Widespread power outages, wind damage, and flooding affected dealers up and down the East Coast last month when Hurricane Sandy made landfall. As dealers asses the damage and begin to address customer needs, a few of our sister magazines have been at work talking to their remodeler and contractor readers in the areas affected to get a sense of the scope of the damage and what the rebuild process will entail.
The Journal of Light Construction looked at the post-storm situations in Long Island; Elizabeth, N.J.; the Jersey Shore; and coastal Connecticut. Plus, one writer questions whether surge barriers or other "soft infrastructure" proposals would protect the city from flooding in future storms. And Remodeling magazine reports on hurricane-response best-practices that you can share with your remodeling customers as well as how to protect your data before the next natural disaster. And one New Jersey remodeler offers a first-hand account of damage to his properties and how he's ramping up his operations to meet the rising demand for his services.
Here's our recap of how the dealer community was affected. Did we miss something? Let us know.
Monday, Nov. 5:
On Long Island, Islandia, N.Y.-based distributor Sherwood Lumber said it will donate $10,000 to The Red Cross, Long Island Harvest, and Habitat for Humanity as well as match employee donations to any of these organizations. Customers who place orders with the company during the week of Nov. 5 will be recognized as having participated in the $10,000 donation.
Matt Kuiken, vice president of operations at Kuiken Brothers, which has nine locations throughout New York and New Jersey, said that in the days following the storm, invoicing was down to one-tenth of the prior week's activity. Since then, most of the yards' business has been repair-related. All nine locations were open last week, but closed early Monday and Tuesday to allow its 250-person staff to prepare for the storm and due to minimal business. As of Monday, two locations were still running on generator power but are able to connect with the network and process orders.
But the availability of gas and diesel remains an issue in his market. "We are beginning to see the pressure lift as more pump stations regain power and the roads are cleared for tankers to refill those stations that have been depleted," Kuiken said.
The stores were spared all but minimal structural and inventory damage and near-term demand from the local market is primarily repair-related, Kuiken said. Looking forward, he's anticipating increased demand from coastal communities serviced by his local builder customers. Establishing a timeline is difficult, he said, as the razed communities will likely rebuild under new, stronger building codes. "Nothing is getting repaired or rebuilding [in those communities] right now," he said. "It's going to be a few years. It's going to be a long rebuilding process and it's going to look a little different."
Prince Lumber in Manhattan (see Friday's report) is back to full operating capacity. "We are getting caught up with deliveries," said purchasing manager Mike Kurtz. "Power came back late Friday. On Saturday a few people came in and got the computers back up and the store organized."
Do it Best Corp.'s marketing director Randy Rusk told ProSales that his members have primarily been selling products such as tarps, flashlights, batteries, water pumps, cleaning supplies, and generators, but they expect demand to shift toward the company's building materials segment as contractors and homeowners assess damage and review insurance claims. "This isn't the first time we've seen a hurricane come and go," he said. "[For us,] a button gets pressed where we go into bad-weather mode. ... There was a day or two when we were just moving supplies around so they were at the areas we thought were going to be the areas hardest hit." In the coming weeks, however, ensuring the availability of products such as OSB, drywall, and roofing—many of which are already on allocation—could be difficult as demand surges in coastal New England, he said.
The company was able to make deliveries during the early phases of the storm, Rusk said, but he acknowledges that a handful of locations were short shipments. "As long as the roads were open, we were running trucks out," he said. "We only stopped delivering when the state highway patrol shut the highway down."
Friday, Nov. 2:
Kate Weissmann, member sales manager at ENAP, said many of the buying group's New Jersey and New York members are still without power but remain open. "[The independents] are champing at the bit to help neighbors and are trying to maintain that role of a community business, even if they are handwriting tickets," she said. "They are doing what they have to do."
How the storm's fallout will affect pricing and availability is becoming the key concern, she says, as dealers' focus shifts from making their business operable to filling contractors' repair orders. And whether it will stunt industry optimism borne from recent positive housing forecasts is yet unknown.
"Everybody felt really optimistic about business in general," she said. "Things have started to look up. Our industry was trending in the right direction, and hopefully we stay the course ... But some of our guys feel like they lost a week's worth of business and you can't make that up."
Prince Lumber in Manhattan was operating with half its staff, no power, and making 10% of the sales it normally does as of Friday afternoon, purchasing manager Mike Kurtz said. The yard is located south of the 39th Street power cutoff and isn't likely to have power until Saturday. That hasn't kept Prince from taking orders and making deliveries since Tuesday—although the 21 deliveries made so far represent a significant cut to the yard's average of 100 deliveries per day, Kurtz said.
Limited access to gasoline is forcing Kurtz to cut back the time his trucks spend making deliveries. "It's just been pitch black because we are working by flashlight and pen and paper," he said. "We can't even get gasoline. There are only about 20 gas stations up and down Manhattan and the ones that have gas have lines that are hours long."
The sales desk is only taking credit orders from familiar customers or those who have existing accounts—the rest, including walk-in customers looking for flashlights, batteries, mops and other cleanup supplies are encouraged to pay cash, he said. The facility was spared flood and wind damage and Kurtz expects Prince to return to full operating capacity Monday.
Still, many dealers and distributors report that the storm neither caused damage nor did it disrupt operations. Barry Russin, president of Montgomery, N.Y.-based distributor Russin Lumber, told ProSales that the yard did not lose power or its phone connection and that its staff is ready to assist area dealers who were impacted more significantly. "We're here to help," he said.
