Independent Retailers Describe Life During Lockdown: Part 6
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 – in addition to causing hundreds of thousands of tragic deaths – has 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’ve been hitting up some retail homies across the world to see how they’re coping, and to discover what steps they’re taking to adapt. In Part 6 of the series, we checked in with VegNonVeg, Latte, and Shoez Gallery.
Where are you located? What are the current restrictions set in place by local authorities?
VegNonVeg: We are based out of India, with presence in all three major cities: Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. We've just come out of a severe five-week lockdown, where all stores were closed and online deliveries for non-essential items were not allowed. Last week, we were allowed to reopen our logistics for online delivery, as well as two out of three of our physical stores. We're only allowed to operate with 33 per cent of our workforce. Our flagship store, which is located in Delhi, has been allowed to open only on odd days. We have had to cut short our operational hours, as India has a nationwide curfew of 7PM. Our Mumbai store has not been allowed to reopen yet, as the whole city is still under lockdown and is one of the worst affected in India. Our store in Bangalore is open, but has to be kept shut on Sundays due to a state imposed curfew on weekends.
Latte: Lisbon, Portugal. We have been able to open the store again, but can only allow three customers inside at a time (one per each 25-square meters). Everyone must wear a mask and sanitize their hands when coming into the store. We also clean all surfaces - door handles, counter, payment terminals, etc - after each customer interacts with them.
Shoez Gallery: Lyon, France. All the stores were closed, except for pharmacies and grocery stores.
In the past months, what's been the biggest change to your business?
VegNonVeg: During the five-week nationwide lockdown, only delivery of ‘essentials’ were allowed, so we couldn’t ship any of our orders for a month and a half. Similarly, we were not able to receive any new inventory. We’ve seen a post lockdown spike in our website sales, and a drastic drop in footfall in our stores. Pre-lockdown, our patrons and sneaker freakers would visit the store to soak in the unique ambience of the store, the café, and to check out our collection of sneakers and streetwear. Now, in the ‘new normal era’, we have been witnessing heavy online traffic, so much so that we have had to increase the bandwidth for our website several times over. People are moving more towards comfy clothing and the demand for slides is skyrocketing. In fact, recently VegNonVeg was one of three platforms to release the Yeezy slides in India, with thousands of sneaker fans bidding to purchase them online.
Latte: Definitely the transition into the online realm, and more focus on our own brand, as well as making sure that we follow all safety measures. Our online store was more of a complementary service because we always focused so much on our brick-and-mortar, so this was definitely an opportunity to ramp up our online business and hopefully it will keep growing to become a bigger percentage of our general income. Also, Portuguese customers are still very careful when it comes to online shopping, so it was a good chance to show them that it’s safe – we thank them for their trust. As for our own brand, it keeps surprising us, and we’re grateful for all the love that people show. it’s difficult to put our gratitude into words.
Shoez Gallery: We had to reinvent ourselves as pure players during these tough times. We first decided to focus only on the web shop, then we tried to make it easier for our local customers by being closer to them - as much as we could at that time - by developing the Click & Collect, and revamping the opening hours to help reach our customers more easily.
How has the typical day-to-day management of the store changed? What is a typical day like at the moment?
VegNonVeg: Our days are mostly spent making sure that online orders are packed and shipped ASAP. We still have a few customers coming in, so we make sure that they feel safe and have a good shopping experience. We are of course following the safety protocols including regular sanitization, temperature checks etc.
Latte: We’re more focused on fulfilling online orders and making sure to give good follow-up for any questions or concerns. We’re still maintaining our usual customer experience at the physical store, with some limitations, of course. It’s more difficult for people to come and chill to play PlayStation now, but we’re interacting on our social media to keep people engaged. Me and Rodrigo (my partner) are also working to keep everything moving, and new product is coming in, so it’s important to have good communication with the brands and come up with creative ways to sell or display their goods. Other than that, the typical day now is checking orders, shipping, giving the best service possible, and answering lot of emails and phone calls.
Shoez Gallery: Managing our kids first, which is not the easiest part of the day! Then opening the email inboxes to ensure we don’t leave people with no answer. A quick check of the orders, preparation and shipping, then keeping in touch with the suppliers to manage the different parcels (new goods, returns). There’s also some more surprising stuff, such as changing lights and moving some furniture in the office.
