WRV Previews What Store Re-Openings May Look Like
Virginia is one of the few states where industry stores are still open, although with strict social distancing rules in place.
We thought it might be helpful to hear from a retailer in the state about what their shop is experiencing, how they are managing the government guidelines and what is actually selling during the pandemic – especially since many states may have the same restrictions in place when stores are allowed to open again.
We called up LG Shaw of WRV in Virginia and had a great talk with him about how this crisis is playing out at WRV.
While stores like WRV are not considered an essential businesses, the state of Virginia still allows the stores to stay open but with only 10 customers at a time.
Virginia Beach industry stores also have a big advantage because people are still allowed to surf. They aren’t allowed to hang out on the beach, but people can still walk on the beach or surf in the water for exercise.
WRV has taken a lot of precautions of course. When the coronavirus first started, LG went to a janitor supply store and bought restaurant grade cleaners so they could keep high touch areas sanitized.
Keeping six feet apart is pretty easy in the stores, but it’s more challenging at the cash wrap. At first, LG though they could add plexiglass but found it’s back ordered and expensive because it is in such high demand right now.
Then he got an idea from the post office after a stop there to mail packages.
“They had wall-to-wall clear plastic shower curtains in between the employees at the counter and customers,” he said. “If it’s good enough for the post office, it’s good enough for us.”
So he installed shower curtains by WRV’s five check out stations.
“Our whole goal has been to balance the financial crisis with the health crisis,” he said. “We want to keep everyone safe, I’d hate to have it on my conscious that somebody got sick or died because they came to our store. So we are not promoting sales on social media like we usually would because it doesn’t seem responsible to encourage a bunch of people to come to the store.”
In Virginia, people are not required to wear masks. At WRV, staff are given the option to wear masks if they want to. And WRV does have N95 masks on hand because they are used in their surfboard factory.
As far as what’s selling, it’s product related to what people can still do. Skateboard sales have been great and skate department comps are actually up year-over-year.
“As soon as the restrictions started happening, we were having parents walking in and buying skateboards,” LG said. “They knew it would help their kids get outside and stay active.”
Skateboards are selling so well, WRV has started pulling inventory from its closed Outer Banks store to sell in Virginia Beach.
In addition to skateboards, other products that are selling including surfboards, wetsuits and skate shoes. Those departments are flat or up.
Bikinis are selling when the sun comes out because people are laying out in their backyards even if they can’t sunbathe at the beach.
The hardest hit categories are sandals and apparel, which are down in the 90% range.
“We feel really lucky that some categories are up, especially since only 10 people can be in the store at the same time,” LG said. “Before the lockdown, it would be typical for us to have 10 people waiting in the parking lot to get into the store on a Saturday morning.”
The crisis has also forced WRV to speed up the revamping of its website, which right now is mostly focused on the WRV brand. That will expand to include other brands and become more of a digital surf shop soon.
As far as employees, WRV did scale back the number of employees at its shops, print shops and surfboard factories once they knew the extra $600 in government unemployment benefits had been approved.
“That was something I lost a lot of sleep over, trying to figure out the right thing to do,” LG said.
The good news is WRV’s PPP money did come through, so they will be able to bring back some employees.
“The PPP really gives us eight weeks to get our ducks in the row and get braced for what is coming,” LG said. “The scary thing is – what will summer look like? What does holiday look like, especially if the virus comes back?”
And while it’s a relief to have the PPP money, the government put the program together so quickly LG worries that there will be some curve ball that impacts whether the money is considered a loan or a grant.
“We have accountants and lawyers looking at everything, but there is still that risk it ends up being a loan,” he said. “If that happens, that would be a massive debt we’d have to service, which is nerve wracking to think about. But we still thought it was worth it to get the money, and we are taking every precaution to handle it the right way.”
As far as his orders with brands, he said the process has been understandably chaotic as every brand tries to figure out their go-forward strategy. Some brands are just pushing everything back – so spring becomes summer, summer becomes fall, and fall becomes holiday – while others are packing up Summer ‘20 goods and turning those into the Spring ‘21 line.
To him, the worst case scenario is the restrictions continue to limit gatherings to 10 or 50 people for a long time – so no beach events, no parties, no large happenings until a vaccine comes out.
I asked LG if WRV can survive that kind of turmoil.
“We will make it,” he said. “Luckily, the last year or two were good ones. When all this started going down, we figured we could survive 18 months if we took everything down to the cockroach level and made huge modifications. We’re lucky because we own all of our buildings and facilities except Puerto Rico. I feel for the guys who are dealing with landlords.”
LG remains optimistic that things will turn out better than the worst case scenario, however.
“Let’s hope the summer breaks down the virus, and we can have cookouts and get togethers,” he said. “I’m a hugger, so it’s been really peculiar not being able to even high five anyone.”