Boom Times For Doomsday
Inside the back room at SOS Survival Products in Los Angeles, six new employees are busy putting together disaster kits for homes and cars.
"The demand for pre-made kits has just skyrocketed," says owner Jeff Edelstein.
Sales were flat last year, but they've doubled since the Japanese quake in March.
Many residents in earthquake-prone Los Angeles already have some supplies set aside in case of disaster, but the Japanese quake and tsunami have spurred many to replenish those supplies and add new ones.
At Surplus Value Center on Sunset Blvd., where Ashton Kutcher recently stocked up, you can buy a Geiger counter for $176.
"A lot of people were buying iodide tablets," says manager Rafael Ramirez. Those sales have slowed down, "but people are still buying them."
The focus on disaster may be helping some stocks. Energizer Holdings is up 7 percent in a month.
The $16 billion battery business has been in the middle of a price war, and while RBC Capital Markets says the industry is "still tough," it adds, "Hopefully trends are on the upswing and the restructuring should help protect margins."
3M makes the respirator masks recommended in the Red Cross emergency kit. Morgan Stanley reported the company is ramping up production in response to the disaster in Japan, where it gets 9 percent of its total revenue.
Jarden, which makes Coleman stoves, has seen its stock outperform the broader market since the quake and tsunami.
Debbilyn Day watches the new frenzied buying with a sense of calm. She's been at this for years, slowly building up supplies in her home in Valencia, California, to feed and protect her family of five.
"When people during Katrina were suffering from dehydration, I thought, 'I'm never going to suffer from dehydration," she said. "I've got 165 gallons of water in my house.'"
Day also has a full year's supply of food, much of it tucked (and carefully catalogued) in a closet under the stairs. Each car has a survival kit, and there are extra supplies stored in bins throughout her garage.
One idea she has which I hadn't thought of — keeping expired licenses and passports in emergency kits. They may no longer be valid, but they provide some kind of identification in a pinch.
Day smiles when asked if some wonder whether she's gone too far.
"The guy who delivered my wheat said, 'You know, this is never gonna do you any good,'" she says with a laugh. "I said, 'I know, I don't care...it's peace of mind, you're in control."
Jeff Edelstein at SOS Survival Products says an "eclectic" clientele has kept him busy.
Increasingly, buyers are stocking up in response to beliefs the ancient Mayan calendar may predict the end of the world on December 21, 2012.
"That's a big reason people are storing up on a lot of the water and pre-packaged foods," he says.
Most freeze dried foods, or Meals Ready-to-Eat, are made by private companies like The Wornick Company and Unaka Corp.
Edelstein says demand across the country has been so strong that one of his main suppliers has stopped shipping to many retailers. "They're doubling the size of their production and they can't keep up."
Debbilyn Day knows if a major earthquake hits and people can't get to supplies of food or water, her neighbors will show up at her house. That doesn't bother her.
"When you are prepared," she says, "it puts you in another category. I can help, I'm not desperate."