When the lights went out

When the lights went out

Auckland distributor Cellect was part of an impromptu candlelit business lunch for 100, as Auckland was plunged into darkness on Monday, while the gloom delayed sales and orders for others in the channel.

Cellect’s general manager, John Dunbar, says about 100 people were listening to an IBM presentation at an Auckland hotel when an earth wire near the Otahuhu B substation in South Auckland snapped off a pylon, cutting power to 700,000 people in the central, east and south regions of the city.

“Luckily we’re dealing with IT people and some quick thinking meant we continued the presentation with ten laptops, with ten people in front of each one. After that we had lunch by candlelight, which was quite nice,” Dunbar quips.

While much of Auckland, including its central business district, was powerless, and traffic became chaotic and gridlocked in the stormy weather, heavy snow was creating similar havoc in the South Island, with road closures.

Ingram Micro’s Tony Butler says generators kept its Albany headquarters and Manukau City warehouse running, but sales were delayed when couriers found businesses in Auckland had shut up shop.

“The big problem we experienced was in transport. A great deal of Auckland ground to a halt which meant an awful lot of our deliveries didn’t get through, so couriers who found doors closed had to go back to depots which got stacked up and overloaded.”

Butler says his company turns over about $1 million a day in Auckland, but its business-to-business sales will be delayed rather than lost.

On the day of the blackout, traffic delays meant some staff took up to three hours to travel between its Albany and South Auckland premises.

“It was certainly a huge inconvenience,” says Butler.

Impassable roads leading in and out of Christchurch further impeded deliveries for Ingram.

“Trucks still can’t get through across a lot of the Canterbury plains,” he says.

General manager of Dove Electronics Chris Rycroft says its Auckland branch was closed most of the day, and it had problems sending product from its Christchurch office, which remained open.

“In Wellington, a diesel spill prevented our couriers from getting through. Another problem we had to deal with was that people weren’t ordering as a result of the power outage.”

He says there have been losses to the company, but is reluctant to speculate on figures.

“We managed to get most of our orders out, thanks to the fact that we have three branches in three different locations,” he says.

Datastor sales and marketing manager Dave Rosenberg says his company was kept busy providing power protection and data loss prevention services to resellers’ customers in Auckland.

“Our power guys are run off their feet,” he says. “They handled it very well.” However, he admits there is “not much you can do in that environment”.

He believes strategies put in place during the 1998 power crisis by Auckland businesses minimised the effect of the most recent event. He says businesses usually have more power problems in winter, even without the recent blackout.

Renaissance managing director Paul Johnston says systems the company had in place to deal with loss of power worked very well on Monday, but power wasn’t restored until 4.30pm and the day’s deliveries were largely unfulfilled.

“We couldn’t ship anything but even if you could, the roads were pretty chock-a-block,” he says.

He says Renaissance will assess the financial impact of the event, but sending some staff home and running a generator all day are evident costs.

A spokesperson from a South Auckland-based distributor, who asks not to be named, says the company decided to hold overdue staff meetings and wait around until the power came back.

“We got to spend time with our staff and catch up on some meetings. It was such a hazard going out into traffic in that environment, so we didn’t want our staff travelling back to Auckland.”

He says the company has probably lost some business. “We’re not counting beads just yet, but we will.”

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