It’s May (at time of writing). Spring has sprung – apparently! This week I was scraping ice off the windscreen of my car on Monday – five days later it was a Bank Holiday weekend and I was on the water wakeboarding in a shorty and getting sunburnt. The weather appears to be like Donald Trump. You have to ask yourself “what on earth is going on?” Thankfully Trump is unlikely to be around for too long (in the grand scheme of things) whereas the peculiar weather may be around for many decades to come. By Gordon Way.
The Brits have short memories when it comes to the weather and it doesn’t take much to get us off the settee and out on our boards. We’ve got a Royal Wedding (done by the time you read this) another Bank Holiday and a mini heatwave in store.
‘Warm weather shredding’ has woken up and, after finishing a pretty good winter, retailers should be buoyant – albeit that the actual starting date for the season was late. It also appears that we may be doing better than retail in general, as April sales figures for the UK were not so good.
So with the sun shining where better to head than to Box End Park, one of the premier cable parks in the UK. Russ was pretty buoyant despite a slow start: “We always think that Easter should be the start of the season but the reality is that with an early Easter the weather did not do us any favours – it was a little flat to say the least. Since then however it’s really picked up and if we looked at a graph we’re on track for a great year. Best start so far”. I asked Russ about the retail side of the business. “To be honest we’re focussing on getting people on the water. The retail side has been neglected and is likely to be phased out. We’re not a specialist retailer and it’s better left to those people who wake up and think of selling kit. I wake up and think of running a 100 acre waterpark.”
Many of us involved in the wakeboard industry saw the rise of AquaParks as a threat but listening to Russ there may be some good news: “For sure the aquapark is bringing in a lot of new people and initially we did see a decline, particularly in cable first time kneeboarders, but I think that’s turning round and people are looking at the cable as the ‘next thing to try’. There is definitely a cross pollination between the two.” This could be good in the longer term for wakeboarding.
Next up we spoke with Angelo of S2AS in Poole and, as always, he was not without a view. “Thinking time. That’s the issue we’ve got. People have not had ‘thinking time’. We’ve not had a Spring and that’s when, as the weather starts to warm up, people spend time to ‘think’ about their sport and ‘think’ about new kit. It’s still too cold to get out on the water so the only way they can get their fix is with new kit. Now they’re straight out on the water using last year’s kit with no time to even ‘think’ about buying new kit.”
Angelo had really thought about this one and perhaps he’s got a good point. But I got him to talk about specifics: “SUP is still booming but it’s a really hard market with more and more low price entrants, kite is on its knees – we can sell second hand kit all day long but new kit is just too expensive and deliveries are late. Some brands will be going on sale soon and they’ve not even delivered our new stuff. WTF! Wake needs some innovation to drive sales and the wetsuit market is now dominated by the clearance outlets. It’s not easy.”
On reading that you may think that Angelo was a bit down. “No. Not at all – I know that the industry goes through peaks and troughs and this may just be one of them. What I am not going to do is join the fight to the bottom – that will not work for us. We’ve been 15 years in the industry and we’ll overcome an hurdles put in our way.”
And talking of hurdles Angelo is off to school sports day tomorrow – I’ve asked him to let me know how he does in the Dad’s race. He was pretty confident “I’ll smash it. Won it 3 years running so far.” Not competitive at all!
Last issue I spoke to Paul at Zuma Jay’s (Bude) who was busy selling bodyboards as sledges. Not so this time: “It’s great! It’s definitely happening. When I start getting stressed out because I am running out of time to do this and that before the season then I know it’s going well. Customers are here and they are spending thick and fast – particularly on hardware which is going really well.”
You see all it takes is a little sunshine: “It’s true – the weather brings people out and there is a great vibe to the start of the season – even though during the recent blast of good weather we had a freak mist on the beach we still had good surf and people were out and about,” says Paul.
What about wetsuits – I know that has been difficult with the increasing outlets: “Yeah – our winter wetsuit business has to be refined and we have to really take note of peoples’ buying habits. But now the season has started people will be back to buying in store. All we have to do is adjust our purchasing to make allowances for this through the winter months.”
My final stop was to Rollersnakes in Derby. Daz, who has a three-month-old daughter, was tired and busy but happy to talk. “It’s good, with a distinct increase in decks mostly at the £35-£50 price point. It’s also good to see completes increasing in volume.” Rollersnakes came to life over 30 years ago as a traditional retailer and Daz says, “even though we’re on an industrial estate in Derby people find their way to our store – we’re busy. Of course online is the main focus for us, but our bricks and mortar roots are important to us.” What about non-hardware areas? “Apparel and footwear are steady and we’re in a better place compared to two years ago when it was a lot tougher market. We’re seeing some growth, once again.” Happy days!
Anyone spot something missing? The B(rexit) word was not mentioned once – by any of us. See what the weather does? And finally: Angelo did win the Dad race at school… More than I ever did.