By Nandita Bose
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Home improvement retailers Home Depot Inc and Lowe's Inc said on Wednesday they have started shipping emergency material to Florida in anticipation of Hurricane Irma, even as they continue recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey in Texas.
Irma, which hit the Caribbean island of St. Martin on Wednesday, is expected to make landfall in Florida during the weekend but its precise trajectory remained uncertain.
Irma could become the second powerful storm to thrash the U.S. mainland after Harvey killed more than 60 people and caused as much as $180 billion in damage after hitting Texas late last month.
"This is unusual because we are now juggling two different storms in two different phases. One is approaching while the other market is in the recovery phase," Home Depot spokesman Matthew Harrigan told Reuters.
Home Depot is following the "same script" preparing for Irma as it did for Harvey. The retailer's merchandising and supply chain teams have previously dealt with different weather-related disasters at once, Harrigan said without giving specific examples.
Before Harvey hit Texas, the world's largest hardware and home improvement chain activated its disaster-response plan, asked managers to freeze prices in stores around the region and move storm related merchandise to the front of the store. It followed a plan honed over many hurricane seasons to minimize disruptions, deliver essential material to affected areas and capitalize on a surge in demand for products once repairs begin.
Home Depot said it takes up to two months to open stores that are hit hard by a hurricane. Stores that are minimally impacted are usually opened within a few days.
Both Home Depot and Lowe's had activated a hurricane command center during Harvey that is now continuing to monitor the path of Irma and mobilizing resources such as supplies.
Home Depot said it has despatched 300 truckloads to Florida so far. Rival Lowe's said it has sent 400 truckloads of hurricane prep material including flashlights, batteries and weather radios to Florida.
Analysts have said investments in logistics and supply chain by home improvement chains during a weather-related disaster typically brings about 10 to 15 times more in sales.
Shares of both Home Depot and Lowe's traded up nearly 2 percent on Wednesday morning.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Chicago, Additional reporting by Sruthi Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Editing by Bill Trott and Marguerita Choy)