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Editorial

COVID-19 and its Effect on the Skate Industry

COVID-19 and its Effect on the Skate IndustryThe Pop Trading Company store in Amsterdam, just like the Pass~Port store in Sydney has been forced to close.
Posted by Neil Chester15 min read
Thursday, April 02, 2020

The impact of COVID-19 is affecting people's lives the world over in a stark and immediate way. While the knock-on effect to businesses are still in their infancy - skate stores are being forced to close, or closing voluntarily for health reasons, all in the context of a downturn in demand for non-essential items. This means many small businesses are already facing a harsh and uncertain future.

The skate industry is no stranger to economic ups and downs, these are usually related to swings in its popularity in wider culture. Some within the industry had predicted skateboarding's inclusion in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to be a major turning point in its wider appeal. But, with the games now shelved for another year and no known endpoint of Coronavirus, things have never been so uncertain. 

Aside from skate shops, many brands within skateboarding, particularly board companies, operate on small margins and tight cash flow. With fewer skate stores open to sell their product, less demand in the market and people being told to stay indoors, skateboarding has had to take a global pause.

With this in mind, we reached out to some companies based in different parts of the world with three direct questions. Read below for their experiences of the effects of the outbreak so far.

COVID 19 Skate industry article ISLE

Paul Shier of Isle Skateboards based in Los Angeles, USA. 

Have you already seen a negative effect on your business due to a direct fall out from the Covid-19 outbreak?

Yes, we have seen a negative effect immediately through our distributors due to the situation with retail across the world. International shipping costs have become super high too, and sometimes impossible in this situation. We are trying to do the best we can and luckily we are still making good movement in Japan and the U.S, but as Corona gets worse in the U.S we’ll see. 

While our boards are made at Bareback our graphics are printed in China, thankfully we missed the worst of the virus out there so our production was not affected. Obviously, with a lot of stores having to close their doors and only being able to operate online, we feel that just as much as every brand does.

What are you already doing, or have had to do, that will help get you through this down period?

Thankfully, we are a small operation with low overheads so we are able to tread water for a minute. As long as I have skateboards under the team’s feet at this time I am happy, they are the heart and soul of Isle and the reason we do the company. As I said previously, we are still seeing growth in Japan and the U.S so it's not as bad as it could be. I also run our U.S online store and have seen a rise in sales since the situation worsened, which is a positive I guess. We are still open for business online.

Do you think the situation will get much worse and how do you foresee the skateboard industry coping with this impact? 

Industry will cope, but I think that the bigger you are the harder it will be for you right now. I cannot imagine the situation if you had a ten-person creative team plus a sales force on top of huge rent. Three-to-five months of no income will cripple a brand, especially something as sensitive as skateboarding.

It will get worse for sure, if people cannot go outside, people cannot skate, people will not work so they won't buy products. We will make it out but it will be interesting to see how it looks in six months time as we all have no idea how long this will go on for.

COVID 19 Skate industry article SOUR

Björn Holmenäs of Sour Skateboards. Based in Barcelona, Spain. 

Have you already seen a negative effect on your business due to the COVID-19 outbreak?

We were at least lucky enough to get all our Spring ‘20 products sent out before all this hit, but who knows what the next months will look like. Sell-through won’t be amazing if shops are closed, obviously, but in some countries, the virus will not have the same impact and if it’s not completely closed the empty streets will at least be sick for skating! 

For the quarantine countries, like us here in Spain, there is nothing else to do than to stay positive, work on fun ideas for the future and wait it out. Eventually, it will go back to normal, people will be so fat when they get out of quarantine that they might have to size up on clothing and boards will snap faster than ever!

"It will be over a month with zero money coming in"

What are you doing to help get you through this down period?

We are just trying to work as normally as possible and do things that we usually don't have the time to do. Luckily for us Spain is cheap and we have low rent, but we are closed until the 14th of April at least. So that will be over a month with zero money coming in. 

Do you think the situation will get worse? How do you foresee the skateboard industry coping with this impact? 

If it gets worse, then well, it gets worse and that’s it. 2020 will be a year to remember for sure, but everything will be back to normal sooner than later.  

COVID 19 Skate industry article PASSPORT

Trent Evans of Pass~Port. Based in Sydney, Australia. 

Have you already seen a negative effect on your business due to the COVID-19 outbreak?

Big time… we are looking to close our retail store in Sydney (Pass~Port Store & Gallery), and we’ve had canceled orders from overseas distributors and local stores. It’s just bloody sad for everyone right now. My local pub, The Crix, just shut its doors indefinitely. We drank with friends in the pub last night and 80% of them have lost or are losing their jobs. They are seriously unsure about what they are going to do tomorrow.

"I really, really don't want to let any of our staff go"

What are you doing to help get you through this down period?

Just trying to simplify a few things, cutting costs where we can, might hit up our landlord for some free or discounted rent. My biggest thing is that I really, really don't want to let any of our staff go.

Do you think the situation will get worse? How do you foresee the skateboard industry coping with this impact?  

Oh it's definitely going to get worse, it’s going to have a fucking huge knock-on effect for the unforeseeable future. It’s one thing people not being allowed to go outside or having to keep a social distance. But think about some 20-year old who has just lost his job, he’s trying to pay rent and eat, not buy a new deck or t-shirt! But I do think skateboarders, in some way, will stick together, I can see some huge local support going back and forth between all the different stores and brands. We can beat this bastard!

