Friday, September 3, 2010

Survival Supply Store = big business

 VANCOUVER - If The Big One — that mega-earthquake that threatens to carve the West Coast a new orifice — ever hits, rest assured: our mayor and city councillors should be okay.

That’s because city hall is right across the street from a store that sells earthquake survival kits. Now if only the folks at Krasicki and Ward Emergency Preparedness can find a way to save the councillors’ bicycles.

Krasicki and Ward moved into the lower level of City Square shopping mall in July, setting up in a windowless space that looks like a good place to wait out a storm. Should a storm happen, the company’s five employees will have supplies to last through a long one.

The shelves contain 72-hour emergency survival kits, first-aid supplies, power bars, flashlights, batteries, ropes, tents, whistles. Bring it on!

And, in case The Big One takes its own sweet time arriving, Krasicki and Ward will survive quite nicely. Most sales for the company, which has been around for 13 years, are made to three levels of government and to private companies stocking up on supplies for their employees. Construction companies, restoration firms and civic governments with traffic departments buy the safety vests.

The store also sells camping supplies, first-aid kits, fans for home and office, and booster cables for customers with unreliable cars.

“It’s a fun business for us,” says Scott Larson, Krasicki and Ward sales manager. “The retail stuff will sell, but we bring in esoteric things that people order.”

Just last week a customer ordered a respirator for his cat.

That kind of order shouldn’t come as a surprise. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, some citizens would not leave their flooded homes because they didn’t want to abandon their pets. With that in mind, the store sells “pet survival kits,” consisting of first-aid supplies for Fifi and Fluffy.

On the store’s food shelves, next to the energy power bars, are hot vegetable lasagna meals. Well, not hot yet. By pouring the packed-in-plastic salt water into the magnesium meal tray, the contents will heat up and steam the pasta. Larson says these are used by police officers forced into long stakeouts who don’t want to get by on the usual cold snacks.

Another part of the store consists of what Larson calls “the pandemic defence corner,” offering a variety of disinfectants.

Founded by president and CEO Anne Ward, who saw the need for such a business following the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, Krasicki and Ward operated out of an office, conducting mostly institutional and governmental sales. The company had participated in a number of emergency-preparation events at City Square, so when the opportunity arose to move into the mall permanently this summer, in they went. The store is located across the hall from the mall’s anchor tenant, so if the walls start swaying, Safeway shoppers can walk a few strides and grab a 72-hour emergency kit to go with their Safeway Select waffles.

Whenever natural disasters occur, there will be a spike in orders. The Seattle earthquake a few years back led to such a blip, particularly when local media ran the inevitable can-it-happen-here? stories. Surprisingly, the devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile caused only minor spikes in orders.

Krasicki and Ward is not the only outlet retailing survival kits. Canadian Tire sells them, and Mountain Equipment Co-op has first-aid kits for people stranded in the wilderness. But it’s unusual to see such an outlet in a shopping mall.

A retail outlet this specialized recalls the Saturday Night Live sketch about the Scotch Tape Boutique, where the store’s enthusiastic employees stampeded the sole customer who walked in the door. Larson is more than aware of the perception.

“People,” he says with a smile, “come in and ask, ‘How long are you going to be here?’”

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