Industry Market Trends

When Community Commitment is a Business Priority

Dec 26, 2012

Hurricane Sandy took a terrible toll, resulting in more than 130 deaths and an estimated $63 billion in damages. Yet events like these are often springboards for great acts of humanity. One inspiring story comes from manufacturer A+ Products. In the aftermath of the superstorm, the company's staff banded together to aid victims, even as they struggled themselves.

Headquartered in Marlboro, N.J., A+ Products produces standard and custom metal and plastic hardware for a range of markets, such as medical, industrial, automotive and apparel. The company's New Jersey facility is one of six that include distribution centers in Utah and Texas, a die sublimated printing operation in Rhode Island and offices in Montreal and Shanghai. In total, the company employs 90 people, 46 of them in New Jersey.

Despite its widespread operations, A+ Products has a long history of giving back to local communities.

"A+ feels very strongly about supporting our local community and the organization constantly looks at how we can accomplish that consistently throughout the year," Kevin Felgate, general manager at A+, told IMT. "We have a thoughtful and generous staff and a management team that truly cares about their local communities and contributing to something that they know makes a difference in people's lives."

According to Donna Lloyd, customer service and marketing manager, the company holds an annual food drive every year with the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. It also works with two local organizations - the Bethel Hispanic Pentecostal Church in Lakewood, N.J. and the Cerebral Palsy Association of Middlesex County - to offer temporary and part-time warehouse and office employment.

"We try to support our local community, providing temporary work for people who may have been out of work or simply looking to fill their days with tasks," Lloyd said.

Helping Those in Need

As weather conditions worsened on Monday, Oct. 29, A+ Products made the decision to close its doors at 12 p.m. - eight hours before Hurricane Sandy officially made landfall - to allow staff to go home and prepare. The storm touched down around 8 p.m. near Atlantic City, N.J., less than 90 miles south of A+ Products' headquarters, bringing with it 80 mile-per-hour winds and a 13-foot storm surge.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated, but when the storm was over, many had little or nothing to go back to, as entire homes were torn from their foundations, cars were submerged and beaches washed away. Many of the homes that were not damaged lacked power or heat; a situation that lasted for almost a month in some cases.

The A+ Products facility resumed operations on Wednesday, Oct. 31, despite having no electricity or heat. The company set up a generator to keep the facility running and to power space heaters to stave off the 40-degree weather. Although many staff members were dealing with their own losses of power and heat, and in some cases severe property damage, nearly all of them returned to work that day.

True to the company's community mindedness, A+ Products initiated three separate efforts to help nearby hurricane victims. "One was the food drive for area residents that were affected," Lloyd explained.

The company collected more than 60 pounds of food, including nonperishable products, pasta and soup. People even donated items for pets. The food was sent to the Neptune Food Pantry, while a separate drive was held for coats and warm clothing.

A third effort was initiated by Katharine Lucena, an account manager at A+ Products'. She worked with the company and the local community to hold a blanket drive for victims in the Rockaway Peninsula, an 11-mile strip of two-family homes and public housing projects in Queens, N.Y., that suffered some of the worst damage from the storm. Lucena lives in Howard Beach, which is about 10 minutes outside of Far Rockaway.

"Prior to the storm, I decided to play it safe and stay away from my neighborhood and away from the water," Lucena recalled. "When I went back to my neighborhood the very next day it seemed as if I was in a Third World country. Everything was gone."

Relief efforts didn't stop after the first few days or weeks. As recently as Saturday, Dec. 8, Lucena also participated in a retreat and luncheon held by the Girl Scouts of the USA for children in Far Rockaway who were affected by the storm.

A+ Products Account Manager Katharine Lucena (front right) volunteers at Girl Scouts event to benefit children affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Taking Care of Business

Many businesses were shut down for days after the storm. Thankfully, lessons learned from Hurricane Irene in 2011 helped A+ get back on its feet quickly. As Lloyd noted, the storm only affected the East Coast, and the company has customers throughout the U.S. who were expecting shipments.

For several days, the company relied on a generator that could only power lights and some small space heaters. Although there was no Internet access at headquarters, the company notified its customers that they could send orders to a Gmail account that was monitored from a location unaffected by the storm.

"We used that to contact our customers and let them know the status of our operations, keeping them informed every step of the way," Lloyd said.

While Lloyd believes that customers would have understood if A+ couldn't ship for a day or two, she also said, "As long as our staff is working in a safe environment, we will do everything in our control to service our customers (located across the U.S. and North America). People were very surprised and appreciative that we were open."

Lloyd credited the company's community attitude in helping keep the business operating near peak efficiency during the first few days after the storm. "UPS and FedEx were wonderful during this time," she added. "We are on a first name basis with many of the drivers. They communicated with us if they had to arrive early or late, helping us to better prepare our orders shipping that day."

Recognizing Staff Efforts

Of course, neither the company's ability to continue operating nor its charity efforts would have been possible without its employees. As a small gesture of thanks, the company bought lunch for all those who showed up on Wednesday, Oct. 31.

But such displays of gratitude at A+ Products have never been limited to extraordinary circumstances. "We do things throughout the year to show appreciation for our staff," Lloyd explained. This includes an annual winter holiday party. There's also a summer picnic that has involves busing the entire staff to Atlantic City or a local park for games.

The company also runs team-building exercises, such as its "Chopped" cook-off. "Staff was divided into two teams and provided an array of ingredients," Lloyd said. "Other staff judged on teamwork and leadership, presentation, taste, etc. The winner and their team all received a small prize to celebrate their success."

Ultimately, it's the community that should be celebrating the corporate social responsibility efforts of A+ Products and its dedicated employees.