Independent Retailers Describe Life During Lockdown: Part 4
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 4 of the series, we checked in with atmos, asphaltgold, and Brooklyn Projects.
Where are you located? What are the current restrictions set in place by local authorities?
atmos: We have stores located in Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, and the USA. The restrictions have been different in each location.
asphaltgold: Both our stores are based in Darmstadt, Germany. We've opened our AGC store, but there's only five people allowed in at a time, and everyone has to wear face masks. There's no real public business in the inner city right now, so it wouldn’t make sense to keep both stores running. We shifted manpower to our warehouse so we can handle all online orders even faster.
In the warehouse, where we operate everything related to our online shipping, we took several measures. Some of them are voluntary, but we’d rather be safe than sorry! Our logistics team obeys strict hygiene rules. Workplaces and working equipment are not shared, our staff sanitises their hands frequently, wears respiratory masks, and works in separate shifts. All other business units are working from home.
Brooklyn Projects: Los Angeles, California. Recently, all non-essential businesses are not allowed to be open to the public for business, and as of the week of early April, the city has patrols of police to make sure stores are not opened to the public. Offenders face criminal charges and a hefty fine.
In the past month, what's been the biggest change to your business?
atmos: Japan had about 30 million tourists visiting over the last year, so we’ve lost a lot of sales due to lack of tourism. Locals are also refraining from going out, and most stores in Tokyo are closed. However, new sneakers continue to be released, so we are shifting our focus to online, increasing our workforce in that department. There’s no sales of limited edition product at the store. No one could’ve imagined this, but we’ve responded well, and confident we’ll overcome the difficulties.
asphaltgold: The biggest change has been the different workflow. Video conferences come in handy, of course, but they’re also vulnerable to misunderstandings and sometimes technical issues. It’s also a challenge to do proper planning without knowing how long we have to deal with the restrictions. Another obstacle is shifted release dates due to restricted shipping. Understandably, it’s nearly impossible for the brands to tell when they will be able to deliver orders, so we have to handle that uncertainty.
Brooklyn Projects: Going to a strict online-only business. Getting most of the product shot, and putting them on our online store has been a change. Other than that, another welcomed thing is that Nike has allowed most shops - for now - to sell online, which has been a big help.
How has the typical day-to-day management of the store changed? What is a typical day like at the moment?
atmos: Store managers are working at head office, helping with e-commerce and shipping.
asphaltgold: All meetings are held online, with all our marketing activities solely focused on the online shop at the moment. We try to put ourselves in the position of the home shoppers, and come up with ideas that suit the current situation. For example, we started a ‘Flip Your Box’ challenge where people had to whirl a shoe box around in the most stylish way possible. A different approach is our newly launched Spotify channel, where we serve our community hot playlists to spice up the quarantine. The typical day is quite intense, because competition is strong right now - every retailer is fighting for their position in the online market even more.
Brooklyn Projects: A typical day right now is going to the shop for a few hours to do the things we didn’t have time to do before. Other than shooting the product, we’ve used this period to organise, paint, do inventory etc. I am still paying my employees full pay, even though we are not even close to making a quarter of what we were making to keep them secure. We have everyone stay far enough away in the store, and there’s only two people at a time working a few hours a day getting online orders out. Basically making enough as of now to cover their pay and that’s it. We also have a koi pond in the shop, so we have to feed them every day and treat the water once a week.
How will you adapt your business over the next few months?
atmos: I think it will be a long battle, so the focus will be on online business and reinforcing the personnel. Online sales are now growing, as store sales are going down. We have opened stores in Southeast Asia recently, but due to the virus, now is a good opportunity to review problems and make improvements. There will also be a continued focus on marketing activities such as digital activations and community content. We recently did an ‘AIR MAX QUIZ’online event for atmos members, which was well received.
asphaltgold: We’ll continue to optimise the current workflow, and try to make the best of the situation. We have to stay flexible and agile to adapt to recent developments.
Brooklyn Projects: With Brooklyn Projects, it has always been the experience of the shop itself, and the environment. It will be a challenge to create that online, but that’s the focus right now. Then it’s also planning on what’s coming next - talking to brands on what are we’re going to do together once we open to get some sort of normalcy going. Business will not be the same as it was pre-COVID 19. The retail landscape has changed forever, that I can tell you. Now it’s trying to figure out what it’s going to be like. People want to think that once it’s over, people are gonna want to come out and shop after being cooped up so long. However, most people have lost their jobs, so I think people use discretion on what they will buy, at least for the first year.
Anything you want to say to SF readers? How can the community support?
asphaltgold: I hope the SF community is safe and healthy. There will be better times again, don’t worry. If you want to support, the most important thing you can do is to stick to your passion for sneakers, the thing we all share. Whether you buy online, take part in campaigns, or just send nice mail –every retailer will appreciate your effort.
Brooklyn Projects: The community can support by staying safe. The sooner we get over this, the sooner we can all thrive. Other than that, they can also check in on their favourite shop, and if they can, buy something small, like a pair of socks or t-shirt. Most shops need every dime. The scary thing is: I was on a call with some execs at a major sneaker company, and they’re forecasting that in 2020, they’ll lose 37 per cent of mom-and-pop shops that won’t make it through this. Very grim.
How do you think COVID-19 will affect the long-term future of the sneaker scene?
atmos: It's a long battle, so by the end of the corona situation I think it's going to be completely different world. The market will reset, and there may be new sneaker stores starting with a renewed focus on online business.
asphaltgold: I hope the current situation will teach us to not take things for granted. Freedom is something we should cherish each and every day. Maybe we can share our passion more consciously in the future.
Brooklyn Projects: I think there will be no more line ups. It will be a reservation, and you pick up your shoes over the course of a few days. Shoe companies are backed up, and most of them have cancelled all holiday orders, instead spreading out Spring and Fall - remember China makes most of the shoes. I also think companies will start production outside of China to be prepared for this if, God forbid, it ever happened again.
What have you learned in the past few weeks about yourself and your business?
atmos: For me, what I learned is the importance of life. I sincerely hope that the Coronavirus will soon end and the peaceful days will come back the world. Regarding business, I learned the importance of responding calmly and speedily to any situation.
asphaltgold: I learned that you can, technically, run a business online without personal contact. However, it is not anywhere near as satisfying and fun. asphaltgold is about team spirit and the community, and that’s something meant to be established personally.
Brooklyn Projects: I’ve learned that I could’ve been more prepared to switch to an online platform and to focus more on e-comm, as I’ve always been against it. I believe in the brick-and-mortar recipe, but now that will change, so I’m adapting. I’ve also learned who is here to help for the long-term, and who doesn’t care – brand-wise. It has been a sad eye-opener, as some brands just don’t care, they just want to get paid, when they should be working with retailers. As mentioned before, I’ve paid them in full, and when we open back up they will no longer have a place in my shop. I’ve also learned customer-wise and friend-wise, who really cares. The amount of support we have gotten is amazing and is truly appreciated.