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Hurricane Sandy lessons

BY Brae Canlen

Hurricane lamps
Long before LED lanterns came along, hurricane lamps or lanterns were the standard source of light (other than candles) when the power went out. Karp’s Hardware on Long Island, N.Y., sold more than two dozen before and after Hurricane Sandy. So owner Alan Talman bristles at the notion that hurricane lamps (which burn kerosene or lamp oil) have become obsolete. He noted, “All the wicks sold out of the [Do it Best] warehouse.”

Chainsaws
Chainsaw manufacturer Husqvarna maintains a Storm Center page on its website (Husqvrna.com) that contains real-time updates on tropical storms from the National Hurricane Center. It also contains advice and instructions for first-time chainsaw users on how to safely clear away downed trees and brush. “Statistically, there are more injuries during the cleanup process than ever occur during the storm,” the company warns.

Flashlights
Sandy wasn’t Dorcy’s first hurricane, and the Columbus, Ohio, manufacturer knew that retailers who felt her fury would sell out of the flashlights fast — and need resupplying. So retailer and distributor orders from New York, New Jersey and other areas in Sandy’s path were automatically bumped to the front of the line. They also got free overnight shipping. “We’re focusing all our efforts on shipping to anyone affected by the hurricane,” said a company spokeswoman. “The other orders, we’re filling as best we can.”

Gas cans
The shortage of gas cans was acute following Hurricane Sandy, a situation made even worse by the Chapter 11 filing earlier this year of Blitz USA, a major manufacturer of fuel canisters. Joe Leopoldi, owner of Leopoldi Hardware in Brooklyn, N.Y., heard tales of citizens using 5-gallon buckets and funnels to refuel their generators and cars — a dangerous and illegal practice. “We got two-dozen (gas canisters) with one delivery and they were gone in 30 minutes,” Leopoldi told HCN. The True Value dealer had to ration the precious items: only one to a customer.

Generators
Along with flashlights, generators always seem to sell out quickly after a storm. Dave Davis, VP merchandising and marketing for distributor Bostwick-Braun,  sold “multiple truckloads” of gas-powered generators to its retailers. Many of the dealers doled them out to customers on waiting lists. Generac, the largest manufacturer in the consumer channel, encourages homeowners to beat the crowds and have a back-up generator installed. But they also sell the portable models that sit in the garage, waiting for the next storm.

Salt Off
Hurricane Sandy presented some unique problems to the residents of the New York-New Jersey area because of the corrosive nature of the salt water that flooded homes, pump stations and public transit corridors.  But a product called Salt Off, made by Star Brite, is formulated to remove salt deposits from any non-porous surface, leaving behind a protective polymer barrier to help repel salt. It is ideal for restoring any metal surfaces exposed to salt water, including boats, cars, motorcycles, trucks and even metal appliances, as well as for flushing engine cooling systems. The biodegradable, non-toxic formula is safe for use around people or pets. It will not harm painted surfaces or fiberglass, plastic, rubber or glass surfaces.

Emer Crank Weather Radio
This lifeline to the outside world runs on AA batteries, A/C power (if you are lucky enough to have it) or a hand crank that recharges its internal NiMH battery. It receives all seven NOAA weather channels. The manufacturer, Midland Radio Corp., also included an LED flashlight and an alarm clock.

Muck boots
The original, authentic Muck Boots start at around $140, but Ace Hardware sells a pair of waterproof vinyl “Buffalo Boots” for $20.99. Made by On Guard Industries in Havre de Grace, Md., these 16-in.-high boots are net lined for easy on and off; have a cleated sole; and the manufacturer claims they are highly resistant to acids, chemicals, industrial oils, greases or whatever else Mother Nature stirs up. They come in one color: black.

Batteries
Batteries are a staple of any emergency kit, but what good are they if the juice is gone when the lights go out? Duracell has addressed this issue with a new line of Duralock batteries with “power preserve” technology. Some last as long as 10 years, and all carry a guarantee. The retail launch is this summer.

Duct tape by 3M 
Seriously, what is there you can’t do with duct tape, especially in an emergency situation? You can use it to affix bandages, make a temporary roof shingle, or patch a hole in your siding. Hang security lights with strips of duct tape. Repair your eyeglasses or rain gear. Seal cracks in windows. And if things get really hairy, it can be used to restrain an unruly individual.

Sump pump  
Most of Zoeller’s competitors chose to source, and assemble, their products offshore. But this family-owned business, based in Louisville, Ky., is a “Made in the USA” company that deals with domestic suppliers. As a result, Zoeller is able to double its production run when there’s a sudden demand for submersible pumps. Good news for anyone with a flooded basement, who can’t wait for a container ship from China to arrive with the next shipment.

