Terror Alerts Boost Safety Products Sales

Not everyone rushed to local stores to buy duct tape and bottled water in the days after Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge announced a heightened terror alert in early February. A number of consumers ordered gas masks, protective suits, and other emergency-preparedness equipment from direct marketers such as Safety Square.

“We were overwhelmed,” says Chrissy Mahoney, office manager for the New York-based online cataloger, “going from an average of 30 orders a day to as much as 300 per day in the days immediately following the warning.” Sales of staple items such as gas masks increased 50% and stayed that high for about four weeks.

At Orem, UT-based cataloger Emergency Essentials, sales doubled following the Feb. 7 change in terror alertness from yellow (indicating elevated risk) to orange (high risk), says executive manager/partner Scott Pedersen. The cataloger saw another spike March 18, the day after President Bush issued his ultimatum to Saddam Hussein.

More people are buying high-ticket items such as a year’s supply of food, Pedersen says, which can range from $800 to $2,000. And 80% of orders since February are coming from new buyers, he adds.

Both Emergency Essentials and Safety Square were dealing with the increased business by hiring temporary workers. Emergency Essentials, which normally has 50 permanent staffers, hired more than 50 temp workers during the past few months. In addition to hiring temps, Safety Square has outsourced some of its calls to a third-party call center.

Emergency Essentials will be increasing circulation as well. “It is too early to tell by just how much,” Pedersen says, “but we typically mail 700,000 catalogs each year, and we will be close to hitting that by the end of March.”

Business as usual for b-to-b

Business-to-business marketers of emergency supplies haven’t seen similar spikes in sales. At Galls, the Lexington, KY-based multititle mailer of emergency products for law enforcement professionals, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians, “sales have been fairly normal and steady,” says vice president of advertising and marketing Tim O’Malley. “If anything, we expect a dip, since state budgets that serve police, EMTs, and firefighters have been slashed.”

Tipton, PA-based New Pig, which sells spill-containment and materials-handling products, saw just a slight lift in sales of protective suits, gloves, and respirators, says spokesperson Carl DeCaspers. Nor has Madison, WI-based Conney Safety Products seen a major increase in business, says vice president of marketing Mark Gross.

“Fighting bioterrorism is not our strength,” Gross notes, “and we will continue to offer products geared for workplace safety only.” In fact Conney is training CSRs to explain the limitations of the products to consumers who call.

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