The United Parcel Service strike came to a welcome close last week, but not before creating serious fulfillment problems in supermarket video-rental departments.
Atlanta-based UPS is the primary carrier for shipments of video releases and other related product sent directly to stores. The strike's impact ranged from minor instances of missed shipments to entire chains not receiving key titles on street dates. Few retailers or video distributors were not inconvenienced in some way.
Although suppliers had worked out alternate ways of getting important new releases to the stores by the second week of the strike, retailers said, shipments from the first week -- including "Evita," "Murder at 1600" and "That Darn Cat" -- were held up.
The first week of the strike didn't go well, according to Sharon DeSordi, video buyer/merchandiser at Grand Union Co., Wayne, N.J. "I think everyone was hoping that the strike wasn't going to happen, so our distributor got behind. As a result, we experienced some late arrivals of titles."
Clifford Feiock, video coordinator at Nash Finch Co., Minneapolis, said the strike caused some delays but no major problems.
A low point, he said, came when product from shared-transaction-fee supplier SuperComm, Dallas, shipped through Sight & Sound Distributors, St. Louis, got stuck in an unidentified UPS hub.
Feiock commended distributors for working out ad hoc shipping arrangements. "They did their best to ship it any way they could. It maybe was a day later than we normally receive it, but we got everything."
Nevertheless, he noted, his stores experienced some lost rentals because of delays in receiving new releases.
"The first week of the strike, our new releases ended up in a UPS hub along with 45,000 other packages," said Bill Glaseman, video specialist at Bashas' Markets, Phoenix.
Although UPS promised Bashas' that the shipment would be retrieved, Glaseman said, the store actually wound up losing a week of potential revenue from those titles.
During the 15-day strike, product from WaxWorks Video Works, Owensboro, Ky., went through the main warehouse of Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., said Randy Weddington, video specialist at Harps. From there, it was transported to stores on Harps own trucks, which did not reach some locations until late in the week.
"Those stores missed street dates by a day or two," said Weddington.
Shipments to Harps from shared-transaction fee supplier Rentrak, Portland, Ore., are sent by Airborne Express and thus were unaffected, he said.
The strike made it difficult for Southeast Foods, Monroe, La., to rotate catalog titles from one store to another, said Denise Darnell, video supervisor. "The stores had no way to send the tapes in to us, and we had no way to send them back out."
In response, Southeast's distributor, Sight & Sound, shipped new releases directly to about half of the chain's stores, while the rest went through the warehouse, she said. As a result, "Some of the stores didn't get their product until later on Tuesday afternoon, instead of on Monday. But everyone got the product on street date."
"The UPS strike has been a real challenge for everyone in the video business," said Des Walsh, vice president and general manager of SuperComm.
"All SuperComm product is shipped through the video distributors, who did an excellent job for the most part in getting the product to retailers in a timely fashion.
"What's unfortunate is that, in certain instances, product had been shipped out by UPS in the expectation that the strike would be settled at the last minute," he continued. "This turned out to be misguided optimism that then left product stranded in UPS warehouses."