Discount Building Supply Rebuilds After Tornado Destroys Store

The Walker family spent 38 years building a successful business, Discount Building Supply in Guntersville, Ala. Then it took about 38 seconds for a tornado to destroy it.

The tornado roared through Guntersville on April 27, 2011, leaving a devastating path of destruction in its wake. The only fortunate thing was the fact that it hit an hour before the store opened, or there might have been serious injuries to employees or customers.

“We had four or five employees across the street when it struck at 6 a.m., but no one was in the store yet,” explains President Brian Walker. “I pulled up shortly after and found destruction everywhere. It was heart-breaking to see.”

The flooring shed was completely gone. Parts of the store were found a half-mile away.

“It tore the roof off the main building and then we got heavy rain, so we had some flooding in the salesfloor,” recalls Brian. “Whole pallets of merchandise were flooded and not a lot was salvageable.”

It was time to spring into action. “We put an emergency plan into place and we all started working seven days a week,” Brian says. House-Hasson sent generators, water and lots of supplies—18 tractor trailers loaded with products, which enabled them to keep selling uninterrupted. Fifteen trailers filled with debris were hauled off to the salvage yard.

“We weren’t insured enough to cover everything, but were insured enough to continue,” Brian admits. “We were wanting to do something different with the store, but the tornado made sure we had to do something just to stay in business.”

 

Rebuilding a Business

Discount Building Supply was started in 1973 by Robert and Caroline Walker. Although both are still involved in the business, they have turned over the day-to-day operations to son Brian. Brian’s wife, Wendy, and their 21-year-old son, Mitchell, also work in the business.

“We have a lot of loyal customers who have supported us through the years, so we knew we had to keep things going for them and for our 20 employees,” says Robert.

The Walkers had started buying from House-Hasson after the acquisition of Moore-Handley in late 2009, and it didn’t take long to develop a level of trust in their new supplier.

“House-Hasson really stepped up with the planning to help us rebuild. They were very accessible and open to suggestions, helping us with endcaps, signage and planograms,” says Brian.

Their territory manager, David Eaton, pitched in, along with regional managers Rick Walker and Pat McCutcheon. David Helfenberger and Rick Parker came up with a detailed  merchandising plan for the new store that would turn Discount Building Supply into a true destination for hardware and LBM products.

The new store features a 25,500-square-foot salesfloor that has something for everyone.  Outdoor living, sporting goods and pool supplies were added as new categories and tailgating items and paint were expanded. The store is now stronger in electrical and plumbing and offers custom design with kitchen cabinets. They expanded into dominant fasteners in the marine/boat category. Two large drive-thru lumber sheds are all under roof, plus 20,000 square feet of warehouse space.

“We went from a contractor yard to a full home center. We used to get 70 percent of sales from pros, but now it’s an even 50-50 split and we’re attracting a lot more women and families,” says Brian. “We added merchandise that customers don’t have to wait on and we’re now able to sell a complete house/remodel package.”

New energy-efficient lighting was installed from Lithonia Lighting, so the entire store pulls 100 amps but at great savings.

As Rick Walker explains, “When they reconstructed they used local contractors, painters and roofers to do the work to help get others in the county back on their feet.”

The Walkers held a grand reopening for the new store on June 8, which attracted a good turnout from the community. “We fed 500 to 600 people and store was very busy all day,” points out Brian, who appreciated the fact that Don Hasson and Mike Woolf were among those representing House-Hasson at the event.

With Lowe’s seven miles away and Home Depot and Tractor Supply 30 miles away, the Walkers rely on House-Hasson’s pricing program to keep them competitive. They are planning to do six to eight customized circulars in 2013, since that enables them to show all the merchandise the new store has to offer. It’s a new beginning for an established business, and they are proud to show off their transformed business.

Brian, who is active in prison ministry, finds there is a silver lining in the cloud. “We had a real bad day when the storm hit, but we’ve rebounded in a big way,” he says. “It’s all good now.”