Firms Weary in Wilma’s Wake

As the first wave of relief supplies arrived in South Florida, merchants and service firms in the area were coping with the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Wilma.

“We lost power at our headquarters during the first day of the storm [Oct. 24], which when it hit us was a category 2 hurricane,” Steve Leveen, president/CEO of Delray Beach, FL-based “reading tools” merchant Levenger, said in an Oct. 28 voice mail to MULTICHANNEL MERCHANT. “Phone service is sketchy.”

Levenger was using two generators as backup. A third-party call center in New Hampshire took phone calls.A backup Web server at its Memphis distribution center has about one-third capacity of its normal server, which explains why in the days immediately following the storm, Web shoppers were greeted with the message, “Due to weather-related issues, shopping on our Website may be a little slower than usual. When you add items to your shopping cart, kindly enter your billing and shipping address, even if you’re already a customer. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Making matters worse for Levenger was that a catalog mailing of 3 million was hitting mailboxes last Monday, the first day of the storm. Leveen estimates that 70% of the mailing went to prospects. “I’m sure a lot of those customers had no idea that we were down here suffering the effects of the hurricane, so when they called in and got a busy signal or found or our Website sluggish, they may not return to us,” Leveen noted in his voice mail.

Numerous phone calls to Levenger’s South Florida neighbor, women’s apparel cataloger Boston Proper, were met with a fast busy signal as late as Oct. 28.

By the end of last week, Boca Raton, FL-based list services firm Worldata was processing and shipping list orders at near 80% capacity, thanks to diesel-powered generators, according to corporate vice president Jay Schwedelson. Another list services firm, Pompano Beach, FL-based Lighthouse List Co., had opened three satellite offices to process counts, orders, and questions, says vice president Mark Traverso.

Farther north, in St. Petersburg, HSN U.S., part of New York-based IAC Interactive, which includes the Improvements, Garnet Hill, Ballard Designs, and Frontgate catalogs, was spared. “We were not affected at all,” says an HSN spokesperson. “In the Tampa area, it was just a little bit of wind and rain, and the operation was not affected at all.”

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