Slowtide’s Wild Pandemic Ride
Things looked grim for Slowtide in March and April. Retailers were cancelling orders left and right and co-owners Kyle Spencer, Dario Phillips and Wylie Von Tempsky knew they had to evolve or die.
That evolution included focusing even more on the direct to consumer business – which now comprises almost 50% of revenue – and making the difficult decision to eliminate sales reps.
“It was pretty devastating,” Kyle said. “We had to buckle down and make a lot of changes and reinvent what we are doing.”
But then, some good business trends began to develop.
The Slowtide e-commerce site started taking off. Fortuitously, the brand had launched a home collection last year that included bath towels and blankets. As consumers stuck at home during quarantine looked to spruce up their surroundings, sales of home products picked up.
Demand for Slowtide’s active towel line also surged as people worked out at home. Even the company’s ponchos became hot sellers as people looked for comfortable products to wear around the house.
Slowtide redirected some cancelled wholesale orders to the DTC channel, but it still wasn’t enough.
Then, when retail opened back up, demand surged even more.
“It was so wild, it was a night and day difference,” Kyle said. “We couldn’t keep anyone in stock. We blasted through all our inventory, and we were rushing to get summer in ahead of schedule.”
“We always had good demand for our product, but we’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.
“In April, we thought we were going to be sitting on a warehouse full of inventory for the rest of the year, and then one month later, we were like, ‘We need more!’ “ Dario said.
The Slowtide leadership team has learned a lot during the crisis. Kyle and Dario said the team is communicating more than ever now and are thankful they are small enough that they can move quickly.
Deciding to eliminate the rep force was particularly difficult – many were good friends. The move was a way to reduce expenses and Slowtide also wanted to build a more direct relationships with accounts. As a result, they hired an in-house associate sales manager to lead that initiative.
“Part of it, too, was looking at where the brand was headed and putting more attention on DTC and also on key wholesale accounts,” Kyle said.
Currently, Slowtide has six full-time and two part-time employees in addition to the three founders.
The pandemic has also caused Slowtide to move to all digital catalogs, something it has wanted to do for a long time. Slowtide believes it will continue to do line showings via Zoom rather than in person in the future.
After five years in business, the founders have noticed a key shift in their business that they are grateful for. Retailers that want to carry Slowtide products and brands and groups that want to create product collaborations are now coming to them, rather than the other way around.
“Once we did the Grateful Dead and the NBA, that changed everything,” Dario said, referring to collaborations.
The home line has been adopted by retailers such as Nordstrom, Madewell, Urban Outfitters and Bloomingdale’s. In addition, Anthropologie will launch the line this holiday.
All told, Slowtide said sales are expected to rise this year – not quite as much as planned due to the pandemic – but well above 2019.
“It’s really interesting, things were super crazy back in March and April,” Dario said. “It’s hard to believe, but things are almost crazier now because we are trying to keep up.”