A devastating storm is a crisis, a challenge and an opportunity for Do It Best Corp.
After an exceptionally violent string of thunderstorms rolled across northern Indiana on Friday – followed by another storm Saturday morning – employees from several departments of the international hardware-store cooperative spent the weekend working at the company's headquarters in Fort Wayne.
They were busy, but their toil wasn't unprecedented. Many times each year, Do It Best has to shift tools, supplies and building material around the country by the truckload to accommodate outbursts of demand caused by natural disasters.
“Thankfully, it's not every week we're doing it over a weekend,” said John Snider, the company's vice president of retail logistics.
Storms like those that hit Fort Wayne are a crisis because the company faces the same kind of uncertainties about the extent of damage that make the work of utilities and street departments difficult. They have to plow into solving problems on the fly, much as their customers have to plunge into finding ways to preserve food without refrigerators or to avoid heat exhaustion without air conditioning.
But Snider said experience helps Do It Best back up the 4,000 hardware stores around the world that are part of the cooperative. From analyzing buying patterns after disasters, the company has developed cheat sheets of suggested inventory to help member stores stock the material harried customers will need most. The one the company referred to in this storm included about 500 items.
The challenge is obvious: In a storm such as this, stretching across several states and knocking out power to millions, customers are desperate for supplies, and creating new distribution schedules and patterns in a matter of hours can be difficult.
However, the company tries to help member stores carry on business under the assumption that local retailers understand their markets and customers better than the international cooperative. Do It Best doesn't try to predict quantities each store ought to order, but it does make a priority of moving goods to stores as quickly as possible. Deliveries are made more frequently, and some store owners hire their own trucks to pick up supplies directly from a Do It Best warehouse.
“The focus is to be able to respond quickly,” Snider said.
In many cases, he said, talking Do It Best allows a store owner to take advantage of other members' collective experience. An example: With computer hardware damaged after a storm, accepting credit-card payment has to be done the old-fashioned way, by running the card through an impression plate or simply jotting down all the card information on paper and getting a customer to sign the handmade receipt.
The opportunity lies in creating goodwill among anxious customers who find what they need after a disaster – and in building loyalty among owners of member stores who get inventory they need quickly. Much of this work at company headquarters is accomplished by talking members through problems.
“Part of it comes with the confidence that people can get a hold of you without going into voice mail,” he said.