Busi­nesses far from hur­ri­canes feel im­pact

Yuma Sun - - NEWS -

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, Fla. 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 OnTime 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 York-based 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 York­based 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.

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 TaTa 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.


IN THIS MAY 30 FILE PHOTO, the Ama­zon logo is dis­played at the Nas­daq Mar­ketSite, in New York’s Times Square. Ama­zon an­nounced Sept. 7, that it has opened the search for a sec­ond head­quar­ters, promis­ing to spend more than $5 bil­lion.

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