Shaken but not deterred
Patrick Blanchet Jr. had left his hardware store in Haiti and was driving to a meeting when the Jan. 12 earthquake hit. After the shaking stopped, Blanchet got out of his car and started walking. He’ll never forget the things he saw over the next four hours as he tried to make his way home to his family. But for now, he has to concentrate on more practical matters, like getting a shipment of shovels, tarps and wheelbarrows across the Dominican Republic border so he can restock his two stores in Port-au-Prince.
Blanchet and his family own A&B Hardware, which has been affiliated with Do it Best since 1987, when the co-op was called HWI. Tom Barfell, Do it Best’s director of international sales, has visited the Blanchet family in Haiti twice, and he began calling and e-mailing them soon after he received news of the earthquake. Barfell was also fielding calls from anxious Do it Best members who knew Blanchet from the co-op’s Indianapolis markets.
“We didn’t hear anything for a day, and then we started getting e-mails from Patrick. They were chilling,” Barfell recalled. Blanchet’s immediate family survived the earthquake, but it took a while to find his mother and other relatives. His house was intact, but his parents weren’t as lucky. Their home was destroyed, and one of Blanchet’s nephews was inside at the time. He was killed.
It took Blanchet several hours to walk the five miles back to his house the day of the earthquake. He passed a collapsed hotel, dead bodies, many injured people. He stopped to help when he could, and it was dark by the time he arrived home. After gathering his family together over the next 24 hours, Blanchet turned his attention to his stores.
“Considering what we’re seeing [now] in Port-au-Prince, we were very lucky,” Blanchet said in a telephone interview with Home Channel News. “A lot of things fell and broke, things got tossed around, but the buildings are sound.”
A&B Hardware opened for business three days after the earthquake, using generator power. Although looting was a problem in downtown Port-au-Prince, A&B’s two stores are in other parts of the city, where security was not as big a problem. A&B Hardware’s operation includes a lumberyard, showroom, garden center and warehouse, with much of the merchandise coming through Do it Best vendors via a freight forwarder in Miami.
Haiti is now bustling with NGOs (non-governmental agencies) and foreign military personnel, both of which are clamoring for building materials (plywood, lumber); extensions cords; power tools; and demolition and debris removal tools such as pick axes, hammers, rakes, wheelbarrows and shovels. But the city’s port has been taken over by military and humanitarian groups bringing in food and medical supplies. The official word is that no commercial goods will be allowed through the port for another six to eight weeks.
Meanwhile, Blanchet has run out of many supplies and is trying to truck in 40-ft. containers through the Dominican Republican, a five-to-six-hour drive. Everyone, he said, is worried about erecting temporary housing for thousands of homeless people before the rainy season, which usually starts in March.
Blanchet is looking even further out into Haiti’s future. “I’ve heard they’re going to build 200,000 [permanent housing] units,” he said. “Hopefully now things will change. We’ll build with good products this time, like sheetrock, wood and steel construction.” Before the earthquake, it was common to see counterfeit GE circuit breakers that later caused fires, according to Blanchet. Building inspectors often looked the other way. Cinderblock houses, cheap and easy to build, took many lives when they came tumbling down.
Blanchet runs the business with his cousin Philippe Allien. (Their fathers, Patrick Blanchet Sr. and Daniel Allien, are the founders.) Some of his employees lost their homes, and one disappeared and is assumed dead. “His family never found him,” Blanchet explained. “A lot of bodies went into mass graves.”
Home improvement retailers large and small played numerous and varied roles in the Haitian earthquake relief effort. Listed below are some of the efforts:
Lowe’s Co. said that customers donated more than $630,000 to the Red Cross to aid efforts in Haiti. All 1,700 stores in the United States and Canada opened as customer donation sites on Jan. 13, the day after the earthquake and the same day Lowe’s made a $1 million donation to the American Red Cross International Response Fund for Haiti relief efforts.
In Sacramento, Calif., Rosemont Ace Hardware pledged all of the store’s January profits to the Red Cross.
The Home Depot Foundation gave $100,000 to the American Red Cross. The retailer also matched donations from associates and organized vendor donations.
True Value promoted a dollar-for-dollar match to the American Red Cross Haiti Relief and Development Fund for contributions from the co-op’s retailers.
Although much of Haiti is poor and thousands are living on the streets, there is a middle class in Port-au-Prince who shopped in A&B Hardware and would like to get on with their lives, Blanchet said.
“We do have people who have the money to rebuild and fix their houses,” he said. “But we have already run out of many things.”
Barfell told Home Channel News he is trying to work through governmental agencies to help Blanchet and other local Haitian businessmen get commercial shipments through the port. “First and foremost is the humanitarian aid,” Barfell said. “But there’s a lot of rebuilding Patrick and his family can help with, and it’s our job to get those products to him.”
ProBuild to add units in Utah, Virginia
ProBuild Holdings has announced the opening of new locations in Orem, Utah, and Winchester, Va.
The Orem location, aformer Capital Building Supply location that had vacated the property earlier this year, will open with nine employees. It is ProBuild’s fourth in the state of Utah, joining Heber City, Midvale (Salt Lake City) and Ogden. The Orem facility will contain a millwork shop and has already been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
The Winchester location, formerly operated as Glaize Components, will extend ProBuild’s capabilities to serve the Washington, D.C./Baltimore markets. Winchester will manufacture components including roof trusses, floor trusses and wall panels. The 18-acre site will also feature a full-service lumberyard.
“We continue to see opportunities where we can expand into new markets to better serve our customers,” said ProBuild senior VP corporate development Michael Mahre, who just joined the company this week. “These new locations are great instances where we can bring the market-leading value of ProBuild’s products and services to serve strong and growing markets.”
ProBuild is the nation’s largest LBM chain, with more than 470 locations serving 42 states.
Stock names new VP sales
Stock Building Supply, an affiliate of The Gores Group, has hired Nigel Stobart as VP sales. Stobart will lead Stock’s sales teams, as well as sales-related initiatives.
Stobart has been serving as strategic adviser to Raleigh, N.C.-based Stock in connection with its process improvement initiatives.
“I am very excited to join Stock at such an important and exciting point in its history,” Stobart said in a prepared statement. “Every sale starts with fulfilling a customer’s need. I have been impressed with the significant efforts Stock has taken in the sales arena and look forward to further sharpening the company’s focus. I have dedicated a significant portion of my career to supporting the sales process and know that our efforts will strengthen our position as an independent, stand-alone company with a sound strategy.”
Stobart most recently served as senior VP and chief operating officer for Wire One Communications in Pennsylvania. In this role, he led restructuring initiatives and managed the service and product operations, as well as the human resources team.
Prior to Wire One, he served as senior director of sales operations for the professional business group at Gateway. Before that, he was with Bain & Co., advising his clients on mission-critical projects. Stobart holds a bachelor of economics and a law degree from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, as well as an MBA from the University of Chicago. Before attending business school, Stobart held positions with law firms in Melbourne and London.
“He brings tremendous experience, and we are fortunate to have him lead this critical function,” said Stock CEO Joe Appelmann.