The last 12 months have seen many uncontrollable and unexpected external forces have significant impacts on our trade. As usual the weather played its part; the winter could hardly have been more buoyant – conditions ensured that virtually anyone who ventured outside was a potential customer for an outdoor retailer!
Once the snow melted we “enjoyed” one of the most prolonged dry spells for years – by the end of spring the harsh reality of recession-hit Britain kicked in. The General Election, the World Cup, the first austerity budget AND the super dry weather meant our customers had little incentive to buy; customer confidence was more than dented and the announcement of public sector cuts encouraged people to hold onto their cash.
So far the autumn seems a little more positive – the odd colder day has helped early purchases of winter kit…but what can we expect next?
After helping destroy confidence over the last 2 years the media is talking up the potential effect of the up-coming rise in VAT – there’s going to be a bumper Christmas as we all buy now to avoid paying extra tax! Really? Will another £4 on a £200 waterproof make someone buy today rather than hang on till the sales? I don’t think so; but if the media are determined to encourage a pre-Christmas buying frenzy then I’m happy to see them try!
In reality several supply-side issues far out-weigh anything a marginal VAT rise will do. The seismic shift in China’s labour market and the massive increase in freight charges mean that the guaranteed supply of better & better quality products at lower & lower prices is coming to an end.
After living with a deflationary outdoor market for 15 years our customers will have to adjust to prices going up! Our challenge will be to reassure them that are still getting value for money, not by discounting, but by having the courage to sell at prices where we all win. Suppliers need to make enough to maintain the supply chain & invest in R&D, retailers need enough to attract, train and retain quality staff and the customer has to get a product that more than satisfies their expectations at a fair and reasonable price.
Compare Outdoor products to the non-technical stuff available on the High Street – we sell absolutely fantastic pieces of kit at prices way lower than most people see every day!
The challenge for our trade isn’t to do with the weather, the competition within our market or the projected sluggish recovery of the UK’s economy – the challenge and greatest opportunity for us as a trade is to tell our story to a broader range of potential customers! If we can communicate just how exhilarating, enjoyable and accessible outdoor activities are then we’ve the chance to grow our market for the benefit of us all.
If we take the chance and do this job properly then the Outdoor Trade will not only enjoy this New Year but also many New Years to come!
Andy Airey, George Fisher, Keswick