Independent Retailers Describe Life During Lockdown: Part 3
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 3 of this series, we’ve checked in with Afew, Loaded, and Lobby.
Where are you located? What are the current restrictions set in place by local authorities?
Afew: Düsseldorf, Germany. All shops are closed except for supermarkets and pharmacies.
Loaded: In Auckland, a lockdown has been in place since March 26. Loaded stores were closed at 2pm on Monday 23, when the New Zealand government announced this was about to take place. We’ve not traded in store, but have since been approved to ship ‘essential clothing’. Funnily enough, we were personally driving around hand delivering a few pairs of Yeezy 350 - while keeping social distance of course - to lucky raffle winners just a few hours before lockdown started.
Lobby: Hamburg, Germany. Our store has been closed since March 17. So far, we have no info on how long we’ll have to keep it that way. For a skateshop, spring is the worst time of the year to be missing out on in-store sales.
In the past month, what's been the biggest change to your business?
Loaded: Focussing as much as we can on online business. Still need to pay the bills to our suppliers and landlords, and keep our team going. We’ve received some of the Government subsidy, but haven’t received for all members of our team, so there’s some work ahead to chase that.
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.
Lobby: Aside from the store being closed, there’s been plenty of other things bringing us headaches. Most brands and distributors can’t give reliable information on if or when they are going deliver pre-orders. Nike is trying their best to get QS product to us – assuming that’s what most of your readers care about! However, they are hit by restrictions, just as we are, so I’m expecting delays for most releases in the near future.
How has the typical day-to-day management of the store changed? What is a typical day like at the moment?
Afew: We’ve had to do a lot of troubleshooting, like getting everybody into home office, creating an emergency plan for the logistics team, organising hygiene and safety material, and checking with the state if it is possible to get a support. We now have everything set up, and will now focus on communication with our online community. We’re also doing stuff that we never find time for, like renovating the office.
Loaded: Currently, our typical day is surprisingly full on. Apart from juggling three children at home, my wife and I are liaising with our managers. We organise with them what items need to be picked to prepare, pack and send. We’ve even had to deliver a weekend’s worth of orders ourselves to the courier DC, as our local courier seems to want to only work part-time during the lockdown, which has been frustrating.
We’ve also been working on promotions, launches, content and social media, communicating to our customers, plus trying to work through with our some of our suppliers and creditors – some of which have been flexible and willing to work with us through this time, while some have not even made contact. As we are a family-owned business, things haven’t really stopped and the workload has only amplified. We’re all good with that, but have noted some of our local competitors seem to put down the retailers that have applied to ship during lockdown. All we are doing is rolling up our sleeves and getting stuck in, so we can still be here when this is over, and our team still has jobs.
Lobby: For the first week, it didn’t really change too much. I had to put a lot of time to work through taxes and stuff to be able to gather all info for the application form for government help, so I was still working my normal hours. Now it has changed a lot - basically just packing online orders, waiting for DHL to pick them up, taking care of Instagram, but that’s really it. I can’t complain too much to be honest - online sales are still doing okay, and I find time to focus on other things. I haven’t skated as much in the last couple of years as I have in the past week!
How will you adapt your business over the next few months?
Afew: We not sure. We have to see how thing develop in the next month, and then decide what to do. For now, we focus will remain with online business, with the hope that the situation gets better soon.
Lobby: For shoe releases, it’s not gonna change too much. We had a couple of nice things planned for the Nike SB 420 release and some other QS, but that couldn’t happen, and will most probably be online raffles now. Besides that, we are thinking of doing a delivery service within Hamburg. It was originally planned so that skaters could get boards and stuff, now that the weather is constantly nice - we don’t mind anyone ordering shoes as well, obviously!
Anything you want to say to SF readers? How can the community support?
Afew: We’ve been in the sneaker game for over a decade, and are always very closely connected to our community and customers, who are very loyal and supportive. We have seen a large increase in sales of vouchers in the last couple of days, which shows that our community is trying to support us in these hard times, even though there are more important things then kicks right now. We are thankful for the support, but think that small shops that have no online shop need even more help. If you can, support your local!
Loaded: Support your local! Purchasing from international online stores over your local store doesn’t help us get through this. You have a choice, just as we also have a choice - we keep big launches local and don’t offer them outside of NZ.
Lobby: We were already really stoked on the support coming from the sneaker community. With SB being that strong for the past two years, there’s a lot of people that you get to know through in-store releases. Sometimes we just remember their names from raffle entries or wins. Especially in the first week, I saw plenty of well-known names in our order lists. When you see them ordering a Quasi or FA shirt, when you know they are an Off-White type of guy, you know that they are aware of our situation and want to support. We also got many messages coming in through IG asking how we were doing, how one could support, and simply wishing strength. Thanks to everyone that’s supported us. It was really nice to see that side of the community. With Travis being the last big release, we got to know quite a different side as you can imagine.
How do you think COVID-19 will affect the long-term future of the sneaker scene?
Loaded: Can only expect it to be tough going. We’re expecting a lot of heavy discounting through some of the more major chain stores and online brand platforms while everyone tries to get on top of stock that’s been going nowhere since lockdown. Think it will take some time for things to return to normal.
Lobby: Long-term, I don’t really see much changing. I’m expecting it to go back to normal once we’ve battled the pandemic. I hope for some people that the whole situation will make them focus a bit more on the really important things in life. Now that we are taking massive Ls in all parts of life, it will make it easier when they can’t get their hands on the next Travis x Nike SB release for retail. Some messages we received on the last release from grown men with proper jobs and a family were quite absurd! Not expecting much from 14-year-old kids, but grown up men should know better than to DM heavy insults or wild backdoor theories. Maybe some people will get a little time now to rethink their priorities and be less salty.
What have you learned in the past few weeks about yourself and your business?
Afew: Everything can change in seconds.We would never have expected something like this to happen in a million years. We learned to be more grateful for everything we have, and that we have to be more careful with nature and animals.
Loaded: That we can’t be complacent. Right now we need to play our part - stay home and only go out for the essentials. We need to do what our government tells us to do to minimise the risk to those most vulnerable in our community. In our 30 years in the sneaker industry, there’s been many challenges where we’ve had to adapt and overcome, including earthquakes. However, this will likely be the biggest one yet. We’ll face it head on, get through together, and stay grateful to those who support us.
Lobby: Focus more on the things you really love. It can all go down quicker than we thought, and once it does, you should be able to look back and be sure you’ve had a good time. Don’t have your thoughts in the future too much.