Under the Canopy: Organix Style with Soul
When Zaroff launched her catalog company in 1998, she outsourced fulfillment to Harrison Fulfillment in Chattanooga, TN. “I did extensive due diligence, looking for a partner who had a track record of superior customer service,” Zaroff recounts. “I talked with some top catalog consultants who recommended fulfillment providers. After visiting each of the facilities, interviewing their clients and carefully reviewing their respective proposals, I selected Harrison.”
And their business relationship began. But within a short time, problems cropped up. Some UTC customers where shipped the wrong items three times, Zaroff recalls. Other customers weren’t called back by Harrison to resolve order problems. Some customers were charged different amounts for the same product.
Unbeknownst to Zaroff, Harrison had designated UTC’s account as a beta test for its new in-house computer system being developed to deal with the impending Y2K problems. “Their plan was to eventually transition all of their clients’ accounts onto this new computer system, and they were testing it on my account without telling me first,” Zaroff explains. “They figured any remaining bugs would be minimal, and with my small volumes, they’d be able to work out any kinks.”
But the system crashed, big time. “Apparently their computer system dictated everything to them, even where to place our products in their enormous fulfillment center,” says Zaroff. “The system completely misdirected my shipments and receipts, so Harrison actually lost my goods in their own warehouse.”
The more Harrison tried to fix the system, Zaroff says, the worse the situation got. “It was a cataloger’s ultimate catastrophe.” She sued Harrison, and the week after she settled, the fulfillment provider filed for bankruptcy. “Personally, I think it’s interesting that I’m still here, but they went bankrupt,” she says.
Zaroff scaled way back on UTC’s operations to remain afloat. She brought the company into her home (then in Randolph, NJ), from which she answered customer calls and filled orders herself. The silver lining to the Harrison nightmare was that she got to know her customers even better since she actually began talking directly with them. “This enabled me to grow my business and get stronger,” she recounts. “All negative experiences are positive opportunities, and the incident with Harrison was a tremendous education.”