DM world reacts to CA fires

Theáwildfires that ravaged Southern California and blazed at their peak last week took their toll on parts of the direct marketing industry as well, with local companies reporting closed offices, staffing issues due to people being evacuated from their homes and delays in orders. By Thursday, when the winds that were driving the fires finally started dying down, it looked like operations might return to normal in a few days. However, it will likely be weeks before the financial impact is fully understood.

The 16-fire storm, which began two weekends ago, destroyed 1,800 homes and burned a half-million acres before firefighters began to get it under control, The New York Times reported on October 26.

That date was also when several days of interrupted service gave way to the beginnings of normalcy at the United States Postal Service.

Virtually all residents and businesses in San Diego County were expected to receive mail delivery on Friday, either via mail carrier, in their PO box or at temporary post offices established for evacuated communities.

It’s going to take a little longer for things to return to normal for Real Health Laboratories, which is located in San Diego close to the Mexico border.

The company voluntarily closed its offices, call center and fulfillment center for 36 hours between midday Monday and Wednesday morning because of their proximity to one of the largest fires. Its Web sites also went down during this period. As a result, shipments for its three catalog businesses – As We Change, Real Health and Dr. Cherry – were delayed about two days. The company had dropped an As We Change catalog the week before, so it expects to lose some orders as well.

On Thursday, Real Health sent an e-mail to its entire house file of 100,000 names explaining what had happened and offering customers a 10% discount on any purchase.

“We expect there will be an impact, but we know we will get some [customers] back,” said Art Rowe-Cerveny, director of marketing operations, Real Health Laboratories. He expected to be caught up on shipments by the end of the week. However, it will be a few weeks before the company will know what the full financial impact is.

Real Health is just one of several catalogers in the vicinity. Others include Road Runner Sports, Smith & Noble and Thousand Mile Outdoor Wear.

Although she is based in Philadelphia, Karen Friedman, principal of media and public speaking firm Karen Friedman Enterprises Inc., finds her mailing plans delayed by several weeks because of the California wildfires. More than 2,000 two-sided oversized postcards promoting her co-authored book, Speaking of Success, were scheduled to be printed and sent by Modern Postcard, a direct mail facility based in Carlsbad, CA. Though normal turnaround time was three to five days, Modern Postcard informed its clients by e-mail last week that due to understaffing, power outages and forced closure of its office it expected delays in printing and sending ordered materials.

Others, while not directly affected, still were making adjustments.
Direct marketing services provider Data Marketing Inc., Santa Clara, CA, has informed clients who mail nationally, and especially those who mail in Southern California that it can cut their data files down to pull out the areas that have been hit. While some mailers want to suppress names, others plan to continue to mail into the area with information about services that people may need as they recover from the fires, said Adele Bihn, CEO of Data Marketing.

Because the company isn’t based in Southern California and the focus of its business isn’t in that part of the state, Data Marketing doesn’t expect any significant financial impact from the fires, Bihn said.

While multichannel pet supplies merchant Petco is based in San Diego, the fires had no impact on the company’s direct business, said John Lazarchic, vice president of e-commerce at Petco.

The company’s hosting service for its Web site did have to switch to backup generators for several hours during the fires, but the site never went down. Petco’s nearest distribution center is in Mira Loma, CA, near Los Angeles, and wasn’t affected by the fires.

However, realizing that a lot of its customers are in areas affected by the fires, The Petco Foundation began a 10-day program on Tuesday to raise money to help animals affected by the wildfires. The Round-Up program is being promoted in Petco stores nationwide and on its Web site, encouraging customers to round up their purchases to the next highest dollar amount as a contribution to the foundation. All donations will go toward the foundation’s ongoing efforts to aid animals affected by the fires and other incidents.

“We don’t release exact figures on donations until the program is over, but so far the response has been very strong,” Lazarchic said. As of Tuesday, Petco and its vendors had provided products valued at more than $200,000 to evacuation centers and animal welfare groups throughout San Diego County.

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