KOKOMO, Ind. — The local Johnstone Supply store, which appeared to be a total loss from flooding on July 6, 2003, reopened in a new location just five weeks later. A torrential rainstorm caused the local Wildcat Creek to overflow its banks, flooding city streets and sinking the original Johnstone Supply store “6 feet deep in disaster.”

On Friday night, July 4, it rained 9 inches in five hours and in the next five days the final total was 19 inches. Tony Koon, the Kokomo branch manager, was awakened Saturday morning at 3:00 a.m. by his wife who told him that it was still raining and there was a lake in the backyard.

Koon ran over to the store and saw that water had already reached the edge of the loading dock in back. Waking up his dad, friends, and employees, they started putting plywood floodgates at all the doors. The floodgates were made with plywood and threaded rod, which they installed with Armaflex tape and silicone.

Koon and the staff were able to get 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. Jerry Hughes, the owner, and Koon made the decision to remove the computers, shut off the power, and evacuate the building for the safety of the employees. The water in the store was above their waists when they walked out Sunday at 4:30 a.m.

The store took on almost 6 feet of water before it was over, leaving the contents a sodden mess. The staff was able to re-enter the store after five days, on Friday, July 11, and all they could do was draw a line where the high water mark was and try to remove anything of value above that line. Nothing below the line was salvaged.

Hughes worked early Sunday morning to re-route the phone and fax lines to the Indianapolis store so the Kokomo employees could answer them on Monday morning.

The Johnstone team, including Hughes, Koon, Fred Means, controller, Ted Shay, Indianapolis branch manager, and Dick Imhof, purchasing and inventory control manager (lieutenant colonel, logistics, U.S. Army retired), had an action plan put together by late Sunday afternoon insuring Johnstone’s ability to satisfy customer demand Monday morning,

While Hughes went out to find and negotiate for 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 customers during the crisis regardless of the size of the delivery. “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.

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

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

Sometimes good things can come from bad events. “The new building will be much more efficient,” according to Koon. “No more lofts, everything is on one floor. The showroom is much larger, allowing more stocking. It is 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. “Fast delivery was provided as needed and 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.”

“The really amazing thing to me was how fast Jerry Hughes was able to find us a new building and get us open in five weeks doing everything from scratch,” added Koon. “I don’t know of anyone else who could get that done, but he did it!”

Publication date: 09/15/2003