Attack Aftermath: Mailers React with Flags, Phone Calls, Prayers

As soon as an employee heard a radio report about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, fellow workers at multititle mailer Brylane’s New York headquarters gathered around televisions in the offices, watching and waiting. Spiegel closed all of its Eddie Bauer stores before the day’s end. Dell Computer Corp. scrambled to confirm the whereabouts of all its employees on the road. And Jim Zimmerman, president/co-owner of Italian ceramics catalog Cottura, was stuck on an airport runway outside London, trying to return home from a sourcing trip.

Catalog Age spoke to mailers nationwide about their immediate reactions to the attacks and how they responded in the days following.

Russell Stravitz is president/CEO of Brylane, a multititle apparel and home goods cataloger based in New York: “We heard about it on the radio initially, and we quickly got a TV up and running on a number of floors. Everyone spent most of that day glued to the TV as the events continued to unfold. We gave anybody who wanted to go home the okay. We had a modified schedule for the next few days, letting our folks take care of things. We also provided counseling in all our sites for employees.

“We’ve increased communications with employees: teleconferences, written communications, expressing our feelings and actions that employees can take, such as blood drives, and encouraging volunteerism. We also raised through employee contributions more than $100,000 for the United Way Sept. 11 fund.”

Laurence Midler is senior vice president/general counsel for computer cataloger Micro Warehouse, based in Norwalk, CT: “Right after the attack, our sales reps contacted their customers who might have been affected and asked if there was anything they needed that they could do for them. [Our client] NBC, in particular, was impressed by this. They said we were the only company that had contacted them like that.”

Lanny Rosenbaum is vice president of sales and marketing for art supplies catalog Dick Blick and home and garden products catalog Alsto’s, based in Galesburg, IL: “In Chicago [the company’s secondary location], all the employees left at noon because the [office] phones were down and in anticipation of traffic tie-ups. In Galesburg, most employees went home too. We also let people be with their families the rest of the week if that is where they wanted to be. About 10% of the workforce stayed away for part of the week. [A week after the attack] we tried to lift morale by designing and making patriotic T-shirts that were distributed and worn by all employees.”

Bryant Helton is a spokesperson for manufacturer/marketer Dell Computer Corp.: “One of our first concerns on Sept. 11 was for our employees’ safety, and we were fortunately able to confirm that all employees were safe. Communications to all employees on company response and information updates have been very regular since the tragic events. And management at all levels is talking with employees to ensure that concerns are addressed and morale is maintained.

“We’re working with customers in a variety of ways to communicate with them about their accounts. We’ve been especially focused on helping customers who were affected in New York and at the Pentagon meet their immediate business needs.”

Rich Donaldson is spokesperson for Freeport, ME-based apparel and outdoor gear cataloger L.L. Bean: “You could see as word got out about the events the call graph drop off between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. that day. And what struck me the most was how much everybody here in Maine considered New York citizens to be their neighbors.

“We’ve worked directly with FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and Red Cross to get their prioritized needs for goods and blood. Our support has come in very specific ways: We sent down blankets, boots, vests, duffel bags, dog booties — we wanted to make sure we’re making a meaningful impact, not a gratuitous one.”

Maurice Frechette is catalog director for Ann Arbor, MI-based food purveyor Zingerman’s: “We had group counseling for our staff the week of the attack. And the week after we brought a counselor in to present our order-takers with techniques for talking to people who are going through the tragedy. At first we were receiving calls from customers who were sending gifts to people with messages such as ‘Thank God you’re okay.’ Now we’re getting calls from customers sending gifts as bereavement packages, and it is trying for our phone reps to talk to some of the customers who are very upset.”

Dina Dubey is marketing director for Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, a St. Johnsburg, VT-based marketer of food gifts: “The Monday after the attacks we brought in a counselor for our employees to talk to. I have a cousin missing as a result of the attack, and even if I didn’t, the tragedy would have affected me more than I could have imagined.”

John Alexander is chief financial officer for Sturbridge Yankee Workshop, a Portland, ME-based home furnishings cataloger: “Employees brought flags in and put them at their desks, and we participated in the moment of silence, bringing everyone together to say the pledge of allegiance and to privately pray. We’ve offered time for employees to get together and talk. And if someone doesn’t want to travel, they don’t have to. For example, our creative director doesn’t want to fly out for a press okay. So our salesman for [printer] Randall Press has offered to do our press okay because he understands our hesitancy about travel.”

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