BlueSky’s collapse causes nonprofit fiasco

The collapse of direct marketer BlueSky Brands has delivered a bruising black eye to several of the most venerable nonprofits in existence — and left them scrambling to figure out how to deal with customers who may think they have been ripped off by the organizations.

BlueSky Brands — parent company of the Paragon Gifts, Bits and Pieces, Bits and Pieces U.K. — abruptly closed down March 14, reportedly without notifying the nonprofit brands it represented or customers who had placed orders.

North Kingstown, RI-based BlueSky had deals with the National Wildlife Federation, the Smithsonian and Delaware’s decorative arts museum, Winterthur Museum & Country Estates, under which it operated catalogs and Websites using the nonprofits’ brands and logos.

When BlueSky went belly up, all the catalogs and e-commerce operations using these nonprofits’ brands suddenly shut down and stopped fielding inquiries. This left numerous consumers with unfulfilled orders thinking they had been stood up by the nonprofits themselves.

For example, Jeanine Sauer of Boise, ID, in February ordered a polished silver and glass squirrel nut dispenser from National Wildlife Direct, a company owned by BlueSky that had a licensing deal with the Wildlife Federation in return for royalties. Sauer’s check for $38.93 was cashed, but the product never arrived.

When asked if she thought she was doing business with the National Wildlife Federation, she said: “Absolutely. I wrote the check to the National Wildlife Federation.”

Jennifer Jones, vice president of strategic communications for the National Wildlife Federation, says the organization is currently fielding all inquiries and figuring out how to handle them. She says the National Wildlife Federation was given no warning before BlueSky shut down.

“At this moment, we’re exploring the situation and assessing our options,” Jones says. “We’re collecting all the inquiries and organizing them according to their status. Until we have all of the data in terms of the number of inquiries we’re getting, we don’t have a plan yet in terms of how we’re going to follow through.”

Calling on customers

To make matters worse, the National Wildlife Federation has no information on customers who made unfulfilled purchases from BlueSky’s National Wildlife Direct, Jones says.

“The only way we know is if people call,” says Jones. “That’s unfortunate because we might not hear from a lot of people. So we won’t be able to explain the situation — that we licensed our name to BlueSky Brands and we don’t have a catalog operation.”

Meanwhile, according to Delaware’s daily News Journal, Robert Necarsulmer, chief financial officer at Winterthur, says that when BlueSky shut down, it did not give Winterthur any contact information or help in how to proceed. Instead, it redirected its Website links to Winterthur’s site.

Winterthur has since reportedly been fielding questions from confused and angry BlueSky customers, as well. But the museum has so far refused to take any responsibility for orders placed with catalogs sporting its name and logo left unfulfilled by BlueSky.

“Winterthur is not responsible for resolving issues related to the operations or outstanding orders of BlueSky Brands and does not have information on the orders that have been placed,” the company said in a statement on its site. “Credit card issuers may be able to assist in resolving billing disputes with BlueSky Brands for those orders paid for by credit card.”

The Smithsonian, a client of BlueSky’s fulfilment arm, AB&C, is scrambling to reassure customers and find a new vendor. SmithsonianStore.com in April displayed a message saying it can’t process orders because of the unexpected shutdown of BlueSky, though it doesn’t name the firm.

The site also offers a question-and-answer page on which it assures customers that orders placed before March 14 will be fulfilled and that any received after that date will be cancelled and the customers’ credit cards will not be charged.

The Smithsonian says it expects it will take 60 to 90 days to find a new vendor.

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