Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?

Catalogers in eight states and two Canadian provinces were hurt in varying degrees by what is being called the Great Blackout of 2003.

For instance, Cleveland-based AmeriMark Direct lost electricity and all phone lines at 4:15 p.m. Eastern on Aug. 14—and didn’t get the power back until two days later, says owner/chairman Gary Giesler.

For an hour and a half after the blackout, the $70 million parent company of the Anthony Richards, Compliments, Healthy Living, and Windsor Collection catalogs was able to run its computers on a battery-generated interruption system. This enabled AmeriMark to execute an orderly shutdown and ensure that no data were lost.

Although AmeriMark was able to channel incoming calls to a third-party back-up call center within an hour of the blackout, “it couldn’t handle everything we could,” Giesler says. “So I’m sure our abandonment rates were high, and we’re still looking into seeing how many orders we took and how much really was lost. Once we calculate that, it will be part of our insurance filing for business interruption.”

New York-based multititle mailer Brylane also had no major systems issues to report. “Our backup plan worked very well,” says president/CEO Russell Stravitz. “We had some challenges in the New York office with elevators and associates who couldn’t get home. So we scrambled for hotel rooms and accommodated all we could.”

While some catalogers were concerned about saving data and the potential for lost sales, others focused on meeting in-home dates. For example, when the power went out, Cleveland-based World Almanac Education was in the middle of its catalog production cycle, says director of marketing Jodie Yuhas.

“On Thursday and Friday, we were in the process of converting some files to PDF to send to the printer when our system went down,” Yuhas says. “Luckily, our printer [R.R. Donnelley] was able to work with us. Our art director had to come in on the following Saturday. Had the printer been without power in Pontiac, IL, we would have been missing our mailing dates.”

At Elmsford, NY-based wine accessories cataloger The Wine Enthusiast, chairman/CEO Adam Strum sent all employees home once he realized the scope of the outage. He also immediately switched to its rollover service to handle incoming calls.

Like most, The Wine Enthusiast was up and running the following day. And during the three days that followed, sales were as much as 93% over plan, more than making up for the 38% below plan the cataloger was on the Thursday of the blackout.

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