Busi­nesses far from storm’s dev­as­ta­tion can feel im­pact

Texarkana Gazette - - BUSINESS - By Joyce M. Rosen­berg

NEW YORK—Texas and Florida are usu­ally the big­gest mar­kets for ReelSonar’s fish­ing de­vices and apps. But recre­ation isn’t a pri­or­ity right now—and may not be for a while—in the states amid the dev­as­ta­tion left by Hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma.

Though ReelSonar is based in Seat­tle, thou­sands of miles from the dam­age, it’s feel­ing an im­pact from the storms. It’s the same for many small busi­nesses with lots of cus­tomers or sup­pli­ers in disas­ter ar­eas. Sales drop off as peo­ple and busi­nesses pre­pared for the hur­ri­canes, and are likely to stay down as ev­ery­one as­sesses and deals with the dam­age.

“When you’re try­ing to put your life back to­gether, fish­ing be­comes sec­ondary,” says ReelSonar owner Alex Lebe­dev.

He doesn’t know yet how much his rev­enue will be hurt, but had an inkling from Ama­zon.com, where sales are down 70 per­cent from a year ago. His prod­ucts are also sold in hun­dreds of sport­ing goods and camp­ing stores in Texas and Florida. One sav­ing grace is that the fish­ing sea­son isn’t at its peak,

and Lebe­dev is hop­ing to make back his lost sales dur­ing the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son.

Com­pa­nies that suf­fer losses be­cause of a far-off disas­ter aren’t el­i­gi­ble for fed­eral disas­ter aid the way busi­nesses nearby might be. And most small busi­nesses are un­likely to have the ex­pen­sive and spe­cific kind of busi­ness in­sur­ance that would cover them in such cases.

Many small busi­nesses whose sup­pli­ers have been hurt by the storms are in limbo while they wait to hear how long it will take ven­dors to be able to send out mer­chan­dise or parts. Some com­pa­nies may have to find al­ter­na­tive ven­dors.

The Crit­ter De­pot, based in Lan­caster, Penn­syl­va­nia, sells live crea­tures like crick­ets and worms to feed rep­tile pets and has as a main sup­plier a farm in Okee­chobee, Florida. The farm shut down oper­a­tions as Irma ap­proached, and suf­fered ex­ten­sive dam­age.

Crit­ter De­pot owner Jeff Neal has had to tell some cus­tomers that they couldn’t get their ship­ments. Rep­tile own­ers tend to buy 1,000 crit­ters at a time, and feed their pets about 20 crick­ets a day, sup­ple­ment­ing their diet with worms.

“They still have to feed their pets, so they’re go­ing to look else­where,” Neal says.

Though he knew be­fore the storm he’d lose some sales, he’s of­fer­ing cus­tomers a 50 per­cent dis­count to en­cour­age them not to aban­don his com­pany per­ma­nently. And even though other sup­pli­ers don’t give him as good a deal, he’s turn­ing to backup sources un­til his Florida ven­dor is up and run­ning again. He ex­pects the storm to cost him as much as $6,000.

Har­vey and Irma have sent sales at Pro­mos On-Time down as much as 40 per­cent since La­bor Day, com­pared to 2016 busi­ness. The com­pany, which sells pens, mugs, base­ball hats and other give­aways and knick­knacks, has lost or­ders as cus­tomers along the Gulf Coast and

in Florida can­celed events.

“Texas and Florida com­bined prob­a­bly ac­count for 10 to 15 per­cent of our rev­enue,” says Michael Lerner, owner of the Mineola, New York­based com­pany.

The busi­ness Pro­mos On-Time has lost is gone for­ever—or­ga­niz­ers of many back-to-school and char­ity events planned for this month in the two states are un­likely to resched­ule and place or­ders, Lerner says. On top of that, his big­gest sup­pli­ers are lo­cated in Florida and haven’t been able to fill or­ders. Lerner has been look­ing in the North­east and the West Coast for sub­sti­tutes.

Small busi­nesses with satel­lite oper­a­tions in a disas­ter area can also suf­fer losses. Peter Yang es­ti­mates that his New York-based Re­sumeGo, which pro­vides ca­reer coach­ing and re­sume writ­ing ser­vices, has lost $10,000 be­cause its Hous­ton of­fice was shut down by Har­vey. The Re­sumeGo of­fice, which em­ploys nine of his 50 staffers, is on the 21st floor of a build­ing that had se­vere flood­ing to its lower floors.

Yang’s em­ploy­ees in New York, Bos­ton and Chicago had to fill in for Hous­ton col­leagues who couldn’t work. “A large frac­tion of our staff worked through­out La­bor Day week­end so that we can con­tinue pro­vid­ing our ser­vices with­out in­ter­rup­tion,” Yang says.

He paid them over­time to com­pen­sate for los­ing their hol­i­day week­end.

The towel com­pany Erin

Robert­son started in Los An­ge­les this year gets its fab­ric from Florida, but ship­ments are on hold. That’s slow­ing her pro­duc­tion and abil­ity to send Ta-Ta Tow­els to cus­tomers. She’s had some can­cel­la­tions, but also had some dis­placed cus­tomers in Texas and Florida ask to have their or­ders held or sent to dif­fer­ent ad­dresses.

Robert­son has had to sort through the pack­ages, try­ing to see if she can catch an or­der be­fore it goes out. “I to­tally un­der­stand, but from a small busi­ness per­spec­tive, it’s a lot of work,” she says.

Still, she’s aware that events like nat­u­ral dis­as­ters can af­fect an en­tre­pre­neur.

“I feel like I’m fac­ing what ev­ery small busi­ness faces—ev­ery day brings new chal­lenges and you’ve got to fig­ure them out,” she says.

Associated Press

above Alex Lebe­dev, right, owner of ReelSonar, holds one of his com­pany’s prod­ucts as he poses for a photo with co-work­ers Wed­nes­day at ReelSonar’s head­quar­ters in Seat­tle. Texas and Florida are usu­ally the big­gest mar­kets for ReelSonar’s fish­ing de­vices and apps, so the dev­as­ta­tion left by Hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma is ex­pected to have an im­pact on sales, even though the com­pany is lo­cated thou­sands of miles from the dam­age.

Associated Press

n Peo­ple re­move a door from what had been an in­te­rior wall of a busi­ness Sept. 2 in Rock­port, Texas, in the af­ter­math of Har­vey. Small busi­nesses with cus­tomers or sup­pli­ers along the Gulf Coast and in Florida are feel­ing the fi­nan­cial im­pact from Hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma.

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