WARTIME ECONOMY SCHIZOPHRENIC: SOME FIRMS BENEFIT AS OTHERS LAG
By Brent Hopkins
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
As consumers hope for the best but prepare for the worst, local businesses were riding a tumultuous wave Wednesday over war with Iraq.
While security services and homeland defense contractors have enjoyed a boon, travel agents have suffered. While shoppers stocked up on disaster supplies, they haven't made a run to the grocery store. While everyone is aware of the war and the fear of terrorist reprisals, no two see it from the same perspective.
Peter Kalaydjian, sales manager of Tarzana-based survival supplier Recon-1, has seen business spike 1,000 percent over normal times, more than double his last big period after Sept. 11, 2001. People are stocking up on food, water, 55-gallon drums and potassium iodate tablets to ward off radiation poisoning.
"We're a survival store, so when everything's safe, who wants to buy gas masks and food that lasts five years?" he said. "We're swamped. We wholesale to other stores throughout the country, so it's absolutely insane right now."
Other stores have watched sales climb in more subtle ways. Interscan Corp., a Chatsworth-based gas-detection equipment maker manufactures gas mask efficacy testers. With fears of chemical attack and explosions driving mask sales, Interscan's been busy cranking out its RM series gas-detection kits.
"The overall business increases, but it's the credibility that's most important," said Michael Shaw, the firm's executive vice president. "When companies need something done, we pride ourselves on being the go-to guys, and that's being borne out as they come to us in times of crisis. We're not dancing around, but we're happy they trust us to come to us for this stuff."
While his business has climbed, things aren't looking as pleasant at Nelson Custom Travel in Valley Village. European travel's shriveled 70 percent as vacationers try to keep close to home.
"People are still going to Hawaii, but European trips have dropped off drastically," said David Rappel, a travel agent with Nelson. "And a few people that were going to Europe for a leisurely vacation have postponed for a later date ... So I'd say we are concerned and hope the war is over quickly."
At a Woodland Hills Ralphs, only a few people bought extra water, said service manager Patty Foster. After 9-11, the store saw a rush of people stocking up on canned goods, but not Wednesday.
"It's a little bit slow, because a lot of people are glued to the television," Foster said.
Cindy McNeill, a 53-year-old Canoga Park resident, went to her local Costco on Wednesday to stock up on batteries for radios and flashlights for her emergency kit stored at home. In the kit, she also keeps heart medication on hand.
"It's saddening it has to come to this," she said, referring to the war in Iraq. "But I want to be prepared in case anything happens here."