NEMOA Speaker Outlines Disaster Planning

GROTON, CT — The pounding taken by the Gulf Coast during this year's hurricane season is unsettling on many levels. However, Hurricane Katrina is just the latest tragedy to widely affect catalogers. So do you have a disaster preparedness plan?

“[Catalogers] have to react quickly” in several areas of their business to survive after a disaster — or beforehand when there's advance notice, as in the case of Hurricane Rita, Gina Valentino said yesterday at the New England Mail Order Association's fall conference.

A company's first priority should be to review its forecasting, said Valentino, vice president/general manager at J. Schmid & Associates. Consider what products are being offered and whether demand likely will drop off or increase as a result of the event. For example, orders for shovels and other cold weather items might increase after a blizzard. Also, look at what catalogs and e-mails are in front of your customers right now and what is scheduled to drop over the next four weeks.

A J. Schmid client needed to pull a sweepstakes in New Orleans after Katrina hit. But don't react too strongly and pull back on mailings or prospecting too much. Valentino said she worked for a company that did this, and it was three years before results returned to anything measurable.

After reviewing forecasting, DMers should consider their marketing plans and how much money is invested in advertising. It may make sense to reallocate some of those dollars to other areas of the business.

On the other hand, keeping the lines of communication open maintains a sense of stability. Valentino reviewed 60 catalogers' Web sites after Katrina, and only a few were communicating anything about the disaster on their home page.

“Your Web site is an instant communication tool — please use it,” she said.

Next, companies should examine their customer service strategies. Call center volume often rises after a tragedy, so it may make sense to reallocate resources here. It is also important to have policies for warranties, lost shipments and delivery acceptance after a disaster.

Finally, companies will want to review merchandising plans for possible price increases or ways to improve margins. For example, though shipping costs were fixed for orders placed with vendors before Katrina hit and gas prices began rising, those costs could climb down the road. A company should factor this into its plans.

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