It seemed like a no-brainer. Grocery stores were having difficulty keeping meat in stock, while the meat supplier for some top Strip restaurants had millions of dollars in inventory, and no buyers. Better yet, that supplier was on the verge of launching a website to sell its product directly to consumers.
For Jeff Pugh of Freedom Meats, launching BlackBoxMeats.com a little early to help feed anxious Las Vegas residents made total sense. What could possibly go wrong?
Of course, on a week in which COVID-19 has shuttered Nevada casinos, tanked the stock market, forced millions of people to stay home from work and created a global health emergency, “What could go wrong?” is not a question anyone should be asking.
Even Murphy himself would have written a law that envisioned all the glitches Pugh and his customers have encountered over the past few days.
Things began well. BlackBoxMeats.com launched to an overwhelming response on Monday, with customers placing orders for delivery and pickup. By midweek, however, customers who had read about the service in the Review-Journal began emailing the paper to complain about undelivered orders and unanswered emails. Others took to social media. They were confused, worried, angry or even panicked about the possibility they had been scammed.
Pugh and his team responded to inquiries from the Review-Journal by posting a video online asking for patience, and repeatedly promising they would have their meat soon. But the complaints continued, via email and social media. Deliveries hadn’t arrived. Some that had arrived were missing items. But perhaps most frustrating, nobody was responding to emails or returning phone calls.
“They charged the credit card immediately, and then it was impossible to get ahold of them,” one customer, who asked not to be identified, said Friday afternoon, after placing an order early Tuesday morning. “It just looks like a scam.”
That customer called back later in the day to say his order had finally arrived. But as of Friday at 6:45 p.m., Pugh conceded over 1,500 orders were still awaiting delivery.
He wants to assure everyone, however, that this is not a scam, and that everyone’s meat is coming. They simply weren’t prepared for the insanity of the last week.
The first hiccup, Pugh explains, was their inability to accommodate pickup orders.
“We did not schedule pickup (times) with people,” Pugh says. “So what was happening is we would have 40 or 50 people out in front of our building at a time, and we couldn’t control that.”
That turnout made social distancing impossible. And as they were attempting to contact customers about the need to change their pickups to deliveries, he says his internet provider abruptly cancelled his service because the bandwidth had maxed out due to the unexpected response. As a result, emails got lost, or went unanswered. To make matters worse, the delivery service the company contracted to handle the increased number of deliveries had to pull drivers from the BlackBoxMeats.com account so they could accommodate other local clients: two medical testing companies processing COVID-19 tests. (A spokesman for the delivery company confirms this account.)
The good news is that they they’ve hired in-house delivery drivers and a full-time customer service staff, both of whom will be working through the weekend. And they hope to be caught up on back orders by late Sunday or early Monday.
Anyone who hasn’t received orders, and wants an update, is asked to send one more email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to include your name, phone number and order number.
“We’re getting better every day at something we have never done before,” Pugh promises. “But I’m going to do it because it’s the right thing to do. Nobody here is going to give up.”