Immediately after the April 10 tornado struck the northwestern edge of the City of Merrill and continued its destructive path on into the Town of Merrill, residents in the affected area started looking to protect their damaged homes and start the process of clearing trees. And the local businesses these residents went to for supplies saw a spike in sales.
Trantow’s Do-It-Center, Nelson’s Powerhouse and Merrill Ace Hardware were all swamped with customers and phone calls the morning after the tornado. The biggest sellers in the first couple hours were chainsaws, tarp, rope and generators.
For all three businesses, the tornado brought a surge of business ahead of the usual spring increase.
“It certainly isn’t how we would want it, but we will certainly meet the needs of the people affected, if we can,” said Kent Johnson of Trantow’s.
He said his store was sold out of tarps within the first half hour of opening April 11. In addition, the business saw a huge demand for its rental generators, pumps and chainsaws. He said what the store ran out of in the first couple days were restocked by the end of the week.
“But that didn’t help the people who were in here looking for it,” Johnson said. “We couldn’t sell it if we didn’t have it.”
He said that Trantow’s has sold about 50 chainsaws since the storm, usually three or four a day. In addition, the in house service department has sharpened at least that many and repaired many more. They have also sold six cases of gallon jugs of bar oil for the saws.
With many roofs in the area damaged, shingles have been a huge seller in the first few weeks as well.
“Now it is more projects beyond the temporary fix and it is more projects that are more repair and replace,” Johnson said.
He said the real upsurge in tornado related sales for Trantow’s is just now starting. As people get their sites cleared and ready for either reconstruction or replacement, they are getting orders together for wood and other construction supplies.
This extends to Trantow’s home design services. Johnson said he has three homes to design, as does the other designer on staff.
“It takes about three to four weeks for the clean-up process to be completed and the sites are ready for construction to start,” he said.
Johnson said that the county weight restrictions on roads in the area is holding back the removal of the piles of large trees that have become mountains in the damaged areas as well as his business starting to deliver building materials.
“This time last year, it was warmer and the road restrictions were already off,” he said. “The weather is starting to hold up the recovery effort now.”
David P. Nelson said that his business also saw a lot of customers waiting for the doors to open April 11. While he did sell 20 chainsaws since the storm, the big seller for him has been generators. He said when it became clear they were going to sell everything they had in stock, they arranged with a supplier to meet them halfway with everything they had in stock.
“By the time he got back, all but one was already sold,” Nelson said.
He said his store never ran out of chainsaws completely, although the more popular models did sell out quickly. The company has also seen brisk sales in chains, bars and bar oil, as well as sharpening and other saw services. Work on generators has also been a big source of revenue.
“Some people upgraded saws,” he said. “We’ve also sold a lot of generators since the storm.”
Nelson said that while the surge in sales gave his business a boost three weeks or so before the rush for lawn mowers and other landscaping tools, like Johnson he wished it could have come another way. He said he knew of 10 of his regular customers who lost their homes by the Tuesday after the storm. The outpouring of support for those affected by the tornado has been overwhelming to everyone he has talked to.
“We saw people that didn’t even know we were here who were referred by other customers and businesses,” he said.
He said he has had a lot of enquiries about his latest product offering, home back-up generators that run on either LP or natural gas. These units can supply the electrical needs for a home for days, depending on the fuel supply on hand.
“We’ve sold a couple already,” Nelson said.
For Ace Hardware, the items most in demand the day after the storm were tarps, ropes, lamp oil, kerosene and generators, according to store manager Jeff Kallerud.
“We actually had to run to another store for generators,” he said. “We were pretty fortunate that the store in Woodruff called us to see what they could do to help.”
Kallerud said this was just another example of how people in the area have showered Merrill with a wave of support.
He said that while the first day after the tornado was busy, a lot more people called ahead to see what the store had on stock.
He said that sales at the store have pretty much returned to their normal levels and patterns.
“People are waiting for spring to finally arrive so they can start working on their gardens,” Kallerud said.