In the Midst of the Storm

Boca Raton, FL-based jewelry cataloger Seta Corp. is thankful that it fared as well as it did through the two hurricanes — Frances and Jeanne — which hit its area this year, says chief operating officer Tim Holody. “In terms of impact to our consumers, it was nonexistent,” he says.

The company, which mailed the Palm Beach Jewelry title, was able to take calls throughout the storms via its third-party call center, Margate, FL-based Global Response Corp. Its Website stayed up and running as well. “We have an extremely hurricane-proof facility,” Holoday says. Seta’s 35,000-sq.-ft. distribution center/headquarters has loading dock doors designed to sustain winds of up to 130 miles per hour, reinforced windows, a backup generator, and a quality drainage system in the parking lot.

Mobile, AL-based gift basket cataloger/retailer Tanner’s Pecans & Candies is also counting its blessings, though it did sustain some damage from Hurricane Ivan. A loss of electricity forced the company to shut its distribution center and store from Sept. 14 to Sept. 20. “I’m guessing we probably lost 10% of our monthly sales from the closure of our gift shop,” says owner/president Danny Fox.

The highly seasonal direct side of the business — which takes in 65% of its orders in November and December — was less affected. Throughout the storm, customers could place orders on the site, which was fully operational, or by leaving a message on the company’s answering machine.

Tanner’s 19,000-sq.-ft. facility, which houses its call center along with its warehouse and shop, emerged unscathed except for its 10 ft. × 20 ft. sign, which was destroyed. Fox estimates that a replacement will cost more than $20,000.

“DREADFUL” SALES IMPACT

Skincare cataloger Key West Aloe also lost electricity following Hurricane Ivan. CEO Rich Gorman says the Key West, FL-based company was closed for five days. Fortunately the building suffered little physical damage. Nonetheless, Gorman says the catalog fared “miserably” following the storms. Because half of the company’s revenue comes from Florida and other southeastern states, September’s sales were down 25%-30%.

To make up for the sales shortfall, Key West Aloe mailed promotional pieces to customers and worked with the media to conduct some after-hurricane public relations in an attempt to drive traffic to both the call center and its Website.

Gorman says the hurricanes were “ultimately not a hit we can’t endure,” but rather an obstacle in trying to exceed sales from last year.

For Birmingham, AL-based 365, the financial impact of the hurricanes was “dreadful,” says CEO Bernard Frei. The company, which owns WorldSoccerShop.com and WorldRugbyShop.com, saw sales plummet 30% in September.

“We were more affected by the run-up to the hurricane in that there was a lot of uncertainty,” says Frei. In anticipation of Ivan, the cataloger’s 22 employees arrived for work Sept. 16 at 5 a.m. and worked until 11 a.m., when they were sent home.

To prepare for Ivan, the company backed up its computers, removed the hard drives, and used “lots of plastic sheeting” to cover remaining computer components and merchandise. The only damage was to Frei’s office, which was completely drenched. The office was closed for two days.

A message at the call center alerted customers that representatives would not be taking calls, and notices on the Websites cautioned that orders may be delayed. In hindsight, Frei thinks that the messages cost 365 a fair amount of business. “I think they put people off a little,” he says. “But we prefer to be honest.”

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