How the Home Improvement Industry Preps for a Monster Storm

(Bloomberg) -- Jennifer Thayer, a top manager at Lowe’s Co., has worked through so many hurricanes for the home improvement chain that coworkers kid her about the storms following her around.

Thayer, 44, has been employed by Lowe’s since 2004, starting as a store manager in Texas. In 2005, Katrina hit and she was pulled into duty one state over, in Louisiana, to help with the cleanup. She was working in Houston in 2008 when Hurricane Ike flooded the town, and became vice president of store operations in Florida, just in time for Matthew and Irma.

How the Home Improvement Industry Preps for a Monster Storm

Thayer now oversees stores in the Carolinas, a region threatened by Hurricane Florence, on a path to be the most intense to hit the state in 64 years. “Are you serious?” Thayer recalls her 6-year-old son saying. “Really mom, again?”

Welcome to the world of the home improvement employee working in America’s hurricane hotspots. For Lowe’s, along with rival Home Depot Inc., storms have a big-time financial impact. Shoppers will flood their stores before a storm for anything from batteries to generators to plywood to prepare for the mayhem ahead, and afterward for the tools and materials to fix their homes and businesses.

Storm-related revenue increased same-store sales for Lowe’s by 2 percentage points in the second half of 2017, when Harvey hit the Houston area, devastating whole sections of the city, and Irma hit Florida. As a percentage of total sales, that equates to a boost of more than $600 million.

Florence may bring as much as a 0.6 percentage point sales boost in the second half of the year for both Home Depot and Lowe’s, according to Consumer Edge Research.

Late last week, as Florence strengthened, Lowe’s began shipping supplies to the region, and by Tuesday afternoon, 750 trucks loaded with supplies had been deployed. “I’ve seen it go from semi-calm to volatile overnight, as we get ready for these storms,” Thayer said by telephone from the company’s headquarters in Moorseville, North Carolina. “The intensity is picking up.”

Command Centers

Both chains have opened their command centers to track Florence and coordinate delivery of goods to the areas in its path. This hurricane will hit especially close to home for Lowe’s, with its headquarters about 30 miles north of Charlotte. The company so far doesn’t have plans to close its corporate campus.

Lowes also has a handful of stores in Wilmington, North Carolina, a port city of 119,000 people in the southeast corner of the state that could take an almost direct hit, according to an 11 a.m. update from the U.S. Hurricane Centers.

“You can feel that panic feeling in the Wilmington market,” Thayer said.

Lowe’s is keen to re-open stores quickly because it knows there will be a ton of demand for supplies. That’s why it maintains hurricane relief teams throughout the year. These are employees who volunteer to work in a disaster area to fill in for colleagues who may have evacuated, or can’t get back to the store.

The company has activated this group, with 100 employees recruited from inland North Carolina cities such as Asheville and Hickory. If needed, they’ll come from nearby states like Tennessee and Florida and stay for weeks.

“I’ve gotten pretty good at this pre- and post-storm event,” Thayer said. “It’s an unfortunate situation.”

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