Supply House Times

Tennessee Floods Affect Plumbing Industry

May 4, 2010

The devastating floods that deluged the greater Nashville, Tenn., area with as much as 18 inches of rain in some places during the weekend of May 1-2 have had varying effects on the local plumbing industry.            

“It’s been a little hectic,” said Jimmy Hiller, owner of Hiller Plumbing Co., located just south of downtown Nashville. “We’ve been selling a lot of sump pumps. We ordered 100, and I don’t know how many we have left.”            

Hiller, whose warehouse took in a small amount of water, said his company was besieged with service calls for several days.            

“The biggest thing that hurt us was the amount of calls was more than we could possibly answer,” he said. “Sunday and Monday it was more than we could field. The biggest thing was people calling about water in their basement. On Sunday, a lot of the calls were about sanitary and storm in the same pipe, and it was backing up on people.”            

The torrential rains brought widespread flooding to the area, crippled downtown structures, knocked out power and disabled one of the city’s two water plants. As of the afternoon of May 4, officials said the death toll attributed to the bad weather and flooding had risen to 19 throughout the state.            

“We got about six inches of water in all of our offices and two-thirds of our warehouse got hit pretty bad,” said Lee Steinhouse, president of Steinhouse Supply, whose company sits about 75 yards from a creek in the south part of Nashville.            

But Steinhouse breathed a sigh of relief in noting much of his bigger-ticket inventory such as water heaters, whirlpools, tubs and plumbing fixtures did not sustain damage due to being located in another part of the warehouse that wasn’t affected by the water.            

“We didn’t lose much stock,” Steinhouse said. “What got hit was stuff like pipe fittings and pipe valves, some boxes were ruined. We did lose a bunch of computers that were sitting on the floor at people’s desks. We’re very fortunate as far as merchandise.”            

Steinhouse, who said Nashvhille’s previous record two-day rain total was 7.5 inches, has also done a steady sump pump business in recent days.            

“At 6:30 a.m. people were lined up to buy them,” he said on May 4. “We ordered 50 more on Monday and 50 more today.”            

Eddie Galbreath, CEO of Galbreath Brothers Plumbing located 15 miles north of Nashville, said numerous suppliers have felt the wrath of the rains.            

“I spoke to one who said it would be six months before they got back underway,” said Galbreath, part of a fifth-generation company that has been in business since 1942. “Everybody has been hampered by this.”            

Water heater manufacturer A.O. Smith did sustain damage to its manufacturing facility and division office in Ashland City, just outside Nashville.            

“We got hit pretty hard. There is some flooding,” said A.O. Smith Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Public Affairs Mark Petrarca. “The bad news is our Ashland City manufacturing facility and division office is basically out of commission.”            

But Petrarca said a comprehensive plan is underway to shift water heater orders from the Ashland City facility to A.O. Smith’s other North American plants in Johnson City, Tenn., South Carolina and Juarez, Mexico. He also noted a plan is in place to relocate the Ashland City office staff to other A.O. Smith facilities in the area. That transition, Petrarca said, could occur as early as later this week. The company’s customer care and call center is currently operational and was not affected by the floods, Petrarca said.            

“We’re giving this the full-court press,” Petrarca said. “Our No. 1 priority is to make sure our employees are safe and then make sure our customers’ needs are met and then we’ll work on getting the Ashland City plant up and running.”            

Water heater, boiler and pool heater manufacturer Lochinvar, located in Lebanon, Tenn. (20 miles east of downtown Nashville), fared better.            

“We’re in good shape here,” reported Stirling Boston, Lochinvar’s director of marketing.            

Boston said several employees did sustain water damage to their homes. He noted the company’s biggest struggle has been attempting to relocate customers and VIP contractors who are either in town or are coming into town for meetings and events.            

“We have a group of customers in town that arrived last night and just before they arrived we learned the Hilton downtown where they were scheduled to stay was being evacuated,” Boston said.            

Lochinvar also was slated to host a group of contractors that had won a trip to experience Nashville in June. The group was scheduled to stay at the Opryland Resort and Convention Center - one of the largest resorts in the country -- but that facility recently announced the flooding would force it to shut its doors for several months (Opryland accounts for 12 percent of Nashville’s hotel rooms). The backup plan was that same Hilton hotel.              

“Since the trip is built around taking the group to a NASCAR race, we are likely to find other accommodations and push forward with the trip during the scheduled dates,” Boston said.            

Galbreath, who said a majority of the calls he’s received during the crisis have also been for pumping water out of basements, predicted his workload will increase in the upcoming days.            

“I’m afraid when that water comes down you will see a lot of damage to both residential and commercial,” Galbreath said.  

Links