Thursday, Nov. 1:
David Garrett, executive director at the Eastern Building Material Dealers Association, said Thursday that his market "dodged a major bullet" as the wind speeds and flooding levels fell below anticipated levels. "A handful of dealers along the Jersey Shore and down by Cape May (N.J.) escaped serious reprocussions from the storm," Garrett said. "I have other dealers further north who have had significant damage," he said, adding that a few are unable to access their yards due to flooding.
The eight-person staff at Marine Lumber and Piling in Barnegat, N.J., was sitting around, playing cards, and waiting for their marine-contractor customers to be allowed back on the nearby barrier islands to survey the flooding and wind damage and to begin placing orders, sales team member Charlie Pritchard told ProSales. The yard was closed through Wednesday, opening Thursday on generator power.
What will post-storm demand entail? "It's too early to tell," Pritchard said. "[Contractors] don't know what they need if they can't get on the island." Although Pritchard doesn't expect to sell much marine lumber and hardware for a few weeks, he says he'll be ready when activity picks up.
"I knew the storm was coming from Saturday on," he said. "I ordered—I don't know how many—trailers of lumber. I would use it anyway. I just ordered trailers and trailers of lumber."
ProBuild's Brooklyn, N.Y., location remains closed and company officials said the storm impacted operations at seven locations across New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, three of which operated without power Wednesday.
Allied Building Products' corporate office in East Rutherford, N.J., remained closed Thursday due to damage.
Telford, Pa.-based Shelly Lumber's sustainable building coordinator T.C. Feick said the yard remained open and fully operational through the storm but due to high winds that downed power lines across the company's southeastern Pennsylvania market many roads are impassable, cutting off access to some smaller communities. Unlike the coastal areas, his market was spared significant flooding but he says customers are looking for products such as generators, extension cords, tarps, chainsaws to undo wind damage.
Angelo Quattrocchi, general manager at Bristol, Pa.-based Construction Building Materials, told ProSales that he and his team "certainly feel like we got off easy." The store closed Monday at 3 p.m. and reopened Wednesday morning without power. The sales desk wrote paper orders in the morning before hooking up a generator to one computer terminal and the server to begin processing sales. The store's power returned by noon Wednesday.
And he's aware of the role independent dealers play as "one of the gathering points" in the community following a destructive storm.
"All the township workers and contractors are coming in for supplies to help with the recovery and sometimes it’s a spot where many get their news when there is no other way to get it," he said. "We have just decided we are investing in an emergency system generator so we can operate faster and more efficiently than before. It may not do every outlet in the store, but if we go out, we can still raise the garage doors, run the computers, and have some lights on."
Wednesday, Oct. 31:
84 Lumber was forced to close seven of its stores across Delaware, New Jersey, and Long Island, N.Y., on Tuesday, while another 19 stayed open without power, phone service, or other amenities. All stores opened Wednesday, although six lacked power and phone service as of Wednesday morning. “We stayed open as long as we could and opened as quickly as we could,” 84’s vice president of marketing Jeff Nobers said. “We’ll ride it out here for the next few days … this is an epic event.”
The company’s facilities saw minimal damage and it hasn't had issues scaling up operations, Nobers said. “Obviously [there were] a lot of loads that didn’t go out in the past few days,” he said. “Today we have a lot of loads going out to construction sites. I’m told we have a fair amount of walk-in customers looking for tarps, plywood, nails.”
In Brooklyn, N.Y., the story is slightly different. The borough was largely spared the brunt of the storm, but for Meserole Lumber & Building Supplies’ manager Josh Levitt and his three-person staff, the storm’s wide-ranging effects across the city have made receiving and delivering products a challenge.
“Most of my suppliers not in the [immediate] area have no power,” he says. “They can’t make deliveries. I live in Long Island and I have no power. The building took no damage and it’s just that people are slow to get out there.”
Meserole planned to be closed on Monday, and Levitt has since been monitoring the situation to keep tabs on which roads and bridges are open to ensure that staff and customers can get to and from the yard safely. Levitt was not receiving deliveries as of Wednesday, and because the yard’s biggest suppliers are without power, he is not yet sure when they will.
“A lot of people are walking in like nothing happened and a lot of people are still in shock,” he said.
Keith Coleman, president at Hamilton (N.J.) Building Supply, said that while his yard has power and experienced minimal wind damage, downed trees and widespread power outages are stalling area deliveries. Coleman was able to secure 18 generators from distributor Orgill, all of which are pre-sold with a waiting list.
Ridgefield (Conn.) Supply opened Wednesday but was without phone service. Company officials say that high winds knocked out power to 90% of area homes and businesses. The facility did not experience damage.
Bob Sanford, president of Sanford & Hawley, which has locations in Connecticut and Massachusetts, said the company lost power for more than 24 hours but was able to access ordering software via iPad. The iPads are also equipped with a credit-card app to process orders in real time, he says. To improve operations during future power outages, Sanford said he plans to install a generator at one location to ensure that the company has a fully operational center.
US LBM CEO L.T. Gibson told ProSales that 17 of the company's locations across New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New York were impacted by the storm, some closing Monday and all closing Tuesday. The stores re-opened Wednesday with skeleton crews on site. Three of the locations–Millwood, N.Y.; UCC Truss in Branford, Conn.; and Manahawkin, N.Y.–were open but without power. The company is receiving orders and making deliveries out of all locations, except its Manahawkin branch due to flooding that is preventing product shipments.