Independent Retailers Describe Life During Lockdown: Part 2
They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. The truth is, we totally knew what we had, we just never thought we’d lose it. The COVID-19 pandemic – aside from hundreds of thousands of tragic deaths – initiated a turbulent economic disaster that has left many sneaker doors, especially independents, facing nervous futures. While online sales might be booming, those numbers don’t even go close to offsetting the losses that stem from bricks-and-mortar lockdown.
We hit up some retail homies across the world to see how they’re coping, and what steps they’re taking to adapt. In Part 2 of this series, we’ve checked in with Bodega, Overkill, and Black Box (who were also speaking on behalf of Urban Jungle).
Where are you located? What are the current restrictions set in place by local authorities?
Bodega: Boston and Los Angeles. Currently, all non-essential business must remain shut until we get the okay from State Government.
Overkill: Berlin. All retail shops except groceries, drugstores, and hardware stores have been shut down. So we also had to close our physical stores.
Black Box: We're based in Italy, in Rome and Naples.
In the past month, what's been the biggest change to your business?
Bodega: With our core of traditional retail shut down, all of our efforts go to online. The stores are entirely on pause.
Overkill: We have a strong community and a lot of loyal customers who love to visit us in our stores. There's also tourists and occasional customers. However, all of that isn't happening at the moment, so our task is to reach these people online and compensate for the missing physical shopping experience.
We also have been challenged with our internal work routines to provide as much safety as possible for our staff. Some of them are working from home, and the others who have to go to the office are working in shifts and are as separated as possible to keep the distance. It’s a completely new situation for us, but we got used to it, and everything is running quite smoothly.
Black Box: Our mission has always been making the brick-and-mortar more than just a place to buy, the store is the place to breath the culture, to feel the energy, and discover our brand selection. Closing our stores is a dramatic drop in the cash flow, but on the other hand, it’s tough not being able to get in touch with our consumers. Through online and socials, we are trying to stay close as much as possible to them.
How has the typical day-to-day management of the store changed? What is a typical day like at the moment?
Bodega: We’re putting more effort into creating in the moment for online, and making meaningful products for our people. We made hand sanitiser to giveaway and donate to a homeless shelter. Long-time collaborators are handmaking masks, and we donate these via those sales. More time is spent just to communicate quickly, to balance the increased workload. We also have a lot of efforts going on to help many of our community who have been displaced out of work.
Overkill: Stores are closed, but there’s still a lot going on at the office. Our dispatch department has more to do than before, as well as our customer support, who are working through questions about shipping times and restrictions for foreign countries. In marketing, there’s a little change from planning events and other activations, to more community support with raffles, providing DJ sets, and more.
Black Box: All the usual business plans have changed. We have set a plan to save all our employees’ jobs. Our retail team is in contact weekly with our store managers. As Directors and Managers, we are facing the issue of planning new scenarios in order to make the business sustainable for the months to come, planning actions to protect ourselves and our team in the best way possible. We chat on a weekly basis with our main suppliers, to plan the actual and future orders. Also, I’m constantly in touch with friends in the industry from many countries to listen and plan for what’s coming next. To be honest, I’m overworking compared to the times we’re used to!
How will you adapt your business over the next few months?
Overkill: That depends on how the authorities will loosen up the restrictions. As soon as the stores are allowed to re-open, we will return to our brick-and-mortar business. Of course, there will be a few things to consider for general safety, like how to keep distance, or using facemasks.
We will keep on with our online business as usual, while providing some specials like sales and free shipping, which we’ve been doing since the shutdown.
Anything you want to say to SF readers? How can the community support?
Bodega: Take care of yourself, your family and friends. Be thoughtful and kind to your fellow Freakers!
Overkill: Most important thing is to support your local businesses. Not just the sneaker and streetwear retailers, but also your favourite restaurants, book stores, and record dealers. Almost everyone provides a delivery or takeaway service, so you don’t have to stop buying at those stores. And... please stay home!
Black Box: First of all, stay safe and do not underestimate this virus. We have seen that the hard restrictions, even if they have affected our life, business and love, have been part of the solution. Now is not the time to give up - you have to make further small sacrifices. Sneaker Freaker has always been a real point of reference in this industry, through the paper magazine, the website, and the wonderful Ultimate Sneaker Book, which is a real bible for all the lovers of this business. I’m sure we will all rise up!
How do you think COVID-19 will affect the long-term future of the sneaker scene?
Bodega: Long-term, the sneaker scene will still dominate the world. This is just a road bump. We’ll keep growing and taking on more untapped markets, but with the principles of sustainability and compassion more in the forefront.
Overkill: At present, maybe people are reflecting on themselves and their consumer behaviour. Maybe they’re gonna be more selective when buying sneakers in the future, and won’t be copping the fourth and fifth all-white classic sneaker. However, on the other side, I’m also pretty sure that when the global recession comes to an end, the regular capitalism will catch up with us again.
Black Box: I think we will live two phases, one until the end of the year, and a second one in 2021 when we will really see what the real impact has been. It’s hard and sad to say, but I think in the future, we won’t have small players which are not financially strong. Suppliers already started this process a couple of years ago, in reducing the access point in the market, now this emergency has accelerated this process. Online will grow and grow, but beautiful retail stores are needed to connect with the local community.
What have you learned in the past few weeks about yourself and your business?
Bodega: When things are going well, you take moments and people for granted. I’ve continued to have profound experiences through Bodega allowing me to explore art, music, counterculture, and fashion in a quest of building a community. I value all of it, and the people who have helped me along the way, even more now.
Black Box: On a personal level, I have learned that everything I have done in the past and how I have treated others now is coming back in different ways. I’m lucky to have a lot of friends in many countries, and this is a real fuel that gives me the strength to think of a better future. Business wise, I have learned now more than ever that this business is not a game. A lot of people outside think that selling sneakers is an easy thing – it’s not. Passion, knowledge, hard work, and teamwork have been the bases to build our company.