How has COVID-19 effected your business in a positive way?
Eventually, yes, it did. It’s no secret the pandemic crisis has had a widespread effect on winter sports in the USA, as well as the rest of the world. Rewind the tape back to the end of March, our conversation would be very different. For us it was the height of uncertainty, being unable to operate our manufacturing facility due to complying with State and City workforce reduction and stay-at-home orders. During this time, we were developing a face covering, two layers of performance material, elastic ear loops, etc., and had the opportunity deliver some directly to the Governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, who wore our face-covering in one of his press briefings. Those few minutes gave our brand more exposure over the next few days then we’ve ever received. The photo of our Governor wearing our face covering was everywhere… ABC, Face the Nation, New York Times, etc.
Did you have to change or pivot your focus on production? If so, tell us a little more about that process.
With the choice to be open and manufacture face coverings, or be closed due to a stay at home order if you are performing non-essential functions, the decision was easy. We had previously shut down, to comply with the order, and then we were fortunate enough to have the ability to bring our employees back. Our first priority was preparing the workplace and educating our staff on the proper guidelines. Like everyone, we have to operate with a reduced workforce, and follow workplace guidelines and best practices. This immediately hinders efficiency and production output, but is absolutely necessary to ensure a healthy and safe environment. We had to rearrange production machinery and workstations to create distance, meet signage requirements, employee education, etc.
What has been the feedback on this pivot from your customers? I heard you are now sold out of facemasks.
To be honest, we weren’t sure how consumers would respond to them. We wear them and know that something as simple as wearing a face covering to help slow the spread of COVID-19 is the right thing to do, but how would the American public respond? Would there be interest? Judging by the people I see outside when driving home from the factory over the past month, not many are interested in wearing them. Thankfully the market intelligence gained during my commute was wrong.
To help gauge demand, we created our Buy-One, Give-One campaign, an opportunity for individuals to pre-order masks, and for every face covering a consumer bought, we’d donate one. The donated masks are given to the State of Colorado, who distributes them to critical workers, non-profits, and vulnerable populations. The program was a success, and we were able to help many at-risk individuals.
As a brand, what are you hearing from retailers on what they need from you to get through this? How are you then supporting these retailers?
I think it’s important that we ask our retail partners “what can we do to help you?” And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing, both in regard to our brand and products, and to the industry overall. Retailers have been happy to contribute their thoughts on the matter. I’ve heard ideas like carrying colorways and styles across multiple seasons to increase product shelf-life and maintain margin, restricting select products to be exclusively available to retailers and not offered D2C, and utilizing alternative virtual options for clinics and sales presentations. We as manufacturers/brands need to review and consider all of these ideas. Our retailers success equals our success.
I keep seeing the phrase “We’re all in this together” regarding the COVID-19 Pandemic, and it’s time to really show that. As a brand, you are going to have to be flexible where you can be. It’s common sense that pre-orders placed prior to the closure-announcements may be revisited and adjusted, that accounts may be experiencing cash-flow problems and extended terms need to be explored.
So much of the US winter sports industry is still in triage mode, trying to both get through these difficult months and start planning for the future. They are doing this with a greatly reduced workforce, and many having to work remotely. Not all independent shops and few resorts have an online sales presence, and we’re now in an era of touch–free curbside pickup or home delivery. There’s also been an increase in demand for all types of face-coverings, double layer neck tubes, multi-layer balaclavas, etc. We know that retailers have leftover inventory due to the season’s premature ending, and have recently signed on with Locally to implement their enhanced dealer locator and incredible retailer support features, so we can direct sales to winter sports dealers across the USA.
What is your outlook for Fall 2020? What are your contingency plans?
Cautiously optimistic, I’m confident that we will rally as an industry to overcome the challenges before us, even with an unknown number of variables in front of us. This challenge will unite us as an industry more than success ever has.
Any words of wisdom or encouragement for other SIA members?
In the immortal words of Vanilla Ice “Collaborate and Listen” – Connect with your fellow SIA members, your retailers, your reps, and your industry association board and staff. We’re all working on the same problem, and each of us has a different perspective and ideas on how to overcome it.
What does SIA mean to you now?
SIA is a community. We work together to address the issues facing our industry, identify opportunities for economic development, create a robust trade environment, and present innovative ideas for outdated workflows.