Florida Marketers Clean Up from Frances, Brace for Ivan

Hurricane Frances forced numerous Florida businesses to shut down for several days. As of late Wednesday afternoon, for instance, callers to Delray Beach, FL-based writing tools cataloger Levenger were greeted by this message: “Levenger is temporarily closed due to Hurricane Frances. We will reopen as soon as we can.”

Jacksonville, FL-based Ultama Swimwear closed at noon on Friday and did not reopen until yesterday. “We had no power, so we couldn’t operate at all,” says Internet marketing manager John Eaton. The swimsuit cataloger continued to take orders throughout the storm thanks to its third-party call center, located beyond Frances’s path. But with the administrative and fulfillment departments closed on Tuesday, orders placed over the weekend were delayed by 24 hours.

To prepare for the onslaught of intense winds and rain, the company unhooked all of its computers and computer-related connections, such as its Internet connection, to prevent an electrical surge. There was no need to create additional software files, since the company backs up its customer order files daily. Ultama’s 13 employees were offered special emergency leave with pay, but nobody chose to use it, says Eaton. He was without electricity at his house until Tuesday night, but the other employees had regained power by Monday afternoon.

Another Jacksonville-based cataloger, Venus Swimwear, closed its 90-seat call center for about 36 hours, says president Daryle Scott. “Mainly as a precaution for employees, we closed Saturday night, then reopened the call center on Labor Day.” A prerecorded message greeted callers and explained that Hurricane Frances was the reason for the center’s closing. The message directed customers to Venus Website or to call on Monday. “Because of the Website and the fact that we reopened so quickly, there’s been a minimal interruption in business and zero customer complaints,” Scott says. “Of course, now we’ve got Hurricane Ivan to contend with.”

Indeed, Richard Smith, corporate accounts manager for flowers cataloger Calyx & Corolla, says that he and his five co-workers in the company’s Vero Beach, FL, office are monitoring Ivan’s progress. “We haven’t taken the storm shutters off our homes yet,” he says.

The Wednesday before Frances struck, the Calyx & Corolla office received a call from Elisabeth Robert, the president/CEO of its Shelburne, CT-based parent company, Vermont Teddy Bear Co. Robert advised them to close the offices Wednesday and Thursday to “make preparations for our home and family, or to evacuate,” Smith says. Employees were given those two days off with pay. Work was also optional the day after Labor Day, to give the workers time to get their homes in order.

At least the employees, who handle Calyx & Corolla’s creative and merchandising, were ahead of schedule in putting together the first of Calyx & Corolla’s three Mother’s Day catalogs. Hurricane Frances “will not delay the printing or mailing date of the catalog at all, because we’re almost 30 days ahead of schedule,” Smith says.

Employees were given the option of taking the rest of this week off without pay or using their vacation or personal days, says Smith. One employee, the IT manager, chose to use his vacation days this week to move his family out of a home that suffered water damage after two trees punctured holes in the roof.

To secure the offices, Calyx & Corolla employees unplugged all electronic devices, wrapped the machinery in plastic, and placed them on desks in case the floors became flooded. Since the company’s office space in Vero Beach is rented, the company was not responsible for securing outdoor structures such as its windows.

Fortunately, says Smith, the preparations turned out to be unnecessary. “We did not lose electricity, or if we did, we were not aware of it on Tuesday morning. The air-conditioning, everything was on,” he says. That may be due to the office’s proximity to the city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which is housed in the county administration building, just a block from Calyx & Corolla.

Four of the office’s six employees, including Smith, were still without electricity and running water. And the commute to and from work has been more hazardous than usual. “The intersections that used to have red lights have no red lights any more, and there are no stop signs,” says Smith.

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