Stony Creek Brands COO Guiding Light Through Superstorm Sandy

Nov 08, 2012 7:26 PM  By

Terri Alpert, founder and CEO of North Branford, CT-based Stony Creek Brands, admitted she had never experienced anything like Superstorm Sandy, professionally speaking, since she launched her first business in 1993.

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“We were prepared even though we hadn’t experienced anything quite this bad before,” Alpert said. Alpert praised Robin Bavin, the company’s chief operating officer, for her leadership which “prepared us and got us through.”

For Stony Creek Brands, which includes the Artisan Table and Uno Alla Volta titles, Bavin outlined how the company prepared, reacted and recovered from Superstorm Sandy.

On Friday, Oct. 26, three days before Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast, Bavin held an organizational meeting with the operations team to review what was in place already, details of storm impact and estimated recovery windows. From that meeting, Bavin said an action plan was formulated to prepare the building, technology, staff, vendors, and customers for the potential impact.

“We discussed short- and long-term risks,” Bavin explained, “and team members were assigned preparation items.”

As part of the building preparation checklist, Bavin said sand bags and hay were used to prevent generator flooding; exterior deals were sealed if level with the parking lot; emergency lights were tested; and a walkthrough conducted inside and outside to confirm no new issues.

The generator covered a small section of the building, Bavin said, including customer relations and an IT systems room. “Knowing this, we determined up front what systems or processes needed to be operational.”

On Sunday, Oct. 28, Bavin said systems moved to an area with power and verified remote access connections included the contact center, IT, order generation, and pick/pack/ship. Communications included recording and reviewing storm messages and updates for customers, recording daily messages for employees from Sunday night through power outage.

An email was sent to all employees on Friday, Oct. 26 to inform them about details of the action plan and contact information.

Promotion/campaign codes for free shipping were offered to customers due to storm impact. Preparation of customer orders in the distribution center occurred Friday and generated all orders available and printed paperwork needed.

On Monday, Oct. 29, when Superstorm Sandy hit, Bavin said the generator failed to start on its own “so I stopped in while I was out and started it manually.”

Bavin confirmed that systems were functional and updated customer and employee messages. Monday was the only day the Stony Creek Brands facility was closed, Bavin said. “We could not ship any air or priority shipments on Monday or Tuesday as FedEx did not accept any.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 30, the operation team came in early to prepare for employee arrival and informed all employees that the building was on generator power and was partially operational. The permanent distribution center and contact center staffs arrived and remote staff accessed the necessary systems. All available employees assisted with picking orders and pick/pack was conducted by flashlight and packages shipped.

Shipping stations to process and manifest orders were created and an electrician added additional generator-powered lighting in the distribution center for added safety.

On Wednesday, Oct. 31, the facility was on generator power and additional staff was set up in customer relations space for creative, merchandising, and finance. A printer for order printing was moved to generator power to fulfill more orders. Additional temporary staff was brought in to fulfill and ship the orders. All available employees assisted with picking orders.

Power was restored to the facility by 6 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 1. Bavin said there was UPS failure upon switchback and a critical server crashed, but all other systems were functional. Due to PDF backup of orders for the failed system, “we were able to print out and not recreate or delay delivery.”

All systems were moved back to their normal areas with power and IT recovered data. By Friday, Nov. 2, Bavin said all systems were functional and “we were caught up and back to normal. By Friday, we shipped all orders taken with inventory out the door.”

Bavin said one of the brands experienced one- or two-day delays for some orders due to the system crash, and there was a one-day delay for the other brand. “There was also an embargo on FedEx Freight coming into us for all of last week. Therefore, there would be a day or two delay of products expected to be received last week that we could not ship until Nov. 5.

In an email to customers shortly after Superstorm Sandy hit, Alpert wrote: “During this period I have witnessed team work at its very finest. I have seen how people come together and unite in a crisis and can be there wholly and completely for one another. Members of our team have been so focused on each other and on you our customers!”

Jim Tierney (jim.tierney@penton.com) is a senior writer for Multichannel Merchant. You can connect with him on Twitter (TierneyMCM) and LinkedIn, or call him at 203-358-4265.