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Beast Distribution: How are distributions dealing with the pandemic?

The Corona Pandemic has been described by the UN as the worst crisis since the Second World War and of course it also has an impact on skateboarding. We interviewed a few scene representatives to see how they deal with the situation and how they assess the situation. To find out what problems distributors are facing and how retailers will get through this crisis, we talked to Oliver Merkelbach from Beast Distribution in Stuttgart.

Hi Oli, how are you?

I've been home for 18 days, got the kids during the day and work nights. Sometimes I think the world might have needed a moment like this, considering the extremes of what we usually consider "normal". Just look at our industry, where brands are no longer just releasing Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter collections, but Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Holiday, Quickstrike... Suddenly, two drops a year became six and that was normal for everyone. When more or less overnight a collapse like the one we have now occurs, suddenly we no longer understand the world?

"If you don't really have reserves, then I think some brands, distributors and shops that may have grown rapidly in the last few years will be put in a difficult position."

There are enough other global problems - climate change, refugee crisis, etc. - that might be seen differently now and maybe we can use the time to better assess yourself and the life around us and to appreciate and question things.

At least this is the chance for that. Just a few weeks ago you could fly to London for 9 Euro and for 20 Euro to Morocco. That was completely "normal" and today I think about it and think: "Fuck, this is completely insane." If I look at the brands we work with here in our distribution, they are all more or less small two or three man shows, without great reserves. In such a time, tough measures have to be taken and these are very challenging times for everyone involved. I think the most important thing now is to keep calm and to talk a lot to be able to assess the situation. Some of the brands were no longer able to deliver before Corona and then suddenly you are sitting on a complete collection. And the next collection is no longer planned for the autumn, as it used to be, but is scheduled to be delivered in six weeks. If and how the world will look like in six weeks from now is hard to estimate at the moment. Not being able to deliver two complete collections, or only partially, will quickly lead to further difficulties. If you don't really have reserves, then I think some brands, distributors and shops that may have grown rapidly in the last few years will be put in a difficult position.

It's a really difficult situation and I hope for the best for everyone.

I think it is also a decisive factor in how the distributors act during this time. In the end, we as a sales department are in the same position as all the shops. We work with about 120 shops throughout Europe. All of them are closed at the moment and 99% say: "Corona, I can't do this or that and for goods that are still to come, we have to find a solution." It often hear that we have to go through this together, and for me that means that it cannot mean that we have to take the whole risk on our shoulders. We are now talking to each shop individually about how to approach the next few weeks and we expect this to continue over the coming weeks. I now hope that by the beginning of June at the latest you will be able to work more or less normally again and I remain as optimistic as possible about all this.

Do you have anything special planned for now?

We are working very closely with the brands and shops at the moment and try to get the planned stuff as good as possible. We want to make the brands even more aware that their support is needed now. We are trying to find creative ways. Vans is doing a cool thing called "Foot the Bill". They let core shops design their own shoes, Vans sells them through their site and the revenue goes entirely to the shops. I think that's pretty cool and that's what it's all about.

"In my opinion, you will certainly notice the aftermath of this for a few more years."

What can help, besides shopping of course, to support shops?

Even an Instagram Post can help. Loyalty to retail is what all shops need in the long term. But they are also largely responsible for this themselves through the way they treat their customers.

And how does it look like in your case?

We are now dependent on the shops to continue supporting us. At the moment, all the major suppliers have sent an overview of all their outstanding invoices at the beginning of Corona, which they would like to collect in the near future. If you have a shop then you will try to do everything to pay them, because these brands are so important for you and that ensures your survival. Then other bills are put on the back burner. But I hope that the bigger suppliers will not be brought forward now. But I also feel that everyone is doing the best they can.

What do you think, will consumer behaviour change as soon as the exceptional situation is over?

When the day comes that everything will continue to run more or less normally again, then I believe that everyone will want to have a good time. People want to be outside, meet friends, go shopping. There is a chance for a big push. I am very optimistic about that. But I also think that some shops, brands or distributors will not survive the time right now. So the market will clear itself up a bit. However, I see the ones who get through, especially if they do a good job in e-commerce, in a good position. I think the topic of shopping will develop from a local to a European or global topic. Everyone has to find the right way to stay true to their local community and at the same time organically expand their reach.

What does that mean for you as a distributor?

I think there will be a lot of shops ordering goods after Corona, but you will only notice something of that in Spring/Summer 21. Fall/Holiday will be bought very cautiously, because the orders will be placed from now until June. There will be the biggest dent. And of course that varies greatly from brand to brand.

I'm also curious how long the effects will be felt.

In my opinion, you will certainly notice the aftermath of this for a few more years.

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