Mailers Weather Frances, Brace for Ivan

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Heavy rains and power outages from the Texas-sized Hurricane Frances disrupted mailing efforts throughout Florida last week, in some cases compounding problems caused by August's Hurricane Charley.


As of week's end, deliveries had resumed in all but a few ZIP codes -- in Vero Beach, Melbourne and Satellite Beach -- and nearly all U.S. Postal Service plants had resumed operations. One exception was the West Palm Beach mail processing facility, which remained closed and was not expected to accept drop shipments until this week at the earliest.


However, with another hurricane, Ivan, in the Caribbean last week and threatening to strike southern Florida over the weekend, direct marketers in the state had little time to catch their breath.


Fulfillment firm Mail Unlimited Inc., Winter Park, FL, suffered little damage from Frances and was without power for less than one business day, company vice president Ernie Broennle said. In comparison, Hurricane Charley left Mail Unlimited without power for 3 1/2 days.


Yet the double-whammy hurricanes caused production problems during a period of high mail volumes, Broennle said. The fall mailing season is coinciding with increased political mailings because of Florida's Aug. 31 primary for congressional and local seats.


Many workers have stayed home to care for children because of school closures. In cases where Mail Unlimited had no other choice, the company moved work offsite or outsourced work it could not complete to competitors, an uncomfortable but necessary situation, Broennle said.


Mail Unlimited recovered faster from Frances than from Charley, he said. Still, with Ivan on the way, the company wasn't wasting any time.


"We're really trying to work extended hours to get out as much work as possible before the storm hits," he said.


Venus Swimwear, Jacksonville, FL, prints and mails its catalogs outside the state, so the company was generally unaffected, said president Daryle Scott. However, Frances forced Venus Swimwear to close its inbound call center for 36 hours, much as Charley in August caused a 24-hour call center shutdown.


"We've received zero customer complaints," Scott said. "Everyone is very aware of the situation and has been very patient with us."


Though it incurred no major damage, Dunhill International List Co. Inc.'s office in Boca Raton closed because of a loss of power and telephone service. It reopened Sept. 8.


Meanwhile, a generator powered by diesel fuel kept Worldata, also in Boca Raton, going through a power outage, corporate vice president Jay Schwedelson said. Power was restored as of Sept. 9, and the company was fully operational. Worldata refueled its generator last week and ensured that its backup systems were intact in anticipation of Ivan, he said.


In nearby Deerfield Beach, MetaResponse Group devised another solution to overcome the situation left by Frances.


"Ironic enough, our investment properties on the beach did not suffer any power loss," MetaResponse vice president Al DiBlasi said.


As the property has DSL service and a static IP address, a simple relocation of the main server and workstations had core operations fully functional in just a few hours, he said. The company expected to be back in its corporate offices today.


On-card Inc., Delray Beach, FL, also lost power and its phone and Web services for several days.


"There [was] no e-mail coming in, and we [were] missing everything," said chief marketing officer Pablo del Real.


Del Real was especially concerned about the company's Web promotion that ends Sept. 30.


"We [couldn't] get people registered on the Web site," he said. "We are in a new office building, and in the next space over, there is a huge generator that is not online, and if we had foreseen the power outage lasting so long, we could have gotten that thing up. A generator would have really smoothed things out in terms of getting back online on time."


J.C. Penney Co. Inc. spokesman Tim Lyons said more than 40 of its Florida stores were closed during the height of the hurricane. All were expected to reopen by Sept. 8. Lyons knew of no other operations that were affected, and the company was issuing no statements about sales being affected.


However, Federated Department Stores Inc. said last week that Frances cost the company $20 million in lost sales at its Bloomingdale's and Burdines-Macy's stores. This is expected to reduce its September sales by 1.5 percent.


Chico's FAS Inc., Fort Myers, FL, said sales were down 2 percent for the first 10 days of the month, which the company attributed to the continuing effect of Charley and Frances. The company also noted unusually low coupon-redemption rates, most likely the result of delays in the delivery of its September catalog. Though the weather is partly to blame for this delay, Chico's is working with the USPS to get to the root of the problem, a Chico's spokeswoman said.


Chico's operates 73 stores in Florida, which sustained limited damage from the weather. Sixty stores were closed during Frances' peak. Several stores remained closed as of Sept. 8.


BizForRent.com, Goldenrod, FL, a site that lists commercial properties for lease, shut down and secured its data center as a precaution during Frances. President Daniel Thompson said he was concerned about test mailings he did between the two hurricanes.


"I am worried about the response because I think our offer is going to be missed with everybody being preoccupied with storm-related issues," he said.


Moreover, some mail might not even arrive. Thompson said he seeds the mail with four or five addresses to track it, and he hasn't received anything yet.


"It's been a week, and we haven't seen anything yet, so I know that the mail is backed up," he said.


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