Jonathon Rogers, Owner of The Riders Lounge, and Sales Agent, Will Radula-Scott gave SOURCE the lowdown on being a winter sports distributor during the current times. Having to deal with an early end to the season, having to shut for an unknown amount of time and the uncertainty surrounding the 20/21 season makes conducting business tough. On the upside, they’ve come up with a promising initiative.
Could you talk to us about how business has been affected by COVID-19? Any interesting takeaways or opportunities arising?
JR: I can’t hide the fact that it’s a very tough time for us right now. As soon as our dealers were shut down then we were too. Unlike our retailers, however, distributors are not able to access the Government grants. We can, and have, furloughed staff and do have access to the Government loan scheme but with no business rates holiday and no grants we are still on a very negative income trail currently. On top of this, summer deliveries have been understandably slow coming in from the far east and we are not 100% sure if dealers will be in a position to take their summer stock when it arrives. There is no question that we will survive but our belts will be drawn as tightly as possible for the next few months at least.
Jonathan, we spoke early on about the carry-over model. As you saw in our industry Zoom meetings, brands want to use it as a last resort for if the shit really hits the fan next winter, and ultimately aren’t ready to make decisions yet. What are your thoughts on the matter?
JR: I have discussed the matter in detail with Union and Capita brand owners and I think we are in a fairly fortunate position in the fact that they both own their own factories. The market seems to be fairly split on the subject at the moment. Cautious dealers and distributors want clarification on what models will be carried over whilst those more confident in a quicker recovery and those that are convinced the market needs constantly upgrading with new colours and designs, want to carry on as normal. Owning your own factory means that you can show a totally new collection for AW2021/22 but still be flexible enough to change plans and production to include carry over models late in the day if that is seen as the way to go.
You guys implemented an initiative asking your retailers to encourage consumer pre-orders of 20/21 products during summer. Please tell us how the idea came about and talk to the success of the project.
JR: The first thing we did when it became evident that the virus was going to have a deep impact on our trade, was to contact all of our dealers and ask them to review their pre-season orders and to take a very cautious approach to next season. This was initially seen by some as reactionary and unnecessary and at the time I was not even sure if I could ask my suppliers to reduce my orders with them that had already been placed, however, I felt it was the right course of action at the time. Some dealers did reduce, and a couple cancelled orders and fortunately my suppliers were completely understanding of our actions and accepted the changes to our pre-season orders with them. I have had a long and successful relationship with most of my suppliers, so it was gratifying that they were prepared to help and very much appreciated.
After that it was a case of trying to do things that would help our dealers make sure they sell what they had ordered.
We normally offer our bigger dealers payment plan options and with some dealers still owing money when the lockdown began, I was being asked to stretch these terms even further. It was pretty evident from our own cash flow challenges and from the comments received from dealers that things were going to be tight for some time to come and I started to think about how we could encourage business through our dealers, which also helped us to secure sales on our products that the dealers had ordered.
Will: We started to think of other ways we could help retailers, and in turn, help us. The idea to get next winter’s products up on retailers’ website and help them push pre-order sales seemed like a simple way to help retailers and us. In non-COVID times, of course we try not to push next winter’s products too early so not to discourage sales of the current season’s product, but with all the resorts closing, travel halted, and shop doors closed the demand for any snowboard equipment was all but lost. So, we felt that we just needed to give retailers something new and interesting to shout about and encourage customers to visit their websites, their only source of selling. Providing retailers with the information and imagery for winter 21’s products and suggestions of offering pre-order offers such as payment plans, small discounts or free gift with purchase would give them something cool to shout about, encouraging traffic to their site where they could either take up a pre-order offer or be enticed into something else on the site. For us, we see it as an opportunity for them to gain some sell through before we’ve even delivered the product, to take some stress off of the unpredictable winter ahead. Signs of early sell through from our retailers definitely takes some stress off of us prior to the following winter sales meetings in January.
We got some really positive responses from our retailers after we contacted them all with the information on the initiative and after they had seen we’d started pushing products out on social media from Capita and Union. We have focused on a new model every 2 weeks, and a number of retailers have also promoted the products in line with us whilst also having all their pre-ordered products from Capita and Union available on their websites, along with enticing offers. We will continue to promote 20/21 products throughout the summer to keep people aware and excited about what’s to come in September and hopefully this will help kick off next winter with the best foot forward.
Have you heard of any other interesting initiatives taking off to either clear 19/20 stock or help retailers sell 20/21 stock?
Will: I’ve not actually really seen any other initiates at the moment from brands to help retailers. To be honest, all I saw when things started to get tough after lockdown commenced was some brands putting all their own stock sold DTC at 40% off and pushing posts and ads out on Instagram (where they have a larger following than most of their retailers) which to me just looked like they were not interested in helping the retailers that they’d already sold their stock to and instead competed with them to sell their own stock first. Understandably, every company has been hit hard and has to take actions to survive these crazy times, but we also need to be considerate, not to alienate other avenues of the sales process, i.e. retailers.