‘Forever Changed’: Promotional Products Firms Work to Move Forward in Ian’s Aftermath

‘Forever Changed’: Promotional Products Firms Work to Move Forward in Ian’s Aftermath

With Hurricane Ian finally over, companies in Florida and the Carolinas are dealing with scenarios that range from virtually no impact at all to massive business-and-community-changing problems.

The storm has ended. The recovery has just begun.

Promotional products companies and their communities in Florida and the Carolinas are assessing damage and working to get back to normal after Hurricane Ian ripped through last week.

The storm hit Florida hardest, making landfall as a Category 4 and causing catastrophic damage in areas. It then weakened into a tropical storm, before regathering strength in the Atlantic Ocean and slamming into South Carolina (at Georgetown) as a Category 1 hurricane with 85 mph sustained winds and storm surges of several feet. 

The eye of Hurricane Ian as seen from space. 

Depending exactly on where their businesses are located, suppliers, distributors and decorators in Florida and the Carolinas are dealing with scenarios that range from virtually no impact at all to massive business-and-community-changing issues. Here’s a look at where things stand.

Under eerily placid blue skies that belie the chaos of last week’s hurricane, some promo pros in Florida are staring into an uncertain future.

“We have an office on Sanibel Island that will be down for a few years,” Katrina Salokar of distributorship Paradise Creative Group (asi/290157) tells ASI Media. “We have an office on U.S. 41 that lost its roof, so that will be down for quite some time. Our Gateway, FL, office is operational because it’s on the airport grid.”

Salokar says half of her distributorship’s client base is in Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach – two locales upon which Ian wrought the worst of its wrath. “We’re open, but our customers aren’t open,” Salokar says. “We’ll be rebuilding our business. Our revenue will be down $90,000 by the year’s end. Next year will be down by at least $100,000.”

There are personal impacts for Salokar, too. She was planning a move from Lehigh, FL, to Sanibel, but that’s been dashed – at least for the time being. “Our Lehigh home was spared but the sale is now delayed,” she explains. “We’ll be moving in with relatives.”

Things are looking better for Angie Becker and her Fort Myers, FL-based Turtle Shirts, which provides embroidery, screen printing and the manufacture of custom dye-sublimation garments.

Becker’s home sustained roof damage that needs tarping and repairs, but the structure is intact. Business is starting to churn again, too.

“The internet is spotty, but we’re back up and running today and have orders coming in,” Becker shares. “Some clients have also come by to pick up orders they’d placed before the storm. We’re going to have clean up down here for probably a year, but people are trying to get back to some kind of normalcy.”

Since Turtle Shirts has both local B2B clients and customers out of state, Becker is hopeful that there won’t be major long-term impacts to sales. “We believe we’ll be able to hang in there,” she says.

In Fort Myers, Nate Sallee is navigating a whirlwind of personal and professional complications. The owner of Sallee Promotions (asi/201716) and his family were hosting 40 to 50 people at a time at their home, which is equipped with a full-house generator.

“It’s everyone from babies to 90-year-olds,” Sallee says. “We weren’t ground zero, but we weren’t far off. The water is gone now, but there’s debris everywhere. There’s a lot of foliage and old-growth trees down. They’re going street by street doing clean up. A lot of people are pulling together and helping out.”

With uncertainty over how long schools will remain closed, Sallee’s wife is heading north to the couple’s home state of Indiana with their two children, ages 6 and 3.

Amid all this, Sallee has been trying to keep business moving. He and helpers hooked up a generator at his office so he could have access to an important server. He’s been able to account for employees and confirmed they are OK, though dealing with post-storm issues like lack of power and water. “We’re trying to have a company meeting by the end of the week,” Sallee says.

The entrepreneur feels fortunate that he has a diversified book of business, with both local customers and others elsewhere, as well as clients that span a range of industries. “We’ve got orders coming in and I can bill,” Sallee says. “We’re going to be OK.”

However, he thinks it might be a different story for area promo firms that have heavy concentrations of business in the local resort/hospitality industry. “If that’s your market, you’re probably going to have to find a whole new customer base,” Sallee says. “There are so many unknowns. The economy here has been forever changed.”

Promo companies in the Carolinas sustained various levels of damage – or almost none at all – depending on location.

Gus Marrero, owner of Gearbox360 (asi/202795) on Pawleys Island, says they evacuated their business ahead of time knowing that they were in the eye of the storm. The building sustained a crack in the wall, which will be inspected this week, and a fallen tree damaged power lines. While electricity was restored within 24 hours, the tree is still blocking an entrance to the building. It’s scheduled to be removed within days.

“We don’t need to be in the office to operate, so we’re going to try to work remotely since we lost a few days prior to and during the storm,” says Marrero. “Our main print facility in Florida has no electricity, so no production there yet. Our biggest worry is our clients, like restaurants and offices nearby. We want to help them as much as we can. I think it’ll be good business to offer help and be there for them, so we plan on doing that this week.”

Standard Plastic Card Solutions (asi/88999) in Myrtle Beach closed on Friday when the hurricane hit but is now back open. “We didn’t evacuate,” says Ryan Mitchell, executive vice president of operations. “We didn’t have any water damage at the office or home. But those closer to the coast did experience flooding, including several of our hotel customers.”

A large tree fell outside Gearbox360 on Pawleys Island, SC, bringing down power lines and blocking an entrance to the business.

While Charleston, SC, south of where Ian made landfall, was under threat last week and did experience flooding and high winds, companies just north of the area made out better.  “We’re all good,” says Bob Keller, president of Marabu North America LP (asi/16002) in North Charleston. “We had no damage and we’re operating as normal.”

The sheer size of the massive storm led to treacherous conditions for communities inland, including Kingstree, SC, about 70 miles from Myrtle Beach and home to AWDis (asi/45222). “We had some water damage,” says Greg Brown, COO of Citadel Brands, parent company of AWDis. “We closed at noon on Friday since we lost power. As of today, we’re back at 100%.”

Four people are confirmed dead in North Carolina as a result of the storm, which moved north over the weekend of Oct. 1 and 2, bringing winds and heavy rain to the Mid-Atlantic states. Three of the victims in North Carolina were in car accidents due to flooded roads, while one died after being poisoned by carbon monoxide from a generator running in a closed garage.

Buffalo Bay (asi/42416) in Greensboro, NC, lost power on Friday but is now operating normally. “We were up and running this morning,” says owner Christine Isphording. “We were fortunate that we didn’t have any damage.”

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