Although many electrical distributors are currently counting inches of snow and watching the mercury plummet, back in July 2003, the folks at the Johnstone Supply branch in Kokomo, Ind., were counting inches of rain. On Friday night, July 4, it rained 9 inches in five hours. The next five days would bring 10 more inches of rain.

Tony Koon, the Kokomo branch manager, awakened 3 a.m. Saturday morning to a lake in his backyard with the rain still coming down. Koon says he ran over to the Kokomo Johnstone branch where the floodwater had already reached the edge of the loading dock. Waking up his dad, friends and employees, Koon and the assembled group started putting floodgates at the doors.

The group also got five large sewage pumps running, but by midnight Saturday the water was coming up 6 inches per hour inside the building and 3 inches per hour outside.

On Sunday, Koon and Jerry Hughes, the owner, decided to remove the computers, shut off the power and evacuate the building.

By late Sunday afternoon the Johnstone team put together an action plan to satisfy customer demand on Monday. Fax and phone lines were rerouted to the Indianapolis Johnstone branch.

“Because the phones were answered Monday by Kokomo employees, most of our customers didn't even know we were operating out of the Indianapolis store,” said Hughes.

In addition to Jerry Hughes and Tony Koon, the Johnstone action team consisted of Fred Means, controller; Ted Shay, Indianapolis branch manager; and Dick Imhof, purchasing and inventory control manager. When they finally walked out of the store on Sunday, the water in the branch was above their waists.

While Hughes went out to find a new location, Koon and Imhof arranged for UPS, an independent trucking firm, and Johnstone trucks to deliver from the Indianapolis location. All deliveries were free to the customers during the crisis regardless of the size of the delivery.

“Other Johnstone owners pledged merchandise and anything else we might need to get back on our feet,” said Hughes. “It made our misfortune a little easier to deal with, and I want to thank everyone for their support.”

The store took almost 6 feet of water, leaving the contents a sodden mess. After five days, the store could be re-entered, but all Hughes and Koon could do was draw a high-water mark and try to remove anything of value above that line. Nothing below the line was salvaged.

Hughes found a new building less than a mile from the old location. With everyone pitching in, employees working 60-hour weeks, and support from Indianapolis and other branches, the new building opened Aug. 18 — only five weeks after the initial disaster.

“The new building will be much more efficient,” said Hughes. “No more lofts; everything is on one floor. The showroom is much larger … it's just more customer friendly. Receiving, shipping and invoicing processes have also been updated to be more efficient as well.”

“The Johnstone Corporate Warehouse supported us in every possible way they could during the time we were down,” said Koon. “All the other Midwest branches helped out. It was amazing to have other owners and branch managers just call up and say, “Hey, whatever you need, just call!' Everyone really pitched in.”

Johnstone Supply is a national cooperative of more than 250 individually owned and operated wholesale distribution companies, catering to markets such as HVAC, electrical and plumbing.

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