Winter Industry Update | UK Winter sports impact

The UK winter industry has taken a large hit this season, of that there is no doubt. I wanted to speak to brands, store owners, buyers & other influential members of the UK winter industry to get a current outlook.

Last season

Whether you are a winter sports end consumer, work in winter sports or your business in linked to winter activity, this season hasn’t been great, but it started at the end of last season.

Firstly, the end of the last season commence at the end of February. Personally I managed, by pure luck, to catch the very last week in Italy & then the following week in France before the lifts were closed on the day we left. At that moment it hit me that the season was over, for everyone. It was now the 14th March & Skiing/Snowboarding was all but finished.

We were due to be in Italy for the UK Ski Test, but already fears around Covid etc had led to a last minute cancellation leaving pretty much just myself & friend, Graham Bell, a small awesome group from the Ski Club & of course our wonderful host Carole from Pila Ski. Essentially only 10-12 people instead of 150+, but the Snow was incredible & the resort empty. This was actually the recipe for a pretty amazing week, yet clouded with lots of unknowns & concerns of Covid related lockdowns looming.

Last season’s impact on Winter sports alone was bad. It led to huge losses for holiday companies & created a tricky position for winter retailers who typically enjoy the last couple of months of the season as the profit making months after having paid off their bills. Then the disappointment for families, athletes & anyone who was planning to enjoy the last few weeks of the season and their plans cancelled.

On top of that, many orders were placed with Brands for next season who had placed those orders with factories. These orders were now at risk, but optimism of getting back to skiing remained.

“We’ve had a fair few boot appointments in January & we think if we can Ski by March there is still some season to be had”

“We’ve cancelled a lot of our orders now & we think the season is over for Winter Sports”

Even retailers had completely different outlooks, making planning tricky.

This season

After the Summer there was still cautious optimism in the Ski industry with the SIGB even announcing soft dates for another Ski test, this time in Austria. Holiday bookings were still strong for winter sports & many retailers were planning for a some-what normal season ahead, albeit with lots of Covid related store adjustments around sanity etc.

Even in September things didn’t seem too bad, albeit slow. Then October became the lead up to November’s Lockdown, which killed a lot of consumer confidence & reduced foot fall to winter sports stores. who were now scrambling to cover wages through Furlough schemes, business grants to help pay suppliers & constant negotiation with creditors. Not fun, not why most people want to be in this industry, but needs must.

November’s lockdown was, in my opinion, the nail in the coffin for the balance sheet of any Winter reliant sports store. Some still remained positive in December, but as someone who travels for a living & couldn’t even get a local pass to go to my Swiss offices by applying through the correct channels, I wasn’t hopeful. Even so, one retailer gave me this quote in December;

“We’ve had a fair few boot appointments in January & we think if we can Ski by March there is still some season to be had”

By stark contrast I received this quote from a larger retailer;

“We’ve cancelled a lot of our orders now & we think the season is over for Winter Sports”

Needless to say, January was closed, February was closed, March is closed & the re-opening possibility for these stores is mid-April at best, well after any possibility of selling usable winter gear, at least for the Summer ahead.

There’s no doubt that for Winter sports enthusiasts, retailers, Holiday companies & others that this last 12 month period has been a disaster of varying levels, but ultimately a disaster.

“Then Brexit hit, but in some ways being closed was useful as being open while dealing with that could have been a bigger issue”

Thoughts from a retailer, albeit toned down….

Brexit

Ah Brexit, it’s timely arrival with a deal formed via consultants at www.lastminute.com was clearly the recipe for confusion & issues. That part didn’t disappoint. When the largest shipping company stops UK deliveries, you know something isn’t right. As someone heavily involved in this, it was a mess.

Those who prepared well were of course on a better position, but the preparation could only be limited to a degree. The first quote I had personally to deliver a pallet from Germany to UK, which we doo weekly, was 800% higher & involved a lot more paperwork, VAT deferrals etc. It’s now down to 300% higher, who takes these costs on? Expect UK prices to increase, just linked to shipping prices. Then you have the duty saga of country of origin & bonded Vs non bonded warehouses.

I wanted to see how retailers & consumers felt. Consumers haven’t really felt the Brexit impact yet, we are in Lockdown & are feeling the Lockdown impact. So I asked some retailers;
“We knew it was going to be tough already after November & looming further Lockdowns. Then Brexit hit, but in some ways being closed was useful as being open while dealing with that could have been a bigger issue. It has been an absolute mess” I adjusted this quote to calm it down for a younger audience.

Another 2 quotes from well established UK retailers;

“We have done everything we have been told to do & we still have issues sending products & receiving the correct information. The worst part is the inconsistency, especially when it comes to sending EU orders”

“We are coping OK, we do a lot of non UK orders & while initially very challenging we are starting to make it work, but this has been helped logistically by lower sales volumes Vs last year.”

Needless to say, the Brexit challenge is something that we still have to face in the Winter Sports industry & prices will be impact for non EU good from a customs perspective & all products could be impact due to shipping increases.

What Next?

I have a lot of concern of the support levels for Winter Sports companies from the UK government over the Summer & would emplore any companies to speak with the local council regarding special grant compensation. You can find the details from your local council who you pay rates too & you can apply for special circumstance grants still until the 31st March.

The new grants available in the budget are less clear at time of writing, but local councils should update their systems soon. However, speaking to your local council is the best way forward here. The SIGB can help with advice too for all their members.

There is also the CBILs loan scheme, not to be confused with the BBLs (Bounce back loan – Max £50k) loan scheme for those who need additional funding from £50-£500k. You can’t have both, but you can take out a CBILs loan even if you took the BBLs loan, you just have to consolidate the smaller one. Many companies are useful here, but I have found the FUNDING CIRCLE a useful place to start to see a clear comparison & apply, but there are many others too!

“Do I think there will be a requirement for a vaccine stamp in your passport or similar, honestly, yes. Have I faced that scenario before in my life when travelling, yes. Do I believe Bill gates is going to read my mind after I’m vaccinated? No, but even if he could, Skiing is more important… “

My thoughts on next season

The Season Ahead

Forever an optimist (part of my thinks I’m still skiing this April) I believe that the challenge for next winter will not be so much in the UK itself, but rather dependent on what the situation is around other countries in Europe.

Do I think there will be a requirement for a vaccine stamp in your passport or similar, yes. Have I faced that before in my life when travelling, yes. Do I believe Bill gates is going to read my mind after I’m vaccinated? No, but even if he could, Skiing is more important. Plus, it’s way easier for Bill to track me via my iPhone, tablet, car GPS etc anyway & I’m taking those….

Negotiations with suppliers on carry over stock & overdue payments are one of the largest concerns for stores & brands.

Whether you can book a trip & be assured you are covered if you can’t travel is a consumer concern, but also expect the prices of Ski Holidays to go up next season.

My Final thoughts

If you are in the winter sports business now is the time to change, adapt, streamline, digitise & stabilise your business. Use all the resources you can & talk to others in the industry, it’s a great industry for that.

If you are a Winter sports consumer then think about getting your boots this Summer, a bit earlier than planned, as it will help your local store more than you will know. Maybe pop in a grab a T-shirt instead or anything that will help ensure your favourite businesses get through this difficult time.

Winter Insight was founded to be a home to bring these parts together & we’d love unique content from both consumers, brands, athletes & more. Simply get in touch!

Lastly, stay safe, be smart & I hope to see you on the slopes very soon!

JCSki

Get in contact to voice your opinion, to see if there is away to help each other or to just discuss the Ski World

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