Firelogs
Enviro-Log fireplace or pellet stove logs are made from 100% recycled wax cardboard boxes that were used to transport fruits and vegetables. This is an important distinction from petroleum-based logs; they are safe for cooking and also a great source of heat. The recycled wax is food grade, so if you are desperate enough you could actually eat them, although the manufacturer does not recommend it. The logs are available at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and select True Value and Ace stores.

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Contractors go digital, but not social

BY HBSDEALER Staff

By Brad Farnsworth 

A recent study conducted by The Farnsworth Group, research and insight specialists for the building material and home improvement industries, found roughly 50% of builders and remodelers purchasing products online.

The kinds of products being purchased online include those that are purchased infrequently, such as hand tools and accessories, and more commodity-oriented products, such as building materials. Currently, less than 20% to 25% of pros are purchasing any specific product category online. Although online is a growing source of products purchased, online purchasing remains relatively small as a percent of total purchases made by builders and remodelers.

Another key finding of the “Pro Communication Study” is that pros are interested in receiving information via multiple mediums, including emails. As with many forms of communication used by the pro, 9 out of 10 primarily want new product information, technical specs and general product information. In addition to product information, given today’s economic environment, pros are also looking for information on any specials, discounts or promotional deals from either manufacturers or suppliers.

While 87% of remodelers and builders use the Internet to look for product information once a week or more, pros are not currently looking to social network sites, in general, for professional purposes. Websites that professionals show interest in using are trade-specific sites. These sites include manufacturer sites, which 61% say they use more today than five years ago, as well as supplier websites. Trade publication sites and public forums of builders, remodelers or other specialty trade groups are also viable online resources.

These data points represent a few selected tables in the “Pro Communication Study” conducted by The Farnsworth Group in 2012. For more information, email [email protected].

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Old is for museums, current is for retail

BY Fred Miller

When I picked up my local newspaper the other day, a headline read “Collierville’s McGinnis Hardware to close its doors after 146 years.” Clearly this isn’t the first independent store to go out of business, but it brought on feelings of nostalgia. Started in 1866 and in the same location on the picturesque Town Square since 1879, McGinnis Hardware was a fixture in the community. It stood through the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm and the Iraq War. What could bring this institution to an end?

Consumer change undermined this retailer and many more that have preceded it into closure. In this case, competition moving in from both The Home Depot and Lowe’s was more than McGinnis could withstand. Nonetheless, many hardware stores remain vibrant players in the market. Why didn’t McGinnis make it while others have done well? A look at the Home Improvement Research Institute’s (HIRI) “2012 Retail Selector Study” gives us some important insights. This study was conducted among 1,603 consumers who had made a home improvement purchase in the past three months.

As one would expect, home centers dominated the share of the purchasers at 68%. Hardware stores got 7% of the activity; a very similar number to what had been shown in this same study going back to 2005.

A primary goal of the study is to understand the reasons why people select a particular retailer for a specific purchase occasion. Looking at the top-of-mind reasons for selection, there are primary areas: price, convenience and product selection. The mixture of these reasons is significantly different by type of retailer. Examining these differences is enlightening.

Consumers who purchased at home centers often mentioned all three major reasons for their choice of store. This is noticeably different than what we see for hardware, specialty and discount stores. Specialty stores are very strong for product selection. Given the depth of products in their chosen category, this makes a great deal of sense. Discount stores rely on low prices as their key attraction. With this store type’s focus on price, this is likewise understandable.

The reason for shopping in hardware stores is focused on convenience. Unlike specialty and discount stores, this isn’t an inherent characteristic of their basic business model but more a function of how they operate. Convenience comes from a variety of characteristics. Some variables that drive convenience are store location, ease of parking, ability to find the needed product easily, product in stock and ease of check out.

Being in the same location for 133 years may be a wonderful part of history, but is it convenient? A picturesque location on a town square is delightful, but does it have easy-to-find parking spaces, and is it still the center of commerce in town? Is the store configured to make it easy to find needed products? When you go to check out, is it quick and easy?

Unfortunately for McGinnis, it doesn’t appear that its longevity overcame the perceived advantages for consumers to shop elsewhere.

There are important lessons to be learned from this story:

• Today’s winning formula may not make it tomorrow;

• Even loyal customers can be persuaded to shift their business; and

• Understanding your advantage in the market is critical, and finding ways to enhance that edge should be a continuous activity.

Another HIRI study, “The Future of Home Improvement,” helps members understand emerging trends and prepare to be relevant as consumer desires shift. Embrace change. Those who aren’t going forward are going backward.

If you aren’t a museum, maybe moving once every 100 years isn’t a bad idea?

A 24-year industry veteran, Fred Miller is the managing director of the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI). He can be reached at [email protected]

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