Hartford Direct prepares to close

Marketing services firm Hartford Direct will close entirely within the next several weeks, as the loss of a big client and the recession have taken a toll on the privately held company’s finances.

The Berlin, CT-based company was founded in 1988, with a focus on direct mail production and fulfillment. Over the past few years, it had started to move into digital printing with the goal of being able to offer more one-to-one marketing services.

The digital strategy “was definitely beginning to fall into place and give us an opportunity to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace,” said company president Francis Barkyoumb.

These efforts, however, weren’t enough to combat market forces. The company’s first big hit came from the recession that followed the terrorist attacks in 2001.

“Our high point was right before 9/11, when we had 228 employees,” Barkyoumb said. While the company eventually started to recover, continuing cost increases and growing price competition meant it “never reached the same peak,” he said.

Then in late 2007, Hartford Direct lost “a very large client,” who he declined to name, that wanted to take its business to a national organization with geographically dispersed production and fulfillment facilities.

The recession was the final straw. “By late 2008, all of our clients’ sales were off by 20% to 40%,” Barkyoumb said. The bank didn’t want to work out a deal with the company because of the losses it was show­ing, even after a state development group came up with a loan guarantee.

When the work continued to drop off, “we knew we wouldn’t make it,” said Barkyoumb. Now the executives’ focus is on “going out gracefully” and in a position that it can help its employees as much as possible, he added.

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