Measuring the impact of a super storm

Bad weather has meant brisk business for the industry’s largest home improvement retailers, which for the second year in a row experienced significant sales gains from an East Coast hurricane.

Fourteen months after Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc on the Northeast, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast, particularly New Jersey and southeast New York, where damage totals continue to rise well into the tens of billions of dollars.

Carol Tomé, chief financial officer and executive VP corporate services at The Home Depot, said the company expects to take in at least $360 million in sales related to Sandy. Tomé bases that off Hurricane Irene’s numbers — $230 million in sales from Irene (which hit in late August) in the 2011 third quarter, and $130 million in the fourth quarter.

At its Nov. 13 third-quarter conference call, Tomé said: “The property damage, as we understand it, related to Irene was about $16 billion. The property damage for Sandy is about $20 billion. So it would suggest possibly higher sales, but it’s impossible for us to know right now.”

The retailer got a $70 million lift in sales in the last week of the fiscal third quarter that ended Oct. 28 — for items such as generators, flashlights, batteries and extension cords — “as customers in the North prepared for the threat of Hurricane Sandy,” executive VP merchandising Craig Menear said. Home Depot executives said the company shipped about 4,000 truckloads of products to communities impacted by Sandy.

In the day after the storm, Sears said more than 100 truckloads of “generators, chainsaws, wet and dry vacuums, flashlights, batteries and lanterns, along with dehumidifiers, utility and sump pumps” were sent east from 42 distribution centers as far west as Memphis and Chicago.

Lowe’s executives reported that profits jumped 76% in the third quarter from the same period a year ago, owing in significant part to Sandy-related sales. “We supplied large quantities of generators, flashlights and batteries to customers preparing for Superstorm Sandy,” said chief customer officer Greg Bridgeford. “Our merchant, logistics and store teams worked closely together to identify what products would be needed before and after Sandy, and pre-staged them in appropriate stores and distribution centers.”

Some home improvement dealers even took to themed advertising. An Ace Hardware store in Brooklyn, N.Y., ran a two-page ad with the message: “If Sandy Didn’t Blow You Away, ACE Specials Will!” opposite a page of cleanup-related supplies that were on sale.