Brexit. There you go .. I’ve got it out of my system right at the start. In the last article I noted “by the time you read this it will hopefully all be over”. Ever the optimist. Here we are in early January, just 12 weeks from Brexit, and it’s a long, long way from over. According to UK Media, not to say UK Politicians, you would not know that there was anything else in the world apart from Brexit – perhaps with a little Donald Trump thrown in for good measure. I am not sure which I dislike most. Both cause stress beyond measure and both are no good for the world. Luckily one will hopefully fade away in a few years time (or sooner) whilst the other could be with us for decades to come. Will we? Won’t we? Hard? Soft? Or could it even be ‘remain’ – at this juncture it’s anyone’s guess… and it is causing more than its fair share of anguish businesses – of whatever colour or nationality. By Gordon Way.
So I am turning to a couple of UK Europeans for comment. Tobias is the snowboard and skate buyer for SurfDome, now part of the Internet Fusion group – IF for short. He’s a Swede who has lived in the UK for over 20 years. He’s survived the transition at SurfDome to IF. So how is it and how was the transition? “It’s good – it’s all settled down and it’s really good.” Tobias now also buys other categories so increasing his workload. “That does not worry me – I love rising to the challenge – I enjoy it more. My main focus is snow and skate – perfect for me. A slightly slow start but it’s picked up a lot recently and I’m really happy with how things are going. Winter hardware is bang on track. Goggles and helmets are still really important and will continue to grow. Skate is good and we’re seeing a new generation entering the sport and, in particular, more girls which is really good. Skate is good”
Will the Olympics help or hinder skate? “It’s fine with me. It will help with the public eye. Those factions who do not like it will still go and do what they do. It will bring in some big companies who will push it, promote it and pump money into it… and then go away again. All fine by me”
What about bricks & mortar – do you think IF will go that way? “That’s above my pay grade – I simply don’t know. From a personal view I would love it – I am sure there is still room for B&M stores.” So all in all happy? “Yeah – no sweat… well…my only sweat is Brexit and what happens at the end of March – that’s really the only thing giving me cause for concern. Everything else is under control.”
Gus from Board Basement has been in the UK for 11 years and also hails from Sweden. So how are things? “Uh OK” – said with a bit of caution. “I cannot believe what is going on. This Brexit thing is ridiculous. As a Swede I didn’t get a say in what is happening but I am really sad about it all. It also appears to me that everyone in the industry is nervous – distributors and retailers alike.”
So, apart from Brexit how is it? “Well it’s OK but slower than I would like. I think that, perhaps due to the nerves, there is much more of a race to the bottom spurred on by Black Friday. We’ve got retail competitors offering discounts on products that have not even been received in store. Incredible. We had to make a decision whether to participate and we decided to keep out of it. A good decision I think.”
So how are you differentiating yourself? “We value our service to customers. Sure we based the original concept of the business on old stock at the right price but it’s all evolved considerably – people may be surprised by just how much kit we sell at full price. It’s our great service that enables us to guide customers through what can be a difficult
buying process. We have to add value and it is our knowledge and customer service that sets us apart.”
Looking ahead to the ‘buy in’ season how does Gus feel? “I would be silly not to be a little cautious and pull back a little and we will definitely not be trigger happy… certainly not at the moment.”
I certainly understood the sentiment although, as a distributor it was not music to my ears.
Someone who has been running a Bricks and Mortar store for more than 20 years is Ben from Big Dreams (Wareham, English South Coast). Ben appeared more interested in the fact that I was calling him from the mountains of Austria than in my dismal attempt to write this article. “How is the snow? Is it as good as I’ve heard?” The simple answer was yes. I was now in Montafon for the Smith Optics Conference and the snow was… well… amazing.
Dragging Ben back from his dream (excuse the pun) I managed to get him to comment on business. “So far it’s been a soft goods year. Hardware has only just started moving in the past few days. Not really sure why but that’s just the way it is. I guess the mild weather has not helped but recent snow has got people thinking… Boots are the quietest for three years, boards are slow. Helmets are good and goggles are so so. This all makes it really hard to think about going into buying mode. Hopefully in a few weeks time it will be a very different picture.”
Whilst talking to Ben he mentioned the shop snowboard trip. “We usually go away with a small group but this year is a bit more organised and we’ve got 45 going away later this month. Could have got a lot more but I want to make sure we do it right. Looks like we may even run another trip later in the season.”
So that is surely a good sign. “It is, people are still going to go away – that’s their priority but I think that Brexit is having a major impact on confidence. In fact I know it is.” There we have it… another B word reference. It seems to becoming ever more invasive!
All that said Ben was, as always, really upbeat and cheerful. “I’m optimistic – I have to be. We’re a good old fashioned shop offering solid advice and I do get the feeling that people who have perhaps had a bad experience online are turning back to places like Big Dreams.”
Is that Ben, like me, is ever the optimist. I really don’t know. I’ll finish this little missive with a personal comment on Brexit. I am very aware that there are many people that do not share my opinion – sorry.
I would like to apologise to my EU fellow citizens. Brexit is a cockup of huge magnitude and completely unnecessary and divisive. I find it all so sad that the global village in which we live is building walls. That said I am confident that the UK and EU will get through this and that we can all flourish and prosper – it may just take a little longer than we thought. And in the meantime there’s a lot of work to do… and it’s snowing.