2020 started with news of a flu-like virus causing worrying damage in China; walking the halls of ISPO, COVID-19 definitely seemed like a very distant problem. Needless to say, it very soon found itself in Europe where at first it ravaged northern Italy before continuing its spread like wildfire across the whole of the continent and indeed the world.
We’ll leave the political discussion of how and why the disease spread and was fought differently from one country to the next and instead we’ll focus on just how the pandemic effected our European boardsports industry. Our website readers will have read our coverage of the pandemic, which spanned myriad topics to inform our readers at a time where lines of communication were blocked due to rapid lockdowns, furloughs and overwhelming uncertainty. Here’s a detailed summary of our findings. By SOURCE Editor, Harry Mitchell Thompson.
Boardsports’ one shining light throughout the lockdown was without doubt the skateboard hardgoods industry. People were able to skate at home, roll round the streets and with fantastic weather gracing large parts of NORTHERN Europe in April and May we’ve heard fascinating stories of supply shortages. People have returned to skateboarding and with total newbies also taking up the sport, skateboard completes have continued the impressive growth that they’ve been experiencing for over a year now. The Olympic effect? Jörg Ludewig from German distributor Urban Supplies says yes, sure it’s a contributing factor, but he also believes skateboarding booms through trending cycles and that currently we are riding the crest of one of those cycles. Combine this with everyone off school, on furlough and skateboarding has soared during lockdown.
“Small shops organising pickup/delivery services, Insta-shops while maintaining their support for skateboarding, literally overnight, was probably one of the most impressive things I’ve ever witnessed.” Nils Gebbers, 24/7 Distribution
Circling back to the aforementioned supply issue, while selling out of products is great, an actual shortage of supply due to delayed shipping from China and the US has presented distributors with a real challenge. Nils Gebbers from 24/7 Distribution told us they sold out of three months’ worth of inventory in three weeks. “A lot of shops think placing pre-booking on hardware is unnecessary, but the current situation shows it ain’t.” So, some lessons to be learnt there in skateboard pre-books, but Nils has nothing but praise for his shops: “Small shops organising pickup/delivery services, Insta-shops while maintaining their support for skateboarding, literally overnight, was probably one of the most impressive things I’ve ever witnessed.”
Very early on during lockdown our Skateboard Editor, Dirk Vogel interviewed OG Skateshop (Germany)’s Pav Lubomir on the fantastic efforts he was going to to keep his customers engaged, active and skating. Pav was releasing regular updates on his Youtube and Instagram channels, reviewing products to create hype and then selling products through his web shop and delivering via mail order. Skaters have always been innovators and Pav set the mould for many other independent skate shops to keep going about their business during lockdown.
Although the snowboard industry lost the last six weeks of its winter business, there’s a strong sentiment that the lockdown could have definitely came at a worse time in the cycle. Shops, brands and resorts were able to get December, January and February in the books and although the winter ended early, the snowboard industry can learn socioeconomic lessons from other industries over summer.
“Perhaps the hottest topic debated was the carry-over model, something retailers welcomed eagerly, but many brands a) feared it takes away marketing freshness and b) say it’s simply too early to decide whether they create carry-over models until they see just how bad next winter is.”
With communication suffering during lockdown, we soon realised the snowboard industry as a whole needed to know the full manufacturing picture and so we interviewed a number of key snowboard manufacturers and published our snowboard manufacturing report, informing our readers that the production process had actually been largely unaffected by coronavirus – the Chinese New Year holiday was 14 days over the worst hit time, so actually only one week of office hours disruption – something previously unknown to competing brands and to all retailers.
The lockdown hit the European snowboard industry at a crucial time in the ordering cycle, and so we invited the industry to participate in our snowboard industry Zoom conferences where we hosted 35+ brand and retailer representatives to talk openly on how we best move forward. We split the industry in half and hosted two x two-hour calls, which we reported on in detail on our website. In summary, snowboard brands agreed on the whole that problems for retailers resulting from the pandemic were also their problems and that wherever possible they would be helping retailers on a case by case basis. Perhaps the hottest topic debated was the carry-over model, something retailers welcomed eagerly, but many brands a) feared it takes away marketing freshness and b) say it’s simply too early to decide whether they create carry-over models until they see just how bad next winter is. Watch this space for more Zooms with the industry…
Snowboard shops normally use the final part of the winter season to sell current winter stock at discounted prices to prepare their shop floor for next winter’s product. With this vital part of the winter missing, it’s going to be very interesting to see how retailers merchandise new stock with old. An interesting notion conceived by The Riders Lounge (UK distributor for Capita, Union, Deeluxe, 686 and more) was to encourage their clients to promote a pre-order system with their consumers to allow both parties to better plan for the winter ahead. TRL were also among a number of distributors who were proactive in reducing pre-order quantities with their clients early on to reflect the potential downturn and ensure retailers wouldn’t receive orders they’d be unable to sell.
