Flooring sector feels impact of Florence

Home Inside FCNews Flooring sector feels impact of Florence

September 17/24, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 7

By Ken Ryan

Hurricane Florence’s massive flooding through the Southeast caused record-breaking floods in North Carolina and also impacted neighboring states, including Virginia, where a Florence-spawned tornado leveled a flooring retail store and killed a supervisor who was trying to help other employees.

The impact from the Sept. 14 hurricane was still being felt a week later in North Carolina as cresting rivers continued to endanger hundreds of thousands of residents. “People are going through a nightmarish situation right now down here, there is so much devastation,” said Russ Barringer, owner/president of Dealer Supply Company, a Durham, N.C.-based flooring distributor with extensive interests in eastern North and South Carolina. “We had these floods two years ago with Hurricane Matthew, and some people still haven’t recovered from that. A lot of these people don’t have flood insurance and won’t be able to rebuild.”

For Dealer Supply, as well as top 20 distributors such as Haines, William M. Bird and Elias Wilf—each with business operations in the affected areas—the biggest issue was service disruptions caused by persistent flooding and impassible roads, including I-95 and I-40, the latter being a major artery that connects to Wilmington, one of the hardest hit areas.

Barringer, who described Wilmington as “an island surrounded by water,” said his eastern North Carolina rep (who lives in Wilmington) evacuated to Raleigh prior to the storm but has been unable to return because so many roads remained closed or impassible.

Widespread damage

Storm damage was not confined to the Carolinas. In Midlothian, Va., near Richmond, an EF-2 tornado packing winds of 120 mph flattened Old Dominion Floor Co., a flooring dealer. Sadly, the twister killed long-time employee Ronnie Bishop, a supervisor of the hardwood flooring division for Old Dominion.

According to published reports, an employee at Old Dominion Floor saw the funnel cloud approaching and alerted colleagues. Bishop reportedly left his office and went into the warehouse to make sure everyone (there were 15 employees inside the store) moved inside to an attached office building. Bishop was the last person in the warehouse when the tornado hit. The 60-year-old was one of at least 36 people whose deaths were attributed to Florence.

“We are heartbroken that our customer, Old Dominion Floor, lost their business and one of their employees,” said Maybank Haygood, CEO of William Bird. “We are devastated for them and have been in contact with them.”

Haines was also a big customer of Old Dominion Floor. “No matter what we need to do to shore up our business and our customers’ business, it pales in the face of the loss that occurred in Richmond,” said Michael Barrett, president and CEO.  “Our people, our customers—that is what is most important to us.”

Florence was particularly wrenching for North Carolina native Hoy Lanning, senior CEO advisor at Haines, who noted that the cities of Wilmington, New Bern and Fayetteville are dealing with a devastating situation. “Cars can neither get in or out of Wilmington,” he stated. “Some folks are running out of food. Several groups like the Baptist Men’s Association have set up a 1,000-square-foot kitchen facility in Wilmington to prepare 20,000 meals per day. The volunteers have been amazing. It’s great to see people reach out to help others. We have many customers where their businesses and their personal homes are still under water.”

Barrett said the storm was very impactful to the Haines network, and he has taken various measures to ensure the company maintains outward facing communication related to the storm’s impact. “We have added a button on our homepage that will take customers, suppliers and associates to updates related to delivery and building status. We made sure we contacted and then followed up with our people and our customers to ensure they were well taken care of during and after the storm.”

Barrett said the distributor’s focus now is to provide help to anyone in need. “We have received several reports and videos of customers with severe storm damage to their businesses. We have our finance teams and our direct sales teams ready to aid in whatever way is needed.”

Charleston, S.C.-based William Bird, with coverage throughout the Southeast, halted deliveries to all areas that were in mandatory evacuation areas. However, as Sharon Higgins, marketing coordinator, explained, “Throughout the storm, our customer service was fully operating from locations throughout our territory as part of our storm preparedness plan.”

Jeff Striegel, president of Elias Wilf, said he has three retail accounts in Morehead City, N.C., an area that received more than 23 inches of rain and saw widespread damage from flooding. His company responded in the aftermath by sending supplies to his customers.

Dealer Supply also had retail accounts with losses, including Williams Carpet in Morehead City, which had its roof blown off and incurred extensive damage inside the store. A Carpet One Floor & Home dealer in hard-hit New Bern closed its business on Sept 12 in advance of the hurricane but reopened on Sept. 19. A message on the dealer’s Facebook page declared, “Carpet One Floor & Home of New Bern is open. Back in Business! Hurricane Florence can’t stop us from helping our customers!”

Barringer said it typically takes six to eight weeks in flood-ravaged areas before flooring goes into these damaged homes.

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