The tragic Southern California wildfires had many catalogers working on suppressing mailings to zip codes in the affected areas last week. But merchants based in the region had more pressing concerns, such as evacuations, air quality, distribution problems, and of course, general terror that the flames would reach them.
Keith Goodman, vice president of corporate solutions for Modern Postcard, a provider of mailing products and services based in Carlsbad, CA, about 20 miles north of San Diego. “The biggest effect has been on staffing, because the beach area is expensive to live near, so most of our production people live in more affordable inland areas,” he says. “But those were the areas most affected by the wildfires. We were under half staff Monday (Oct. 22) and Tuesday (Oct. 23), although the fires didn’t directly affect our building.”
Goodman says Modern Postcard, which employs about 250 people, lost some production time, but it was almost back to even for the week. “We ran some late shifts to make up time lost.”
More than half of the company’s staff had to be evacuated. Most of them stayed with friends, Goodman says: “The other half of the staff had evacuees staying with them.”
The air quality in the region that week was “atrocious,” Goodman says. “That was an issue for people in here with the presses with anything gritty in the air,” he adds. “A smoke path went over our building. We shut down all of our press and ink-jetting systems. The air quality is much better now and we replaced all filters in our system.”
Goodman is quick to point out that Modern Postcard-not to mention San Diego-really “lucked out. The devastation would have been ridiculous, and the wildfires would’ve headed into heavily populated areas.”
Sarah Thies, marketing manager for La Jolla-based cultural vacations cataloger Classic Journeys, says her company was fortunate as well. “La Jolla was not in the path of destruction,” she says. “Many staff members had to evacuate earlier this week and all have since returned home and had homes to return to. Our office is fine.” Classic Journeys, which mails about 400,000 catalogs per year, has 10 employees here and a call center.
“There was a lot of concern the fires were going to move into heavily populated areas because the Santa Ana winds were so strong and the fires were changing directions pretty quickly.” The air quality was quite poor, she says, with an orange-colored sky and ashes raining down.”
Lynn Staneff, marketing director for Santa Barbara-based travel supplies cataloger Magellan’s, says her company, located 90 miles north of Los Angeles, was not affected by the fires. “We have a retail store in Santa Monica that was a bit affected by the Malibu fires,” she says. “Sales were a little bit depressed.”
Overall the fires did not have a dramatic effect on sales “because most of our business is done through a catalog,” Staneff says. “And it didn’t impact shipments or deliveries. I just feel badly for everyone affected by the fires. We dodged a bullet. Typically, we do get those Santa Ana winds, but they stopped just south of us.”
Nancy Jacobson, human resources manager for Spring Valley-based children’s books and educational supplies cataloger Chinaberry, says her company was close to the fires, located about 15 miles east of San Diego. The fire came so close that company officials were keeping an eye on it at 3 a.m. on Oct. 23.
In fact, Chinaberry was closed on that day, “though during the night we had warehouse and merchandise coverage,” Jacobson says. “A number of our employees had to evacuate.”
Meanwhile, employees at Santa Monica-based Cooking.com had to deal with an orange haze and poor air quality, said spokesman John Gabaldon. But the business was not interrupted by the wildfires–even its Ontario, CA-based distribution plant, which was in the epicenter of the wildfires, functioned without disturbance. “The distribution center was spared, there were no interruption, and there was no need for evacuation,” he says.
Relax the Back, a La Palma, CA-based merchant of ergonomic chairs for the office and home, also escaped the wildfires. Its corporate offices and warehouse are at the northern tip of Orange County, away from the wildfires. But Leanne Mattes, the company’s vice president of marketing, says its Southern California stores saw some reduction in traffic. “Not a lot of people had shopping at the top of mind.”