With Austria closing down their borders early and successfully adhering to a stringent lockdown policy, the country was able to start opening things back up in a much broader and faster fashion than the rest of Europe. This spelt some much-needed good news for European snowboarding on May 29th, when Hintertux and Kaunertal were able to reopen their glaciers. We spoke with representatives from both resorts, who told us of the hygiene and social distancing measures they had to implement with masks and limited numbers of riders in gondolas, but ultimately snowboarding benefits from being, in essence, a self-distanced, solo sport and so its practitioners have been able to enjoy its fruits before those in team and indoor sports.
While it remains to be seen just how international travel will look like next year, we can be sure there is going to be pent-up demand from people with furlough money burning a hole in their pocket next winter. If they’re unable to fly abroad, we’ve also figured that no one in Europe is more than 12 hours drive to their closest mountain range meaning localised shredding could present smaller domestic resorts (Poland, Bulgaria, Pyrenees, Scotland) with a fantastic opportunity.
Interestingly, during the last two financial crises, European surfboard sales rocketed with surfers out of work and lots of time on their hands. As has been well documented, beaches across Europe were closed to surfers for the majority of lockdown, meaning surfboard sales were relatively flat in March, April and May, however at the time of writing (June 18th) we are hearing that surfboard sales are beginning to build positively. However, the apparel and footwear business has been undeniably hit with retailers expected to take delivery of their Spring/Summer 2020 order without a shop front to sell from, and even with shops now open, there are strict hygiene rules making the trying on of garments quite prohibitive – anything tried on must be left for three days to decontaminate, or steam cleaned. Arguably the surf industry has been hit hardest out of all boardsports by COVID-19; only retailers with an efficient web shop function were able to garner any business at all in April, but those who did operate online reported good sales in leisurewear and basics.
“It’s been interesting to note that our sales across the EU are pretty much directly aligned with the countries that offered their workforces the most financial support on a personal level (read Germany, UK, France) and where there was less support on offer to the self-employed, or on furlough schemes we saw sales dip (Spain, Portugal, Italy).” Alexei Obolensky, Wasted Talent, Hossegor
The lockdown has no doubt increased Amazon’s share price. Those who had never shopped there before will now be converts, but with small, independent businesses forced to close, we’re seeing a resurgence in their popularity since reopening. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and those businesses who stayed connected to their customers through transparent social messaging and capitalised by selling digital gift vouchers to help their bottom line, are starting to see some green shoots since re-opening. Albeit with tentative steps due to social distancing and hygiene protocols, we are hearing reports of good footfall in stores. What with the rigmarole now connected with entering a shop (hand sanitizer, distancing etc), those actually entering are meaningful traffic – people are no longer just going for a browse, these customers are entering shops committed to a purchase. As lockdown has eased across Europe, shops are seeing waves of action, as Steve Daniel from UK distributor Daniel Surf says, “as our European partners emerged from lockdown our export sales picked up very quickly.” Steve concluded “surfers are enthusiasts and are resourceful and surfing is a relatively low-ticket sport, so I am confident of our business going forward. The landscape will change, and there will be losers, but the sport of surfing, like the waves, will still be there.”
Echoing our aforementioned point on hot furlough money in pockets, Alexei Obolensky from Wasted Talent in Hossegor strikes a direct correlation with sales to countries whose governments looked after its citizens best: “It’s been interesting to note that our sales across the EU are pretty much directly aligned with the countries that offered their workforces the most financial support on a personal level (read Germany, UK, France) and where there was less support on offer to the self-employed, or on furlough schemes we saw sales dip (Spain, Portugal, Italy).”
Having rung round SUP brands, we heard that their warehouses were working overtime to ship product and there’s a strong feeling that the forced ‘staycation’ this summer means people are looking for entertainment and equipment to practice nearer to home. Paddling was also allowed across many European markets during lockdown.
Coronavirus has hit the world like nothing else in our lifetimes, however we do believe that boardsports have faired reasonably well in comparison to many industries. Those retailers and brands who took advantage of their digital channels were the winners throughout the lockdown and with a summer of staycation in line, we hope retailers can get to know their locals even better. We can be thankful that our sports are practiced outdoors and solo, meaning we’ve been back at our hobbies quicker than many. And with the delaying of the Olympics by a year, it’s given surf and skate brands another year to fine-tune their strategies, so let’s ensure when the global spotlight is on next summer, we are ready to receive the influx of participants and customers. And finally, let’s give thanks for the momentary respite we were able to give mother nature during lockdown and ensure we continue to push sustainability and green topics to the forefront of our industry.