Help after hurricanes
As dealers and staff recover, focus shifts to building product pricing and availability
As Hurricane Harvey slammed Southeast Texas in late August, independent LBM dealers in the region did what they do best: They pulled up their boots and went to work. For employees of The Detering Company in Houston, going to work meant pitching in to help friends and colleagues. John Sewall was just about to start his new position as President and CEO of The Detering Company when the hurricane threatened to make landfall in the area. As he began the transition into his new role, he was helping both his new and former companies plan for loss of work hours and potential damage to property.
“Before I even signed HR documents, we were talking about strategy for recovery,” Sewall said. “We had a twopronged plan: We first had to take care of our associates, then give back to our community the best we could.”
Associates that Sewall had not yet met were affected by Hurricane Harvey. In a company atmosphere that felt much like a family, Sewall said he felt he needed to do as much as he could right away to get employees the labor they needed to clean up their homes, then the supplies to rebuild.
Eight staff members were affected, but as Sewall said, Detering isn’t a big company, so the total of eight members meant that 10% of the company’s staff was in need of help.
Each staff member was affected a little differently, Sewall said. “Some homes are complete disasters, were still under water a week later. Others are starting recovery. Still, the cost to repair stuff like that is well beyond anything we’d be able to raise for them. If we can just give them a start.”
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That start came in the form of a GoFundMe account that Sewall established with a goal of raising $35,000 toward employee recovery.
“All funds will be distributed in their entirety to those that suffered flooding in their homes,” the GoFundMe posting reads. “We will use your support in a couple of ways, starting with buying the immediate supplies and clothing they need for recovery. We will also distribute directly to the associates the cash they need for their demolition, temporary housing, or rebuilding needs.”
As of September 30, the fund has raised just shy of $20,000. Many donations were pledged from fellow LBM dealers, as well as manufacturers and industry members from around the country. “Our prayers are with you guys. Your friends at Wilson Lumber,” read a note on just one of the 37 different contributions. If you would like to donate, visit www.gofundme.com/Detering-Employees.
Hurricane Harvey’s impact
The Detering Company was far from the only dealer affected by Hurricane Harvey. Mariya Zapata, Executive Director of the Lumbermen’s Association of Texas & Louisiana (LAT), said that a number of members suffered damage to yards and locations, but the more significant damage occurred at employees’ homes.
“It affects many,” she said. “But we’ve been impressed with the hard work and faith that everyone has brought to the recovery efforts.”
Zapata said that a few dealers had closures due to minor damage, but none were closed longer than a day or two. At Parker’s Building Supply, there were six locations closed, but all were operational the next day.
At each lumberyard she had heard from that had worked through closure issues, she also heard of employees pitching in to help coworkers who had sustained damage to their homes. It didn’t matter if it was a one-location business or a big Texas name like McCoy’s, Zarsky, or Parker’s.
“That’s how our industry is,” Zapata said, “people came to work and made things happen.”
Houston residents hit by Hurricane Harvey cleared wet drywall and flood-affected furniture from their homes.
Irma hits Florida
Before Hurricane Harvey was done with Texas, residents of Florida were bracing for Hurricane Irma.
Chris Lee, President of First Choice Door and Millwork in Winter Garden, Fla., and Chairman of the Board of Florida Building Materials Association (FBMA), said that he surveyed members via email and phone after Hurricane Irma. Many dealers in the southeast area, including Miami and Fort Lauderdale were affected by the storm and sustained significant power outages.
“Everyone in Florida was affected in one way or another,” he said. “Even when damage was minimal, the power outages were multiple days. As power came back on, more issues arose with Internet down.”
For Florida dealers, hurricanes aren’t uncommon. Every dealer in the state knows how to prepare for and recover from a major hurricane, Lee said.
“It’s a way of life for us here. We prepare our business for the hurricane and we recover quickly after.”
As far as LBM dealers go in Florida, a bigger concern than damage is the pricing and availability of products post-Irma, Lee said.
“We all know the real work lies ahead in pricing and availability. That’s our huge concern—the availability of products that we need to have to survive and make a living.”