By Gordon Way.
I hope you guys are all safe and well and that Covid, whilst impacting businesses in different ways, has not impacted you in a personal way.
Well…what a difference a few weeks make! Not long after lockdown skateboards sold like hot cakes, then we all saw the bike ‘revolution’ (which appears to be continuing) but who would have predicted the watersports boom? Not me.
As soon as the great British public were allowed to, they took to the water – and not just those that were hardened watersports enthusiasts but, it seems, so did many newcomers.
You actually feel guilty saying how good things have been because so many industries have suffered and continue to suffer. Travel and Tourism (overseas) is having a terrible time and (at the time of writing this) further travel restrictions and isolation rules have just come into force. Their loss may just be contributing to our gain and we simply have to ‘make hay’ whilst we can – who knows what’s around the next corner? Winter could be tough!
Watersports are going off, the ‘staycation’ business is booming and the £££’s that were going to be spent in Spain, Greece, Turkey and wherever are now heading towards UK shops, schools and businesses. Similarly the ‘pot of gold’ that I eluded to in my last piece does appear to have materialised and shops are reporting ‘best ever month’, ‘best ever week’.
Is this sustainable? Who knows, but without wanting to overlook the misery and devastation that Covid is wreaking, we don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. The fervent hope is that the new-found (or re-found) watersports enthusiasts are going to stick with it and indications from the bike industry (which is ahead of us in the curve) are that there is a sustainable uplift.
So I am a little surprised that this article has a very positive feel. I appreciate that this may not apply to every store in every corner of the UK but hopefully if it’s not good for you now… it’s on the way.
I don’t usually like to quote without a name but one watersports retailer (who has asked not to be named) had this to say. “May was better than expected and higher than last year. This surprised me. June was manic and massively up on last year and now [mid July] we have already doubled the previous year’s full month which was, in turn, our highest ever month since we started. Coping with demand is the issue and getting supplies in and out.”
Well that sounds like a good problem to have.
Moving on, how has the season been so far? “Remarkable. After the lockdown and the doom and gloom we could never have imagined that it would bounce back as it has done,” says Matt from H2O in Poole. “At the time of lockdown we, like so many others, were wondering if we would have a business to return to but we cannot really believe it. It’s awesome.”
So paddle boarding is obviously the real winner? “It is. Sales have been fantastic and boards are outselling anything else. It’s like nothing we have really ever experienced. Even going back to the heady days of windsurfing – this is way bigger than then.”
Are these completely new enthusiasts or born-again enthusiasts? “They’re new. That’s the great thing. And they’re already returning and buying second and third boards for other family members – they are all loving it and they’re here to stay. This is an amazing time to be here helping all these people discover a new way of life. And that is going to feed through to other sports – WindSUP, Wings, Windsurfing, Surfing and Foiling are all going to feed off this – it is amazing!”
I didn’t want to put a downer on things but I had to ask if something was not going well? “Wetsuits. We didn’t get the sale of spring suits and everyone has gone straight into a shorty plus a lot of the business has gone to the big online guys. And fashion for us is out – we’re really a hardware store. Back to where we used to be. It is awesome.”
Moving down to Sessions in Cornwall I spoke to Simon and a new word popped up amongst those we have covered already. “Mental, it’s absolutely mental,” you could hear it in Simon’s voice and you could also hear the busy shop in the background. “We reopened on the June 15 and it has been completely non-stop since then. The tourists have arrived in force and they are spending money on watersports kit – so much so that we may actually run out of wetsuits.”
How did you feel when lockdown was first announced? “Like everyone I really did not know where we were heading. We missed Easter and May Bank Holidays – which are really important to us – and then as we reopened I was still concerned about how it was going to be. But it’s been amazing and if we can sustain these gains through August we will have made up all the lost ground… and some. We’re currently breaking loads of records.”
And is it newbies? “Yes, absolutely, and that’s the great thing – we are definitely getting newcomers and they are staying with it – they’re loving it – even those who have bought ‘supermarket kit’ [I think the word ‘crap was used by one of us] now realise they need some decent kit.”
Matt did say that, like me, he felt guilty when talking to other local businesses who are not fairing so well: “It is really tough for some and we should never forget that, but, we cannot dwell on that. We’re more than happy with how it’s going and could never have foreseen this. Long may this continue.”
The thing with all this is that we don’t know how long this will last – both Covid, the restrictions and the flourishing watersports business. We should still ‘plan for the worst and hope for the best’ because as quickly as things first went into lockdown mode it could all happen again.
As mentioned in the last Market Insight, skate is doing just as well. Nic from Route One kicked off the conversation exactly as Simon had done :“Metal. It’s completely mental.” Aha, I have heard that before so I know what’s coming: “From really worried to mental in a few short weeks. It’s exploded and nobody is more surprised than me. Did anyone see this coming? “I think the answer is no. “Biggest issue now is the supply chain – we’ve got the customers – new customers, young and old, adults, kids, parents, and the best bit – loads of girls taking up skating. Now we just need to get the supply.”
Looking to the upcoming winter season the biggest concerns are going to be liquidity of stores and then, whether or not the consumers will come through. Personally I think they will – Covid and travel restrictions allowing. I also believe that our mountain lovers will come through with enthusiasm in abundance. Those that missed out on an end-of-season-week in 2020 will probably try and tag in some additional time this coming season.
Some wintersports stores are already reporting better than expected sales and good interest in new kit. People do have the money and they want to spend it on stuff they like. We’re here to serve of course! If this winter can follow the summer then, well… fingers crossed.
Someone who is keen to serve is Stuart Roberts. He’s just become the proud owner (second time round) of Two Seasons, after acquiring it from Boardriders. Welcome home Stuart and good luck. We’re all pretty sure that going forward, the business will look very different and are also confident that Stuart will steer it in the right direction. Great to see a ‘new’ (old) retailer on the block.
So we welcome the new members of our congregation with open arms and hope that they stick with us for years to come. Who could possibly have predicted that maybe, just maybe, Covid could have a positive outcome for the boardsports industry.
All that said I think we would all agree that we could do without it and I am sure we are all looking forward to the day when it is not dominating our world.