Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

Fort McMurray rebuilding as seen by a local Home Hardware dealer

Canadian Contractor

“We’ve been through this before and we’ll get through this again,” says Rob Rice.

It’s been a month since residents of Fort McMurray have been allowed back into their city to assess the damage to their homes and businesses and to start the re-building process. For Home Hardware dealer-owner Rob Rice, it’s been a month watching spirits climb from very low levels to those of increased optimism. His 50,000 square foot retail outlet in particular has been a central hub for contractors re-tooling and looking for work. “As bad and as tragic as this was, it’s now a chance for people to get their businesses back in order, to get up and running and making a good living again,” Rice told Canadian Contractor.

Outside contractors now less of a concern for locals
Rice also observes that initial concerns regarding outside rebuilding contractors coming into the Wood Buffalo area and taking work away from locals has calmed down once people returned and saw first-hand the scope of the re-building required.

Rob Rice, owner-dealer of Home Hardware's Fort McMurray outlet, has seen increased optimism within his community in the past few weeks.

Rob Rice, dealer-owner of Home Hardware’s Fort McMurray outlet, has seen increased optimism within his community in the past few weeks.

“Yes, there are outsiders coming in. Is there enough work for everyone? Yes, there probably is. We’re looking at a big re-build, but we’re still some time away, several months even, before we can start to re-build. What we’re seeing are the specialty clean-up firms in here. It’s all just clean-up, clean-up, clean-up and restoration. Nothing’s going to be going into the ground anytime soon, unless builders have empty lots.”

“There’s so much work, the locals probably can’t handle it all anyway,” Rice says. “It’s a lot bigger job than anyone anticipated. It’s just amazing. What upset people at first were feelings they would be missing the opportunity. And of course, they should have first crack at it; they’re local. But there’s so much to be done. There’s plenty for everyone.”


The stores are re-booting, just like their customers
Rice’s Home Hardware store itself was largely unaffected the fire. “We were a little smoky, that’s about it.  We were very lucky. We had our rooftop cleaned and our ducts cleaned, got our cleaners in here. We obviously had to throw out all of our food products, our plants, trees, flowers; those things are all gone.”

Contractors are now coming into the store to re-tool. “They’re buying everything. There’s still a lot of damage assessment going on, but they’ve got to get things together. We’re busy; the whole town is getting busy. There’s lot of activity going on.”

Helping with credit and referrals
Rice’s store is extending their regular credit and discount programmes to many of their contractor customers as they replace lost equipment after the fire. “If we can do anything extra, we’ll help them out. We’ve got some coming in, and instead of buying one saw they’re buying three saws and four drills so they can get their crews back up and running. I had a builder come in and he’d lost everything. He’s a one-man show but I gave him a credit limit, and he’s already come back in and paid it off.”

Rice’s store also is acting as a type of referral bulletin board for jobs. It’s part of the community spirit that is certain to lift everyone up with the tide. “We can help them get jobs. We don’t officially recommend anybody, but we know the guys that come here and shop on a daily basis. They’re not fly-by-night’ers; they’re local guys who have shopped here for years and years. We say to our retail customers: ‘Call them, but call two or three others too.’ But we know them; we know they’re not going to do a poor job and run off because they’re around. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

The famous Fort Mac resiliency is showing
“You can see just in the last month there’s a better attitude,” says Rice. “People are a bit happier; they feel they’re back in business. At first everyone was feeling down-and-out. But you have to take the bad ugly part of it and you’ve got to make a positive out of it. We’re a boom and bust town. We’ve been through this before, the up’s and down’s, and we’ll get through this again.”

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