Updated: Store Closures Mount, Independents Get Creative
Editor’s note: Ron Jon announced that it is closing all stores beginning starting at the end of day March 20 through March 29.
Store closures are mounting, bars are closing, restaurants are switching to takeout and delivery only.
The impact from the coronavirus will ripple through all parts of the economy. Companies big and small will be hurt financially.
However big companies with robust balance sheets and not a lot of debt will likely be able to absorb the hit better than independent retailers who don’t have millions in the bank.
Retailers who are remaining open are getting creative, however, to assure customers their stores are clean and to offer new services. And some believe the surf and skate community is better positioned then most to stay relevant to customers during this crisis.
Still, the potential crisis in the action sports space comes as the core channel was posting positive momentum.
Since 2017, the retailers on the ActionWatch Retail Panel have seen improved sales, and the growth continued in January and February of 2020, with sales rising double digits in both months.
Sales of skate and surf hardgoods have been particularly strong.
ActionWatch’s Patrik Schmidle thinks that gives core retailers an advantage over most other stores, since people can still surf and skate.
“As long as core retailers are able to keep their stores open, they have a unique opportunity to interact with their customers,” he said. “They could come up with unique incentives and ideas to encourage their customers to go outside and get in the water or go to the skatepark. Maybe something like any parent/child combination that comes to the store after a surf session or from the skatepark qualifies for a special promotion or gift.”
“Now that many parents are working from home, kids are home from school and college and there are no sports to watch on TV, there is a unique opportunity to spend more time together and engage in the activities we love,” he said.
Retailers Closing Stores
The changes came fast and furious this weekend, with authorities moving from encouraging social distancing to large retailers moving to close most stores in North America and Europe for several weeks.
In addition, several major snow resort operators are also shuttering operations.
Retailers that have shut stores include REI, Apple, Patagonia, Urban Outfitters, Abercrombie & Fitch, Under Armour, Lululemon, Columbia Sportswear, Prana and Vuori.
“These are extraordinary times. Business as usual doesn’t apply,” Vuori Founder and CEO Joe Kudla said. Vuori operates five stores.
VF Corp. announced Monday morning that it is also closing all stores in North America, including Vans stores, and all corporate offices, until April 5. All retail employees will continue to receive full pay and benefits, and corporate employees will work from home.
Evo is also closing its U.S. stores for two weeks, with Denver closing immediately and other stores at the end of business today. Evo will also pay employees for scheduled hours while the stores are closed.
Ron Jon also just announced it is closing all stores starting at the end of day March 20 through March 29.
Alterra Mountain Company, owner of Mammoth, Squaw Mountain, and other resorts suspended all operations beginning Sunday.
“Alterra Mountain Company will suspend operations at our 15 North American ski resorts, starting the morning of Sunday, March 15, until further notice,” CEO Rusty Gregory said. “All lift operations, food and beverage, retail and rental services will be closed until further notice.”
Vail Resorts has also shuttered its resorts, including retail operations.
How Core Retailers are Adjusting
We checked in with several core retailers to see how they are handling the situation. Traffic drop offs in stores seemed to vary depending on how badly a surrounding community has been impacted by the virus.
Nearly every retailer has increased their cleaning protocols, and some are offering new services like curbside pickup for customers who are leery of coming in the store.
Sweetwater Surf in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina was ahead of the curve in offering new services to customers including curbside pickup, and free two-day shipping.
Soon, they will add limited home delivery to customers in the surrounding area and are making plans for Facebook Live events such as sales, try-on sessions, new surfboard feature forums and more, said Sweetwater Partner Danielle Bourgeois.
Luckily, the store hasn’t seen a big drop in traffic yet and had two of their biggest days in March this past weekend.
“A lot of people are still out shopping,” she said. “As of now we are very fortunate and have not had to cut staff hours. We will make that decision if we have to, but as of now we have no plans to cut staff hours.”
But because of the uncertainty going on, Sweetwater has started to look at future orders.
“We have started looking into our ‘On Order’ reports to see what is expected to arrive in the next month,” Danielle said. “We will require that our vendors call or email to get approval before shipping any goods. We will accept the goods on an as needed basis for the time being.”
Coastal Edge in Virginia is also communicating with its customers about its increased cleaning procedures, including adding hand sanitizer at the front entrances and at all cash registers. Sanitizing wipes are near workstations and counters so that employees can keep them continuously cleaned, Owner D. Nachnani said.
Coastal Edge is also offering free shipping for online orders and curbside pickup as well.
Bruce Cromartie of BC Surf & Sport said they have seen a drop off in traffic in the past few days and have begun adjusting the hours of part time employees.
The company, which has also increased cleaning protocols, has not started cutting orders but they understand that could be necessary.
“It’s getting more likely as things progress, but we haven’t yet,” Bruce said.
Getting Creative to Help Hourly Employees
Some companies with larger staffs are getting creative to help hourly employees who may need to stay home to care for children who are no longer in school.
Industry retailer evo in Seattle is in one of the epicenters of the virus in the Seattle area. In addition to having a large store in the city, it operates a huge distribution center that services its robust online business. While stores are closing, the distribution center will remain open, and evo has implemented social distancing and cleaning protocols there.
Company leaders are worried about the impact on hourly workers who may need to stay home to care for kids who are no longer in school. While all year-round employees accrue sick time and vacation time, some might not have enough to cover these unusual circumstances.
The top 30 or so leaders at evo began donating vacation days that can be reallocated to hourly employees who can’t work because of a coronavirus hardship. The response has been overwhelming positive, with donations ranging from eight hours to 60 hours.
As of Saturday, 2,300 hours of paid time is now available to hourly workers. The team has been so supportive, evo has opened up the program to all salaried employees.
Because the situation is moving so quickly, the company is still working out how to manage team members’ requests for support.
“Of course we’re all still hoping that life begins to normalize at some point soon, and that these vacation days can be returned to the folks who earned them in the first place,” said Jim Knutsen, evo’s Chief Culture and Strategy Officer.
“But for now, this is one small but wonderful example of the ways people are coming together to help each other through a time of real uncertainty,” he said. “And it may be a mechanism that other businesses find helpful as they look to balance the work of supporting their teams while protecting the business from long-term harm.”
Editor’s note: We’d love to hear from other brands and retailers about how they are handling the crisis and any creative ideas that can be shared with the community. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.