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VOL. 123 | NO. 78 | Monday, April 21, 2008

After the Storm

Hardy Bottling back in business

By Rosalind Guy

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BACK TO BOTTLING: Carolyn Hardy, owner of Hardy Bottling Co. on Raines Road, has her facility back in business after it suffered damage from the February tornado that ripped through Hickory Hill. -- Photo By Rosalind Guy

"The storms may hit but we won't quit."

That's the message flashing in the production area at Hardy Bottling Co. on Raines Road.

The facility, which sustained millions of dollars in damage during the early February tornado that ripped through Southaven and Hickory Hill, opened earlier this month, just as plant owner Carolyn Hardy had hoped.

And like any plant that has been hit by a tornado, Hardy said, things were rocky for the crew that returned to work April 7. But they quickly improved.

The storm caused Hardy Bottling to lose a couple of its big clients. Hardy refused to identify them, instead saying, "Let's put it like this, my No. 1 client, I lost them." They have been able to gain some new clients, including Philadelphia-based Cintron Beverage Group. In fact, it was the first line employees began running when they returned.

"And we picked up Apple and Eve," Hardy said. "Next we're going to be running for a customer out of Europe. We're going to be running the 8.4-ounce Red Bull can. ... We got a lot of new customers and we're really proud of that. And the new customers stayed with us; when we started coming back, they started placing their orders."

Recovering

When employees started arriving earlier this month, only three didn't come back. The company has about 100 people working there, a number Hardy said she hopes to get up to 120 within the next 30 days.

As for repairs, the majority of the work has been completed on the roof except for a small section over a production facility that will require some new equipment that's not expected to be in until May.

"We prioritized it last because that line has some new equipment coming in anyway," Hardy said. "So I couldn't start it up until May when that new equipment comes in. We said do it last; the work will be finished completely by Friday."

With a price tag of about $10 million, the 1 million-square-foot plant should be back to its pre-storm state by June. The strategy has been to get all the things done that were necessary to get it back running as a manufacturing plant, Hardy said.

"There's a lot of nice-to-haves, like our fence; we fixed the front fence," she said. "Next year, when we get a little more money, we'll fix the back fence. You can't fix everything all in the first year."

Skyrocketing costs

Another struggle the plant is having to overcome in the wake of the storm is a surging utility bill.

"You'd probably be a millionaire now from the last bill I just paid to catch up," Hardy said.

The bill is increasingly becoming a problem and Hardy said no matter who she talks to, nobody seems to have the answers for what she can do about it. The bill, she said, is the one thing that could take her back down at this point.

"I've met with (the Tennessee Valley Authority) and they've given us some recommendations to bring it down a little bit," she said. "But I don't need a little bit. I need a transformation to be successful. This was a brewery and the utilities are for a brewery, but I'm a bottler, I have a beverage plant and that is very different. A beverage plant uses 10 percent of the capabilities of a brewery. So that's my challenge right now."

While she struggles to come up with answers regarding utilities, she also is facing a major overhaul of the ammonia system that runs the cooler where Coors products are kept.

The piping for the system is on the roof where it sustained some damage during the storm. The ammonia system is expected to be operational by the end of the month.

There still is the possibility of further damage with the piping system on the roof, so Hardy said she's looking for a way to run the pipes without going on the roof.

Despite the challenges, Hardy and her crew are ready to forge ahead. She said she's glad to be back in business and is extremely grateful for the customers who stuck with her as she struggled to get back on her feet.

"We're glad to be back," Hardy said. "We have challenges and we have some large challenges. But we're working to overcome those challenges."

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 140 16,020
MORTGAGES 0 145 18,537
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 0 0
BUILDING PERMITS 0 323 32,794
BANKRUPTCIES 0 121 10,621
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 58 5,144
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 90 11,307
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 60 3,833

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