When Hurricane Sandy finally reached landfall in New Jersey, the hurricane was re-categorized as a super storm, which was just scientific semantics; the destruction that followed was every bit as horrifying as any storm by another name. And that super storm has turned into the “perfect storm” for many New York Tri-State Area small businesses, including frequent Residential Systems editorial contributor Todd Puma, president of The Source Home Theater, based on Wall Street in New York City.
Puma, who frantically sold and installed battery backup systems to his clients in the days leading up the storm, now finds himself without power in his own Middlesex County, NJ, home while his office in lower Manhattan is also in the dark. As he and his family huddle in their car to charge their mobile devices and to get warm at home, in the back of his mind, he says, is how to pay employees, even though much of the new business The Source was developing will be put on hold, as new clients dig out from hurricane wreckage.
“This is bad. It’s really bad. It’s a lot worse than I thought it would be,” Puma said on Wednesday. “Our business was on such a roll before this storm hit. Now I’m worried about my guys. We’re not bringing in money, but I’m going to have to pay them so they can afford to live.”
The Source manages many medium-sized quick-turnaround projects, creating decent cashflow. Several jobs were pending, but Puma knows that now is not the time to call those clients as many of them clean up their damaged property or simply try to manage without lights or heating in their homes.
“These are people who had approved our quotes and were ready to move forward, but now they’re going to pay for all of this additional stuff in their home that was destroyed,” Puma said. “They’re emailing us saying, ‘Now’s probably not the right time to do this AV job. We have one client who has a tree laying across his swimming pool. I’m panicking a little bit right now.”
Puma said that he has received frustrating calls from clients who were unable to reboot their cable boxes once their back-up generators came to life.
“I told them I couldn’t come out,” he said. “I would have been risking my life going out at 8 o’clock at night when there’s no lights anywhere, and yet they’re cursing me out because they can’t figure out how to get their cable back on.”
Although Hurricane Sandy is affecting many other area integrators and reps in a similar way, it has taken much less of a toll on Innerspace Electronics, an integration company located just north of New York City in Westchester County.
“We’ve had mostly very cooperative clients who understand what’s out of our control,” said co-owner Barry Reiner. “Although most of Westchester County doesn’t have cable/internet and many don’t have power, we only got one silly phone call from a client demanding to know when his power would be restored. My production supervisor did everything she could to not say, ‘Let me get out my crystal ball.’”
Reiner said he has been able to track the after-effects of the storm through the remote-accessible power management systems installed in many of his clients’ homes.
“We’ve been selling BlueBOLT systems to our clients since that technology came out and today I was able to see which clients had no internet just by logging on and getting all of the red zeros of every BlueBOLT controller that isn’t reporting in.”
For Andrew Russotti, of Old Cove Integrators, preparation in advance of Hurricane Sandy was critical. “We sent out an email to clients saying ‘we’re here’ if there’s any shut down clients might want to do,” Russotti said.
For Old Cove customers located out on Long Island with beachside, outdoor installations, Russotti went out to remove expensive speakers outside, outdoor access points, and coil up wire running down to the ocean, in one case, there was 300 feet of wire to wrap up, he said. “I dedicated all my guys before even Sunday hit because I knew it was going to be crazy.”
For clients that run businesses, Russotti gave them options to leave their racks up and running for remote connectivity. Mostly, he said, they were providing similar guidance to clients over the weekend before Sandy hit. “We were letting them know they had the right equipment in place, so if there was a surge, they wouldn’t have to worry.”
Of the Panamax power backing Old Cove has been using, Russotti said “That stuff has been stellar. There’s two hours worth of backup combined with other generators.”
In the case of one client, “with a full Crestron AV rack, I can power a media room for 139 minutes, 170 minutes for security, and about 170 minutes for networking and lighting,” Russotti said.
Since the storm hit, Russotti has had about four clients actively contacting him about mostly ISP-related issues. “For the most part, it feels like everyone has been pretty understanding and not hounding us with phone calls,” he said. Luckily, “we did not have any sort of surge-related issues, no down equipment due to spikes, which is really nice.”
The saddest story Russotti related was for a client in Southport, CT, that had an elaborate Halloween projection display planned for kids in his neighborhood. “We had a whole setup going there and outdoor speakers and all sorts of good stuff there, but that unfortunately has to be cancelled.”