- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

ATLANTA - The run at hardware stores for plywood and generators during the past month of hurricanes in the South has left manufacturers scrambling to meet the disaster-related demand.

Georgia-Pacific Corp., a major supplier of plywood to Home Depot and Lowe’s stores, and generator makers Coleman Powermate of Aurora, Ill., and Briggs and Stratton Corp. of Milwaukee have seen big boosts in production volume during the storms.

The extra business has meant a surge in sales for the companies, but it also has meant that workers have had to put in longer hours and managers have had to refocus production on meeting mostly Florida’s needs.

“If we were to get another event or if we were to get a stronger-than-normal building demand in the housing market, we’d be extremely tight,” said Dave Paterson, executive vice president of Georgia-Pacific’s building products division.

The Atlanta-based company has shipped more than 3 million pieces of plywood — used to board up windows and doors — to home-improvement stores in Florida from the time Hurricane Charley hit in mid-August through Hurricane Ivan, forecast to come ashore from the Gulf of Mexico.

That is double the normal volume of plywood that Georgia-Pacific normally sends to Florida in a four-week period this time of year, Mr. Paterson said.

In recent weeks, privately held Coleman Powermate, which supplies generators to Home Depot, has been producing two to 2 times its normal amount of generators because of Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan. The company has been trying to ship generators directly to stores in Florida, as opposed to distribution centers, to get them to customers faster.

“We build up a lot of inventory in anticipation of these types of events,” Coleman Powermate spokesman Tom Graber said. “Typically, with a single hurricane we’re able to accommodate the majority of the demand with our safety stock.”

But, Mr. Graber added, “This scenario, with three hurricanes in a single month, has obviously depleted any of that safety stock. Our ability to supply is limited to what we can produce.”

The company, which normally makes and sells 300,000 generators annually, is working round-the-clock to make more to help hurricane victims. Coleman Powermate, a subsidiary of Sun Capital Partners of Boca Raton, Fla., has about 500 employees.

“I don’t believe we’re telling any customers there are none available,” Mr. Graber said. “What we’re saying is the delivery times may be longer or we may not be able to satisfy all of their needs completely.”

He added, “This is an extraordinary situation.”

Meanwhile, Briggs and Stratton, which supplies generators to Lowe’s stores, has tripled its production of generators because of the storms in Florida, spokesman George Thompson said. Workers have been manning three shifts and some have been called in for overtime during the crunch.

“We are making as many as we possibly can,” Mr. Thompson said. “Every one that is made goes right from the factory to a truck headed south.”

Georgia-Pacific, Coleman Powermate and Briggs and Stratton would not say by how much earnings are expected to increase because of the hurricane-related business.

Georgia-Pacific recorded a $155.7 million profit in its building-products segment, which includes plywood, in the third quarter of last year.

Mr. Paterson said the company’s ability to get raw materials from timberland owners could be affected by rain from Hurricane Ivan, which is heading toward the heart of the company’s manufacturing base in Alabama and Mississippi.

“The backside of the storm could be a challenge for us to manage our way through that,” Mr. Paterson said.

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