Generators allowed Ocean Janitorial to stay up and running shortly after the storm, but the company’s owner says their customers weren’t so lucky. The business is located on Long Island, just two miles from the coastline, in an area hit especially hard by the hurricane. As a result, the company suffered a serious blow to its bottom line.
“We had a week of nowhere to go,” says Chris Portera, owner of the business. “We had no money coming in. If we had stuff to deliver we couldn’t go anywhere. We had to borrow $75,000 just to keep us going.”
Eventually, customers returned to buy cleaning supplies but the sales weren’t enough to salvage the company’s losses.
“Did we sell some stuff? Yes,” Portera says. “We didn’t reap any rewards from Sandy, I’ll tell you that.”
Like many distributors, Schwartz says the first week of business was null. He had forwarded the company’s phone lines to his personal cell phone, but says few customers called. In addition to the slow business, Schwartz had to deal with the damages left over by the storm.
“We had power, but because we had water issues [cleaning crews] came and cut out the sheetrock and brought in dryers and humidifiers to dry everything out, steam clean and power wash,” he says. “The offices were uninhabitable.”
After the offices were cleaned, Schwartz says his small staff tapped into a back-up database and called every customer to touch base. Business doubled the next week.
“We were very fortunate,” he says. “We didn’t get the [shipped] merchandise back for two weeks, but we were able to satisfy our customers without using product from those 12 skids.”
South Jersey Paper Products, Vineland, N.J., actually experienced a slight uptick in business following the storm, says its vice president of sales, Todd Spector. The company saw an increase in the demand for mold and mildew products, as well as for wet/dry vacuums.
Distributors say that the region won’t know the full effects of the storm until the start of the tourism season, which begins with the first signs of spring. While the distributors interviewed for this story say they didn’t experience any significant physical damages to their businesses, it was a different story for many of their accounts, namely the “boardwalk businesses,” such as the restaurants, boutiques, arcades, food stands, entertainment parks and other beachfront attractions affected by the storm.
The tourism season is the most lucrative period for the boardwalk; and while some of the businesses have re-opened in the four months since the storm, many more remain in limbo, distributors say.
“A lot of these guys are still waiting for the insurance companies,” says Spector, adding that the company has several foodservice accounts near the shore. “The morale with a lot of our customers, south of Long Beach, is pretty poor. Due to a lack of help from insurance [companies] and the government, and the amount of time it is taking they are waiting to do any work. They can’t wait much longer because the season is starting.”
Scoles Floorshine lost a few foodservice accounts on the coast. One restaurant in particular managed to re-open but has come under new ownership, meaning that Scoles has to start from scratch to secure another contract. Fortunately, the company’s diversified client base has so far kept the business afloat, says Ghen.
With boardwalk businesses being shuttered, and a long period of rebuilding looming ahead, municipalities are at a loss. The government’s insistence that coastal residents “raise” their homes — an expensive modification — hasn’t helped to sway residents’ somber mood. And with several tourist attractions damaged, or obliterated near the beaches, the region can’t rely on tourists to pick up the pieces.
“You’re seeing a mass exodus,” says Ghen. “We’re not sure everybody is going to come back. A lot of coastal businesses are a wait-and-see game.”
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POSTED ON: 4/12/2013