By Ken Ryan The winter storm and cold snap that led to interruptions and closures for flooring retailers and distributors across Texas and Oklahoma is one for the history books. And while the electrical grid’s shortcomings received the majority of headlines, for the flooring industry the big story was frozen pipes—which usually means considerable business down the road.
The Southwest big freeze that left dozens of Texans dead, millions without power and nearly 15 million with water issues could be the costliest disaster in state history, officials said, potentially exceeding the $125 billion in damage from Hurricane Harvey. All 254 Texas counties were impacted in some way by the freeze, according to the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas. In Oklahoma, a state of emergency was declared for its 77 counties as damage estimates were being tallied for what government officials called a “once in a lifetime storm.”
Tracking the toll
The mid-February Southwest big freeze and weather onslaught won’t soon be forgotten by flooring professionals who lived it. Like most businesses in Houston, Roberts Carpet & Fine Floors, with nine area locations, was closed from Sunday, Feb. 14, through Thursday, Feb. 18. “Even had it not been so dangerous to get on the roads, we had no power, no heat, no phones, no computers, no internet and no running water,” said Sam Roberts, owner. “We have some burst pipes to fix in our stores, homes and buildings, but everything is currently under control. We know we lost a week of sales and installations.”
Similar stories were shared elsewhere in Texas and Oklahoma. “The massive cold front that hit Texas shut down the state and cost us a week of business,” said Gary Touchton, general manager of Venetian Blind and Carpet One Floor & Home in Houston. Meanwhile, the bad weather forced My Flooring Texas, located in Denton, to close its facilities for about three days, according to Kelby Frederick, co-CEO.
The disruption was even more severe for Tony Fry, owner of CarpetsPlus ColorTile Winnsboro. He lost seven days of production from the installation technicians and five days of sales because they were unable to open the store. “We were already booked three weeks, so we just made phone calls to move the whole schedule [forward] one week,” he said. “Most every customer was understanding about the schedule changes because they, too, had lived through the storm.”
In hard-hit Oklahoma, the heavy amount of snow forced Flooring America OKC, in Oklahoma City, to close for three days, which hampered sales activities. The same was true for two Tulsa-based businesses—Grigsby’s Carpet, Tile and Hardwood and Johnson Floor & Home. “The storm hit us negatively at first,” said Penny Carnino, COO of Grigsby’s. “We had pipes that burst and, of course, customers didn’t get out due to snow and ice and extreme cold for Oklahoma.”
Palmer Johnson, vice president, Johnson Floor & Home, said the winter weather forced him to close its stores for two days because the roads were not readily passable. “The cold weather caused a big dip in traffic,” he told FCNews. “However, it appears the recent warm weather has people back out shopping.”
Flooring distributors whose routes were impacted by the Southwest big freeze did what they could to stay safe. For example, Carrollton, Texas-based Adleta, a Top 20 distributor, was closed from Feb. 15-17 but reopened on Feb. 18. Its Little Rock, Ark., warehouse was closed the entire week. “We were fortunate that, because of COVID-19, we already have many of our employees working remotely,” said John Sher, president. “We did keep our customer service and credit department open. Unfortunately, when our power is out at the Dallas warehouse, our phone system to our remote workers goes out as well. So, that service was intermittent as Dallas was under rolling blackouts. We did have some employees go without power for three days, and many were under water-boil edicts. There was some heavy toll on some members of the team.”
Adleta, as well as other distributors, sent out letters to customers offering special extended terms and cancellation of order services if needed during the crisis.
Preparing for a business boom
As so often happens after a natural disaster, flooring retailers expect to be busy replacing floors in their respective markets after the Southwest big freeze. Most of the time there is a lag between the moment the storm takes place and when insurance adjusters can assess the damage. However, in this case, some retailers are already getting busy.
“We are having a burst of business from all the frozen pipe damage to businesses and homes,” Carnino said. “You hate for people to have damage, but it is the silver lining, I suppose, to the nasty weather we had; at least those things can be repaired.”
CarpetsPlus ColorTile’s Fry said that when he reopened, he was immediately swarmed by customers whose houses flooded and needed new flooring. “I think we will catch up on already sold jobs in time to take care of the new business because it will take insurance companies and adjusters some time to process all the claims,” he explained. “My main worry is that there will not be enough flooring materials in the pipeline from the manufacturers because we were already experiencing backorders as a result of the COVID-19 shutdowns.”
Similarly, Roberts said the additional business he is expecting “will be limited by our capability to install what we can sell in a timely manner. Most of our business is for product that we install. We don’t have a lot of excess installation capacity. We have always purposefully married our installation capacity to our sales capability. We can’t keep quality installers if we can’t provide daily work.”