So my goal is to get through this article without mentioning the B-Word (B-Rexit) but much will depend on the conversations with the stores. Let’s see how we get on.
At the time of writing this (late March) the UK is just escaping the clutches of some record snowfalls and, in typical UK style, the country came to a halt after the first 20mm fell. The UK is not built for snow, and does not have the infrastructure to cope – yet the costs to the overall economy are put at more than £1b a day. Surely that’s enough to invest in a decent snowplough or two! By Gordon Way.
One thing the weather did do is drive up sales of outerwear no doubt helping many retailers to make space on their shelves.
ISPO and Slide have come and gone, the Ski Test has been and gone and brands are busy trying to pick up those last minute orders before the order books finally slam shut with a great big thud.
Snow conditions around Europe have certainly helped the business and it is fair to say that there is generally a positive vibe amongst the industry. There is actually also a positive vibe in the UK (when it comes to spending money) – credit card debt increased again in January with an additional £1.4bn of consumer borrowing. Like it or hate it this is a clear indicator that money is being spent. Let’s just hope that it’s kept under control and that some of this spending finds it’s way to your tills.
The air of optimism spreads to our industry too. When I spoke to Ben at Big Dreams he was his usual buoyant self although did comment that the season had thrown up some surprises: “October started quiet, November was good, December turned out to be outstanding and January mirrored December so I am certainly not complaining.” So what were the surprises? “Hardware has not been as good as I thought it would be – it’s been steady and we’re missing those customers who come in looking for a complete setup. People are much more careful with their money nowadays – whether or not it is Bre….” I stopped Ben in his tracks and moved the conversation on asking Ben if there had been any other surprises “Yeah. Girls. The female kit is just not selling and I cannot figure it. I’ve got enough stock to get me through so I’ve not ordered anything new. Something’s not quite right but I am not sure what. Apart from that clothing has been really good – very happy with that and stuff is still selling.” (This is late March remember).
Finally I had to ask Ben how ski was going for him. Those of you that read this article regularly may recall that Ben decided to go into ski a few years back. He didn’t want to but felt he had to. So how was it? “We’re out! It sold OK for a couple of years but we’re no longer selling ski. We’ve got enough on with snowboarding. The shop’s busy and the workshop is overloaded so I’m focussing on what I know best”.
Ben has just become the proud owner of a Campervan and during his extended summer break he may be heading your way – so look out for him. Closing his doors in May (apart from ‘by appointment’) and reopening in early September – sounds great.
Henry at Shore was also pretty buoyant: “We’ve had our best year ever which, after 36 years, is pretty good! Online and in store are both showing more than double digit growth. Christmas was a great end to 2017 and the surf conditions early in 2018 got us off to a flying start tracking well above last year.” As upbeat as Henry was there were still some concerns. “Board sales are stable, they’re not growing and I do have a concern that some of the higher end brands will perhaps end up going direct to try and protect their market share. Only time will tell but it’s obviously not what I want to see. What I want is for the business to be directed through sensible retailers like Shore”
He continued: “Currently the neoprene market is a classic example of a race to the bottom. Over supply leads to dumping and with the larger brands feeling threatened by ‘direct-to-market’ brands they simply push and push more numbers into the market driving prices down and bringing on new doors who are only interested in EDI integrations and not the actual product”
Concern was expressed about the Surfdome changes: “Not sure how they are going to play it but we hope that they will become a more stable, sensible business. At least the new owner is someone from within the industry whereas other recent large industry ‘sell-outs’ have been to people outside the industry who will be interested in one thing, and one thing only. That is simply going to lead to more downward price pressure which we have all seen before from the previous Surfdome model.”
Simon at Sessions Surf & Skate has two shops – both in the West Country – and in the heart of the UK’s surf business. So how has the winter been? “Hit and miss to be honest. Of course we always struggle with winters and so it’s to be expected and we have to roll with it. The run-up to Christmas was pretty good and the holiday period itself delivered better than expected results – we ended the year just a little bit higher than last year which is not bad given that we had six weeks of rubbish weather during the main summer season. If it were not for that we’d be well up.”
So what’s good and what’s not? “Wetsuits are slow. The mild weather at the back end of last year did not help at all and as neoprene is a big part of our business it’s important to us. Skate has also done well in our Penzance store whereas here [Falmouth] it’s always slow on skate at this time of year.” Penzance is blessed with not one, but two skate parks hence the difference.
Looking forward Simon was pretty optimistic: “Despite the current weather [snow] which grinds almost everything to a halt I am optimistic. The year got off to a reasonable start and this has continued through February. March, of course, will be impacted by the weather but being a ‘student town’ we do get pretty good all year trade.”
Finally I managed to catch up with the Paul from Zuma Jays – always a pleasure to talk to and always upbeat but straight talking. As is expected a traditional English conversation starts with the weather “Snow. Lots of it. Bodyboards as sledges – selling them all day long.” Theirs is always an upside with Paul. “The surf at last is coming through although a bit too late to rescue winter wetsuit sales. We’ve had to go on sale – which is a shame – but got to be done and it is getting the sale done. Can’t sit on them.” And looking forward? “The early Easter means it is going to be a cold one but should get us off to a good start. Word is that accommodation bookings in the town [Bude] are good with local hotels, apparently “full to the gunnels” and the new Premier Inn was already fully booked out for August – before it was even completed.”
Paul did actually mention the ‘B-Word’ but I ran out of space… sorry!