MarketIntel AUT

COVID-19: Market Insight – UK

We are all in this together!
In my last missive I wrote about enthusiasm. This time it has to be about optimism, which, given the current circumstances, is in short supply – but it is there and just has to be uncovered. Hard though it may be we have to remain optimistic. The good thing is that it’s easy to be enthusiastic about boardsports, and usually, enthusiasm leads to optimism. By Gordon Way.

The world today is so different to a few short weeks back – our own business, like so many in the boardsports industry – has been severely impacted. We are not alone – we are all in this together and we will (hopefully) all come out the other side emerging leaner, certainly fitter and ultimately more likely to be able to cope with the vagaries of future business – many lessons will be learnt.

And we really ARE all in this together. Amongst all the doom and gloom there is a real sense of togetherness. Retailers are struggling, distributors are struggling, brands and manufacturers are struggling – and there seems very little we can do except to struggle on together and support each other.

Sometimes it is the way that the support is delivered that makes a difference. Debt collectors need to understand that, whilst money still has to flow, sadly for some it has dried up completely. Creditors need to be patient and to work with their customers – on the other hand customers need to be understanding of their suppliers needs. It appears that not everyone understands this.

Almost as soon as the ‘crisis’ commenced we received letters from two large customers.  One basically told us that they would be taking 60 days increased credit – no discussion, no apology – no enthusiasm or optimism. The second letter asked for understanding, apologised for a situation outside their control, said they would be doing their best but requested that we ‘please bear with them’. The letter reaffirmed the value they place on supplier relationships and on their own team members.

The big thing for me was that the second letter went on to talk about the future, the boardsports consumers and their inherent enthusiasm, the (hoped for) bounce back. There was a marked difference in approach. One showed signs of optimism and enthusiasm.

So what of the consumers? Will they bounce back? Is there a pot of gold being built up (what can they spend their money on right now) and, if there is such a pot, how quickly will that pot get spent?

I don’t think we can kid ourselves that the lost revenue will be regained but it does seem obvious to me that all our consumers are itching to get back on their boards and from our own business (which is still open and still shipping with myself and the family in the warehouse) I can see from the daily orders that things are starting to move… albeit slowly. From a dead stop initially sales are moving in an upward direction.

Some of us are luckier than others and are able to combine their daily exercise and get out on a board. As stepfather to four skateboarding kids (three girls,  boy) it was agreed that skating could be their daily exercise. Unfortunately we caused a local furore on the village Facebook page when the kids were spotted together on a quiet country lane. It’s all calmed down and now and Alfie (16) is out on his board every day delivering newspapers to vulnerable people. It seems that taking exercise on your skateboard is now acceptable – at least in our village.

And it seems that our kids are not alone. Talking to Ali Chricton from Stateside Skates he was taken by surprise. “When the first lockdown was announced we prepared emergency cashflow forecasts, got ready to implement the furlough procedures and were ready to batten down the hatches. Then we were taken completely by surprise.  Our skate business in the UK is up 50% – we are struggling to cope – the reverse of what I expected. It seems that the necessity to keep fit and to keep the kids busy is driving this business.” Fair to say that Ali is both optimistic and enthusiastic. I would be.

I also managed to get hold of Matt from Absolute Snow (working from home). In our pond Absolute are primarily a snowsports retailer: “At this time of year we expect it to be slow on winter sports so nothing new there. The real kick in the pants for us was not getting an end to the season – we lost the last few critical weeks and this means we are carrying more stock through to next year. And there lies the real issue. Are people going to book winter holidays? Are they going to be prepared to travel? I believe that they will, but… there’s still a big but!”

Absolute Snow recently purchased the Freeze name from the ashes of bankruptcy. “It’s another string to our bow,” said Matt “but it was really touch-and-go as to whether we went ahead. In the end we decided that the optimistic approach was the only way forward for our business and we’re banking on getting back on track ASAP and reaping the benefit from the second online trading base.”

As a board business, big or small, make sure you take advantage of all that the UK Govt have put in place with various support schemes: Postponing VAT and PAYE, supported loans for business (zero interest and capital repayment holiday for the first 12 months), 80% contribution to furloughed staff and, for smaller businesses, there is the ‘Bounce Back’ loan scheme. Get in there.

Whilst remaining optimistic about our future it is impossible to ignore these terrible times and the impact it is having on everyone. The impact on business, the additional stress and worry is immense – for owners and employees, for family members – for all of us. However there is one thing I am certain about – our consumers, our riders are enthusiasts. They are optimists. They are looking to getting out on their boards, they are craving the outdoors and when it is safe to do so they will return with a vengeance… and if Ali from Stateside is correct we may well have a few more in our congregation.

Finally we have to put it all in perspective – I hope you are all healthy? We need to remember that some are suffering much more than we are. Some have lost loved ones. This will pass but some things can never be ’put right’. Stay safe, stay well, get back on board as soon as you can.

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