COVID 19 Skate industry article POP

Peter Kolks of POP Trading Company. Based in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Have you already seen a negative effect on your business due to the COVID-19 outbreak?

Yes, we decided to close our Amsterdam Store this week because it was so slow due to people staying inside. The online store is not performing as it normally does as I reckon people are not thinking about buying apparel, more so saving money cause they don't know what to expect in the near future. On top of that our main income is our wholesale business with some great stores all over the world, but subsequently, as these guys are also forced to close down it’s hard to expect them to pay their outstanding bills. Basically, we all have our backs up against the wall here. 

What are you doing to help get you through this down period?

One is talking to our factories to try and minimise the pre-orders we placed as we are not sure what the long term effects are and we want to limit our risk. Another one was closing the Amsterdam store and saving a little money on staff, or having them do other jobs in the warehouse. We're looking at doing a big archive sale, we've never done a sale as it’s not really our style, but these times call for drastic measures. We hope we can get some support from the community to help us through these weird times. 

On the upside, we started this Instagram best trick contest called The King of Quarantine, which is something anyone can enter from their home isolation, which a lot of people are in now. This gives you a good giggle during the day, cause we got some funny shit in from all over the world. It's more so to create some fun as some people are not allowed out at all, which can have negative effects.

"We hope our community will back us where they can in this situation"

Do you think the situation will get worse? How do you foresee the skateboard industry coping with this impact? 

I don't know, normally I am not one to think very negatively towards the future, but the last weeks have been bad news day after day. It’s hard to see any positive side to it, apart from the fact we are all in the same situation. I think things will get tough for a lot of brands and hopefully our government will help a little bit with this. Again, we hope our community will back us where they can in this situation. I guess now more than ever we need each other to keep things moving.

COVID 19 Skate industry article CHRYSTIE NYC

Pep Kim of Chrystie NYC. Based in New York, USA. 

Have you already seen a negative effect on your business due to the COVID-19 outbreak?

Yes. March is the beginning of the skate season after the long cold winter on the East Coast, so what’s happening right now is the worst thing for sure. Especially as this is indefinite and no one can predict anything now. Stores have already closed temporarily for health and safety reasons, which is brave but absolutely the right decision. Considering the market right now, the cash flow will be frozen and this is going to affect everyone in the industry. I’m trying to be optimistic, but people should take it more seriously and prepare for the worst case scenario. It depends on how much people are going to support the stores and brands by shopping online, now, and in the next couple of months.

At Chrystie, we’ve already had to push back our two most important projects of the year. I don’t know how much it will help but we've decided to donate 10% of all our profits to our friends and family who have been either laid off or are out of work due to this pandemic.

"The government should prepare a proper support plan for small business owners"

What are you doing to help get you through this down period?

We have to focus on our online sales right now and make a strategy for the next seasons and, of course, do whatever we can indoors. Just focus and look ahead. 

Do you think the situation will get worse? How do you foresee the skateboard industry coping with this impact?

I think it’s going to get worse, although I really hope not. All the events that were planned to happen in the next months are getting canceled or postponed. People will lose their jobs and customers will prioritise their needs, which is most likely going to be based on living and paying rent. New York is an expensive city, families relying on a monthly pay check will find it tough and most landlords, unfortunately, won’t support their tenants. I heard the government is going to offer free-interest loans, but that will only be helpful in the short term. It’s going to be like pouring water into a broken vessel. The government should prepare a proper support plan for small business owners.

With the Olympic Games getting postponed, even the second half of the year is gonna be tough. The inclusion of skateboarding was supposed to bring lots of new customers to the market. Although our marketing direction is far from the Olympic vibe, it would have benefited the industry for sure. Everyone needs to be creative enough to save budget, hope for a better 2021 and 2022, but please don’t forget safety is always the top priority. 

COVID 19 Skate industry article WKND

Grant Yansura of WKND Skateboards. Based in Los Angeles, USA. 

Have you already seen a negative effect on your business due to the COVID-19 outbreak?

I think everyone has, unless your company is stocked in a grocery store!

What are you doing to help get you through this down period?

It's still so new, we're trying to figure things out day by day. Right now, we're putting together a quarantine pack for people stuck inside. We're trying to figure out what we can do to sell to people directly if their skate shop is currently closed. At the same time, we don't want to take anyone away from those shops that are still open. Everyone along the chain is feeling it right now. It's also a tough time to market the new line we just dropped. It feels a bit weird promoting new products during a pandemic. However, I have a feeling most skaters are still finding a way to skate solo right now.

"My Element flat bar is getting a beating out front!"

Do you think the situation will get worse? How do you foresee the skateboard industry coping with this impact?

The news on this virus seems to be developing by the hour so I don't think anyone can really know. That's why I think it's important to stay away from other people right now so we can end this and get back to normal life. That might sound un-skater-like of me, but I'm trying to do whatever can be done to slow this spread. My Element flat bar is getting a beating out front!

I'm sure skateboarding will bounce back once this virus stops spreading. It might take a conscious effort from the community to support their local shops and small skater owned companies more than ever. But I do believe the industry will recover, skateboarders are resilient and we love freshies don’t we!

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