How This Mail Service Recovered After A Devastating Fire Burned Its Facility To The Ground

Pitney Bowes FireActual footage from the fire that destroyed the Pitney Bowes plant in Grand Prairie, TX on Feb. 7, 2011.

Photo: Pitney Bowes

When a fire broke out at a company near our Grand Prairie plant in Texas on February 7th, it first appeared to be nothing more than a minor nuisance. Overnight, however, the fire broke through the roof, quickly reached our site, and grew to a four-alarm blaze. By morning, our entire facility was destroyed.Disasters are unpredictable—but for many organisations, the long-term impact of such a disruption is all too familiar. Clients still need service and many will seek alternatives. So even after you’ve rebuilt and reopened, a good portion of your business could vanish.

That’s why people took notice when we celebrated the opening of our new facility on June 6th. Despite four-months without our main processing facility, we retained 98% of our customers.

Having a well-documented plan in place was critical to our success.  In recent weeks, we hosted a customer seminar and published a white paper around best practices in business continuity, detailing the steps one should take before, during and after a disaster.

While there is no substitute for a formal disaster recovery plan, our approach to people and relationships may have been even more critical—especially as it relates to our employees, customers and vendors.

Build a management team accustomed to making business decisions.

When a disaster strikes, there are simply too many decisions that need to be made in a compressed time frame. If you are the only person making decisions—or if every major move needs to be decided by committee—that choke point will make it difficult to recover.

You must decentralize decision making so managers and leaders feel comfortable making decisions, knowing they have full executive support. If the first time you delegate is in the face of disaster, it is unlikely that these managers will feel comfortable—so this mindset needs to be introduced into your culture now.

Fortunately, our management team was together at an offsite when the news came that our facility was destroyed. As part of our business recovery plan, we delegated narrowly defined responsibilities to a broad range of people.  So instead of everyone needing to check with their boss (or boss of their boss) they could simply make decisions.  Without well-defined roles and a history of delegation, we could not have accomplished as much in such a short period of time.

Treat vendors like you want to be treated

There is a tendency in today’s economy to base vendor decisions on price and treat every business purchase as a one-off transaction. While this may help you shave a few bucks off expenses, it will leave you severely wanting in the face of a disaster.

Strategically, we’ve looked to establish long-term relationships. Our vendors like doing business with us because we collaborate with them, and over time we have racked up a lot of good will. When I met with our management team that morning I said, “we are calling in all our chits today.”

Our equipment and service suppliers responded in full force. They helped us outfit a fully-functioning site at a temporary location within five days of the initial disaster—and a state-of-the-art permanent operation within four months.

Over-communicate with customers

Our customers are amazing. They demonstrated concern for our employees and incredible flexibility throughout this event. In the hours and days immediately following the fire, we shared information early and often—and everyone had anytime cell phone access to their account manager.  In hindsight, I would have personally reached out to some of our larger accounts earlier on—as direct contact from a company president or senior level management is definitely warranted in an event like this

Overall, as a company that’s in the business of helping clients connect with customers, we are proud that our connections with our customers and vendors served us well in a time of crisis.

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