Working through storms is nothing new at hardware stores, where people turn to batten down the hatches as a storm approaches and to repair the damage when skies clear.
But rarely has a storm threatened so much of the country at one time as Sandy, stretching from Canada to Florida, from Lake Superior to the Atlantic.
Fortunately, employees at Do it Best started planning more than a week ago for the complex work of getting generators, flashlights, batteries, propane and other emergency supplies to the customers who need them.
“We started monitoring this storm before it grabbed the fancy of the media,” said John Snider, vice president of retail logistics for Do it Best, headquartered in Fort Wayne. Do it Best is a hardware-store cooperative with more than 4,000 member stores. Snider said the company's interests were involved long before Monday. “We have a significant number of members in the Caribbean,” he noted.
The heart of the distribution effort was a pair of warehouses on the East Coast – one in Montgomery, N.Y., the other near Columbia, S.C. Through long experience, the company has learned what kind of supplies customers want and need in a disaster, what supplies to stock as a storm threatens, and what supplies are needed for cleanup and repairs.
The volume of material shipped to these warehouses – and from the warehouses to hardware stores – was huge. The surge in buying began Friday, normally a slow day at Do it Best headquarters and warehouses. It continued Saturday and Sunday. Normally headquarters isn't even staffed on weekends, but Snider said a crew of fewer than 10 people at the corporate HQ kept shipments flowing to the East Coast warehouses. They did as much business from the warehouses each weekend day as they typically do on weekdays. Individual Do it Best stores were sometimes sending trucks to the warehouses two or three times each of those days, restocking on the most crucial supplies.
The company had to use its usual drivers to haul inventory as well as contract drivers. And sometimes Snider had to improvise.
“I got a call around 9 o'clock Friday night from the factory in Wisconsin where they make our generators,” he remembered. “They said they had generators, but no driver.”
Snider found a driver at a Do it Best warehouse in Ohio and sent him to Wisconsin to pick up the load of generators.
One problem Snider hasn't faced in the storm: stores with unsold inventory to return.
“We encourage our members not to speculate,” he said.