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issue: December 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Floor Care Appliances
Cleaning Up Disaster

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by Jill Russell, Associate Editor

Vacuum cleaner maker Oreck Corporation utilized resources and relied on its employees to get up and running within 10 days after both its headquarters and manufacturing plant were hit by Hurricane Katrina.

Only 10 days after the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, vacuum cleaner maker Oreck reopened its manufacturing plant in Long Beach, Mississippi. Less than 2 months after, Oreck reopened its headquarters in New Orleans. Pictured here at the company’s celebration in Long Beach, from left to right: Alden Oreck; Bruce Oreck; Tom Oreck, Oreck president and CEO; Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour; David Oreck, Oreck founder; and Marshall Oreck.

Vacuum cleaner maker Oreck Corporation utilized resources and relied on its employees to get up and running within 10 days after both its headquarters and manufacturing plant were hit by Hurricane Katrina.

As Hurricane Katrina approached the U.S. Gulf Coast, vacuum cleaner manufacturer Oreck suspected that it would have a mess to clean up at either its corporate headquarters in New Orleans, Louisiana or its 375,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Long Beach, Mississippi—but never both.

“We had always planned that one place or the other would get hit by a major storm, but we never planned on a single storm that would take both areas out at the same time,” Tom Oreck, president and CEO, tells APPLIANCE. “It was a truly monstrous storm to be able to do that. Of course there were many things that we planned for and prepared for, but there were many things we didn’t expect.”

In preparation for Katrina, the company relocated its call center to Boulder, Colorado and set up a secondary distribution center in Atlanta, Georgia, which was electronically linked to the Boulder center. In addition, Oreck shut down certain functions at is New Orleans location, relocating workers to Dallas to set up a disaster recovery site, which was also linked to the Boulder and Atlanta sites.

After being hit doubly hard by Katrina, the company said its first step to recovery was re-connecting with its employees. The second was to work to reopen its doors. The company immediately began contacting its employees by way of a toll-free hotline and text messaging services, as cellular phone service was out. Oreck says the company’s first priority was ensuring that its employees were safe and secure. It also worked to obtain temporary housing—placed in the plant parking lot—for those employees left without homes, and began arranging for food, water and other supplies. “We realized that business is really about its people and the business is its people,” Oreck says. “If you have good people and you make sure they are intact and okay, then they will in fact do what it takes to get the business back in place.”

Oreck Corporation suffered several million dollars in damages. Its manufacturing facility remained standing, but with a damaged roof. Inventory and equipment remained intact, even with the structural and water damage to the building. After purchasing generators, storage tanks and diesel fuel, the company says employees worked night and day to bring the plant back to operational levels and bring in materials. The company also worked with UPS to connect its computer system to its Atlanta distribution center, which shipped out food and water and, when production restarted, received loads of merchandise. On Sept. 9, 2005, only 10 days after Katrina hit, Oreck reopened its doors to 500 employees.

Within a week of reopening, Oreck says the company was operating at 100-percent capacity with two shifts. “Our promise to our people was that if you had a job before the storm, you have a job now,” he says. “Anyone who was working for us who evacuated and came back has a job.”

The company says that its suppliers also helped with its successful return to production. According to Oreck, suppliers held materials in nearby warehouses until the company was ready to move back to its facility. “Moving merchandise in and out of Long Beach was a difficult thing at first,” he says. “The suppliers were extremely helpful in bringing parts in as close as they could.”

With its Long Beach plant up and running, Oreck Corporation was also the first major corporation in the New Orleans area to reopen its doors on Oct. 18, 2005 out of more than 30,000 businesses in the area. The company says that, although both of its locations were impacted from the storm, it never stopped taking customer orders and its production was affected only slightly due to back orders. Because it moved its call center to Boulder, it was able to receive orders during the aftermath. “That part of the business never shut down,” Oreck says. “Initially, even though we were manufacturing in 10 days, we had gotten behind in terms of back orders and it took about 4 weeks to get caught up.”

Oreck Corporation, now back to its level of operation prior to Katrina, is still continuing to invest in its employees. The company established the Oreck Employee Relief Fund, donating $500,000, in addition to coordinating a drive throughout the U.S. at its retail stores for donations of material items.

The company says that, by getting its facilities up and running, it was able to provide its employees motivation to continue to rebuild after the storm. “Essentially, when we turned the light on, the message that we were giving our people was that they had a basis for hope,” Oreck says. “They were able to see a path towards a normal life again.”

Founded in 1963, family owned Oreck Corporation says it is committed to the Gulf Coast and will remain to conduct business in the area. “Obviously, like any good business, we are looking at what other things we can do to mitigate the risk,” Oreck tells APPLIANCE. “We are looking at those alternatives, but we are not planning on moving. We are committed to the region and our people; this is home for them.”


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