By Bridget McCrea
NAED member Shealy Electrical Wholesalers helps customers and employees prep for and manage the impact of Hurricane Joaquin.
When Hurricane Joaquin first began developing in late September in the Atlantic Ocean, its potential path of destruction and target land masses were still largely up in the air. As time passed, however, it became clearer and clearer that the Eastern Seaboard could be a potential bulls-eye for the strengthening storm. During its 11-day life span (the storm dissipated on October 7), Hurricane Joaquin would not only wreak havoc on Caribbean Islands and sink cargo ships, but it would also turn into what South Carolina’s Governor Nikki Haley dubbed a “1000-year flood” as deadly and destructive rains inundated the state plus portions of the Mid-Atlantic.
With eight locations covering all of South Carolina (plus a portion of its neighboring states) Shealy Electrical Wholesalers of West Columbia found itself in the crosshairs of an epic storm. But even before Joaquin began to impact its customers, employees, physical locations, and surrounding communities, Shealy Electrical was already “battening down the hatches” and preparing for the onslaught. On Friday, for example, the firm’s location in Charleston – known for being a “low lying” area that’s prone to flooding – was shut down due to the storm.
Stepping Up to the Plate
Beth Brown, the distributorship’s director of human resources, said the firm’s Charleston branches – which are often impacted by Joaquin-like storms and hurricanes – are no strangers to disaster preparedness. Its locations in Columbia and Sumter, however, aren’t as accustomed to dealing with such storms. “About 100 out of our 300 employees were directly impacted by Joaquin,” says Brown, whose team spent most of the storm weekend ensuring that all of those workers were safe and accounted for.
“We were calling around, trying to determine who needed help, what they needed, and what we could do to assist,” says Brown. “That took up most of our Sunday.” As a regular user of social media, Shealy Electrical was also posting updates over that stormy weekend, including these:
Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are going through the devastating weather in South Carolina. Our Charleston downtown location will be closed tomorrow due to flooding that has taken place in the area.
Columbia, SC – Our branch will be open to take care of our customers that are servicing the emergencies throughout the area.
Columbia Employees – DO NOT try to travel in conditions that are not safe! Contact your supervisor and let them know of your circumstances.
All of our other locations will open for regular business hours.
“Remember, we are open today to help our cities get back to normal,” Shealy Electrical posted the day after the storm. “The devastation in South Carolina is evident and we will continue to support in any way we can. If you have product needs, please call us and we will service you as best as we can.”
Interviewed on the Wednesday after the storm, Brown says schools still weren’t open and that many people in the region were dealing with water and power outages. “We’ve been open the entire time because we have to get emergency/critical electrical supplies and equipment to our customers, who need them for the recovery effort,” Brown says. Utility companies and waste water sewage treatments plants, for example, have particularly high needs right now.
“We sent some members of our automation team to work with a waste water sewage treatment plant that was trying to manage an overflowing dam,” Brown says. “Our team members went down there, seeing if there wasn’t something they could do to help out.”
Kicking Into Gear
Calling Shealy Electrical “extremely lucky” in that its small location in downtown Charleston came through the storm unscathed, Brown says the company has set its sights on helping its customers, business partners, and employees with their recovery efforts. “We know of one employee whose car was flooded and another one whose home is engulfed by water, but the losses have been minimal in the scheme of things,” says Brown. “We all got off pretty lucky.”
As of Wednesday, Brown said getting delivery trucks through to customers has been a real challenge. “You have to try out three or four different routes to get to where you need to go,” she says, adding that on the sales side the distributor reviewed the post-Katrina electrical equipment and supply needs of its contractors (by speaking directly to them) and used that as a measure for stocking up on necessities.
“We looked specifically at the inventory that electrical contractors needed after Katrina,” says Brown, “and then we ordered stock to prepare for the time when they’ll start to need these items.”
For Shealy Electrical, “being there” after a major storm isn’t about taking advantage of an expanding selling window. It’s about giving back to the communities that support it year-round and helping out wherever it can. On Thursday, for example, employees who donated $5 were able to wear jeans to work; the money collected was given to local charity Harvest Hope. The company also held an open house at its Columbia location, where it collected canned goods and clothing for local food banks. In addition, Brown says Shealy Electrical’s other seven locations feature bins where people can drop off canned goods, clothing, and other necessities. Brown says the business “lull” that came immediately after the storm allowed the distributor to allocate human resources to these and other causes.
“Our associates haven’t been too busy this week, so some of them have been handing out food and water in our local communities and at job sites,” says Brown. And if those efforts weren’t enough, the company assembled a 10-person Shealy Mud Dogs group to go out into the community to help clean up, deliver suppliers, shovel mud, and help out with some of the more laborious cleanup tasks.
Brown says these efforts align well with Shealy Electrical’s community-oriented culture. “We’re always focused on investing in the local community, regardless of whether there’s a storm or not,” says Brown. “We believe that’s what brings us so much fortune and blessings throughout the entire year.”
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