Leadership and resourcefulness help Ferguson’s Raleigh, N.C., location rebound from tornado damage.

The roof at Ferguson’s warehouse and showroom in Raleigh, N.C., collapsed and sustained major damage after a tornado ripped through the city April 16, 2011. Photos courtesy of Ferguson

Sharon Cooperwas in the woods searching for her golf ball at a charity tournament in Charlotte, N.C., as her cell phone was silently receiving phone calls. By the time Cooper was able to look at her phone she had missed eight calls.

Something big had happened.

Back in her hometown of Raleigh, N.C., a mile-wide tornado ripped through town on April 16, 2011, with wind speeds reaching 150 miles per hour. The roof on the Ferguson warehouse and showroom location - where Cooper is the general manager - collapsed.

Cooper quickly raced back to Raleigh to assess the damage and start a plan of action. She wrote down four key points of action:
  • Assure all associates are safe;
  • Secure the facility;
  • Build a plan to service the market from eight other stores by April 18; and
  • Communicate the plan to internal and external individuals as soon as possible.

“I had three hours to think about it,” Cooper says of her ride back to Raleigh.

Thankfully, the people inside the building when the twister struck at 4:30 p.m. found shelter in a store bathroom and nobody was injured. When the tornado hit, 12 people were in the facility, but Operations ManagerMike Cassidywas able to get everyone into a bathroom to ride out the situation safely.

Cooper arrived back on-site at 7 p.m. and met with her management staff. The next few hours were intense. Some people began looting in the ravaged area and Cooper knew that Ferguson would be a prime target with its large copper supply among other valuables. “Copper is like cash,” she says. “We had to secure the facility. Looters were all over the street.”

This photo shows the extensive damage created from the tornado’s 150-mph winds.

Armed guards were hired to protect the facility that night. Next on the list was to inform all associates at the Raleigh location that the workforce temporarily would be delegated to other Ferguson locations in Chapel Hill (an hour from Raleigh) and Wake Forest (30 minutes away). Day-to-day operations would run from the eight surrounding facilities. “That allowed us to open Monday like normal,” Cooper states.

Cooper and her staff also wanted to make sure Ferguson was a steady hand in the immediate chaos of Raleigh. “It was a chance to show the market that we could still service customers,” she says.

Ferguson Director of FacilitiesKirk Wallwas on-site in Raleigh to assess the damage, and Ferguson’s real estate team helped Cooper find a suitable temporary location for her branch. Their search started at 2 p.m., and by 5 p.m. they had identified a new location.

Finding a place for showroom materials took some creative thinking. The showroom at the damaged Raleigh location was 10,000-sq. ft., but it was agreed to create a 3,000-sq.-ft. Preview Center in a shopping center in Raleigh. The Preview Center was fully functional at the end of June. It is slated to remain open until construction on the new showroom wraps up this month.

Cooper worked with Ferguson’s IT department to create kiosks for the Preview Center so customers could look online at the available kitchen and bathroom products. “It was a quick way to think of how to service the showroom customer,” Cooper states.

Cooper was very pleased with how much support Ferguson’s corporate headquarters in Newport News, Va., provided in the immediate aftermath of the tornado and through the rebuilding/reopening process. “They were very available and dedicated the resources needed,” she says.

At 3 p.m. the day after the disaster, the city of Raleigh condemned the original Ferguson building and workers had one hour to grab their personal belongings that survived the tornado. Cooper was impressed with how everyone handled the situation in an orderly fashion. Cars were backed up to the building and people moved quickly.

Wall then started the plan on how to salvage what remained. In addition to the roof damage, the piping, electrical and HVAC systems were unusable. It took six weeks - or approximately 3,000 man hours - just for cleanup. It was another four months for the rebuilding effort.

Ferguson’s Raleigh location, which now features an expanded counter area, reopened Dec. 12, 2011.

Moving forward

Despite the challenges and hardships, Wall, Cooper and Ferguson seized the opportunity to find ways to improve the Raleigh location. The building hadn’t been updated since 1993, and this was as close to a blank canvas as they could get. “This allowed us to look at all the facets of our operations,” Wall says.

First, the counter was expanded and redesigned and the office area was enlarged. “We completely opened that area up,” Wall states.

Next, the showroom was reconfigured because lighting and builder products had been added over time. Cooper, Wall and Ferguson’s Facilities Department were able to create a better space to showcase everything at the same time. “We brought all those products together,” Wall says. “This way, we’ve grown and made some improvements.”

Cooper adds: “Everything is very different. We’re going to better showcase our entire business and display plumbing, lighting, appliances and cabinets.”

There also is a new training room, conference area and lunchroom for employees to enjoy. “It will allow us to prepare for our future growth over the next 15 years,” Cooper notes.

Cooper says without the help of her management staff -Keith Radcliffe, Brian Maglione, Christine Tingin, Mike Cassidy andMark Collier - during the initial chaos, things wouldn’t have gone so smoothly. She says having that support staff is the best advice she can give to colleagues who may encounter an emergency situation.

“Make sure you surround yourself with five or six managers who know how to execute,” Cooper states. “It will make any disaster easier to navigate.”