September 7, 2005, 12:00 AM

How The Grill Store and More weathered Hurricane Katrina

Though it wasn’t knocked offline, Katrina did result in some lost sales and customer service and logistics challenges for The Grill Store and More, which also operates ShoppersChoice.com.

As a web retailer based just two hours from New Orleans, The Grill Store and More, operator of ShoppersChoice.com and BBQGuys.com, wasn’t completely forced offline as a result of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

But the category 4 hurricane, which devastated much of the Gulf Coast, did have a significant impact on the company’s operations – and sales. “I estimate that when all is said and done we are going to lose about $200,000 in potential sales,” says CEO Michael Hackley.

The Grill Store and More, No. 371 in the Internet Retailer Top 400 Guide to Retail Web Sites, is located in Baton Rouge, LA, and is situated about 110 miles from New Orleans, the scene of massive flooding and nearly total economic loss.

When the storm hit on Aug. 29, The Grill Store and More lost both electricity and phone service. Redundant systems and adequate disaster planning by its web hosting provider prevented the company’s web sites from shutting down. But The Grill Store and More’s customer service and fulfillment operations were adversely impacted for several days. “The phones were down for most of a week so customers couldn’t call in and it took us one in six tries to get an outside line when the phones did come back,” Hackley says.

Normally, The Grill Store and More ships out about 200 orders per day from its Louisiana operation. To keep the business open, the company acquired four large-capacity generators to provide electricity and moved some order fulfillment to another distribution facility in Texas. “In all about 600 orders took longer than usual to ship because of the delay over the weekend,” Hackley says. “We use Federal Express and UPS to ship most of our orders and they were slowed down, but didn’t completely stop operations.”

The Grill Store and More sells high-end barbecue gear and maintains an active customer service center. On a normal business day customers can use toll-free numbers and live chat to contact the company and talk with a service representative.

But with intermittent phone service and limited generator capacity hampering its operations, the hurricane did cause The Grill Store and More to lose potential business. “With higher-end merchandise, people often call or use the live chat because they have questions before they make the purchase,” Hackley says. “The biggest impact the hurricane had on us was the loss of phone service. The only customer contact we had was by e-mail.”

 

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