How will you adapt your business over the next few months?
VegNonVeg: Our focus right now is to try to create unique digital content and experiences to keep our community engaged and growing. This includes live music gigs, art workshops, sneaker history, lacing tutorials, photography tutorials etc. We’re a relatively young company and community, so there’s a lot to do and learn. We’re also busy with future buys and are looking harder than ever at the customer and sales data. We’re using forecasting models to look at future scenarios to make sure we can anticipate how consumer behaviour will change or evolve. In essence, we’re working on being better and doing better.
Shoez Gallery: We will try to do the best we can to ensure nobody will get COVID-19! Taking care of our customers is like taking care of ourselves. We’re already happy to meet them again, which is a breath of fresh air. Of course, we’ll keep applying our motto: ‘no smile, no service’.
Anything you want to say to SF readers? How can the community support?
VegNonVeg: VegNonVeg would like to thank SF and the SF community for the constant support. We would urge everybody to take care of themselves, their families, and also to support all your local businesses. In unusual circumstances like these, we need to come together and emerge stronger.
Latte: It’s very important to take safety measures seriously! Of course, support your local businesses more than ever. If you have the chance to buy anything from an independent store in your city, that’s a major help for all of us. We don’t like to ask for anyone to buy anything because not everyone can, and we’re aware of that. However, there’s plenty more that you can do as well, like raise awareness of your favourite local business, tell a friend about it, share, like, show them love. If there’s something that you really like and want to get, we truly appreciate all support. As independent store owners, we know how rough it can get, not only for businesses, but for all of you. Feel Free to get in touch with us via Instagram (@lattelisbon) to chat and exchange frustrations or movie/music recommendations. Memes are always welcome too!
Shoez Gallery: Support your local dealers if you can. More than ever, we all need the diversity of local shops run by authentic sneaker lovers. The support was astonishing during this lockdown - we saw regular customers ordering massively online, calling to show their support - some of them even offered us face masks! You can make the difference by showing your support to your local scene. And please, take care of yourselves! Let’s make this s**t disappear.
How do you think COVID-19 will affect the long-term future of the sneaker scene?
VegNonVeg: Some things will change, and some will remain the same in the short-term. We think people will buy what they absolutely love and not because its hyped, resulting in a lot more individual expression of style. We’re also going to be a lot more conscious of campouts and casual meet-ups. In the long-term, we feel the demand for sneakers that are either classics or concept-driven will always exist. And we also anticipate things to resettle and buzz again once people are certain about their health and finances.
Latte: The first thing that comes to mind is how camping and lines for certain drops will work - if at all. I believe it will be very different in the future. In Portugal, it won’t affect much, because it’s still very difficult for stores to have access to any type of tier 0, limited releases, and quick strikes, so camping is rare. In general, I believe that demand will continue for certain releases, if not increase due to all the limitations. However, in-store drop mechanics will surely change. We have definitely seen an increase in footwear sales so far, if that means anything.
Shoez Gallery: We still don’t really know what’s going on. I’m convinced that online stores will grow, but we still need brick-and-mortar shops for the community and a way to tell stories. We think that this crisis will probably make some doors shut, which is something we absolutely don’t wish to any store. We know how hard it is to run a shop and to gather a strong community around it.
What have you learned in the past few weeks about yourself and your business?
VegNonVeg: We have learned that adaptability, patience, and positivity are key factors to survive in current unpredictable world of business. We also realise how important having a passionate and involved team is.
Latte: I’ve learned that I can handle more pressure and be more resourceful than I thought, but that I also need to get better at delegating tasks to others. As far as our business goes, individuality, having your own personality, and the way you interact with customers/family is everything. Our goal was always to provide an experience, carry and produce quality goods, and be honest with our customers. I believe we’ve been delivering that, and we can’t thank you enough for the love and support we’ve been getting. Thank you SF for the opportunity to be featured in these series and share our experience!
Shoez Gallery: In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. We’ve felt blessed and privileged to see our community sending us support and appreciation. We’ve learnt a lot about ourselves - that put a lot in perspective. Don’t take anything for granted, help people in need. When life gives you lemons…
Want to hear more? You can check out Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, and Part 5 here. We'd like to thank all the retailers involved for taking part in the series, and for sharing their stories. Stay safe, everyone!