean Springs, and Bay St. Louis, Miss., that were severely hit, drastically affecting the ability to conduct business, and had nearly a third of its employee base left homeless by the storm, Braun considers his company lucky compared to the fortunes of many on the Gulf Coast. “Our sheds in Gulfport were destroyed, and the Bay St. Louis yard is just now getting back on line and reopening to normal business,” he says. “But we made an effort to get things open immediately after the storm, getting customers in one at a time for supplies including duct tape, gas cans, and PVC fittings for pumps. We were fortunate, to be completely honest.”
As Bailey struggled back to its feet in the days after the hurricane, other pro dealers hundreds of miles away were mustering forces to assist in relief efforts. “Coming into work the day after the hurricane and seeing all of that devastation, we knew we had to do something,” says Lou Hutchings, vice president of marketing for Maudlin, S.C.–based GBS Lumber. Leveraging his contacts within the Better Business Bureau, Hutchings helped collect a tractor trailer-load of food and supplies by noon on Aug. 31, and rode down with several other area businesses to a relief depot in Jackson, Miss., organized by Leisha Pickering, wife of congressman Charles Pickering (R-Miss.). “They were cheering us as the trucks rolled in,” Hutchings says. “It really gave me the goose bumps.”
Norcross, Ga.–based pro dealer Ply Mart assisted at a similar relief center in Picayne, Miss., running a 45-foot www.prosalesonline.com tractor and two box trucks full of food and other goods down in the days immediately after the hurricane. “We used a mounted forklift to unload our supplies and the supplies from other relief vehicles,” says senior vice president Bill Hofius. “We also brought down a grill and stayed for three days cooking hamburgers and hot dogs, and the general attitude of everyone while we were there was one of confidence and thankfulness. That's just an incredible spirit to have when you are up to your knees in busted houses.”
Ply Mart also encouraged customers to contribute to the American Red Cross and other relief agencies, joining perhaps thousands of dealers across the country that, although too far away to help logistically, made the effort to contribute financially to the national crisis. In conjunction with the U.S. Golf Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, 84 Lumber used a dollar-for-dollar match to raise a total of $1 million in spectator, sponsor, and player contributions collected during the 84 Lumber Classic golf tournament in September. In addition to the company match, 84 president Maggie Hardy Magerko made a personal donation of $42,450—an amount equal to half of the tournament winnings collected by 84-sponsored golf pros Vijay Singh and John Daly.
At press time, GBS Lumber was still conducting fund-raisers and sending additional truckloads of supplies down to the Gulf region. “We're concentrating on school supplies now and hay for the farmers,” says Hutchings. “We've sent down about 800 chairs, and boxes of chalk and pencils. So far we have had 12 tractor trailer loads head down to the relief center, and we've had 10 additional runs from the relief center out into affected areas.” GBS also teamed up with Clear Channel Communications to sponsor a two-day rock and blues benefit concert at Greenville's Handlebar night club.
Braun reports that all of the donations—both monetary and in kind—are having a positive effect in his area. “It's getting there. Our builders are definitely back in their subdivisions and building. There's still a shortage of Sheetrock, and I think we're really going to get busy with the framing here in the first quarter,” he says, adding that the recovery, though chaotic at times, has been rewarding and is keeping the community active. “If you have anything to do with building materials, construction, food service, or power down here, you are definitely busy, and I'd say you're going to be busy for some time.”