Patrick Sébile: COVID has changed alot but bricks and mortar still offers something that online retail cannot recreate
I believe 2021 will continue to be strongly impacted by COVID-19. Only after a large proportion of the world’s population have been inoculated with the vaccine will we see people returning, little by little, to their normal behaviour.
There are also positives to come out of the situation for our industry. There has been a huge increase in the number of new people fishing and some of these are going to remain in the sport. Tackle sales have also increased generally and this will continue into this year at least. But such a large scale vaccination will take at least a year – and remember that people who are not willing to have the vaccination will affect the well-being of others and will slow the pace of recovery.
The world will not return quickly to the normal we knew in 2019. People who have had to close their businesses will need the help of governments and banks to start again. A good percentage of the population will not be able to get back to where they were financially. This in turn will impact the overall economy.
A small business owner with his own sport fishing boat, who used to buy tackle on a regular basis and enjoy occasional fishing trips to Africa or Ireland, may not be able to sustain that lifestyle.
My twins will be 14 in 2030 and that, more or less, is when I think COVID’s entire effect on the world economy will be behind us. But some things will have changed forever. China’s handling of the crisis has boosted its internal growth so that it has tied with the US economy a lot earlier than predicted before the pandemic. This will change a lot in the world’s economic relationship and balance.
In the more immediate future, the companies that do well will be those that have the finances to ride the COVID tsunami, or the stock inventory to sustain business with retailers when they want products, not in three or six months time. A good example is Ultimate Fishing in France. I don’t say that because they distribute my company’s products in Europe, but because they have maintained a strong inventory and are able to fulfil orders when they are required. This has paid off and they have just become the third largest tackle company in France.
Back in early 2020, some companies suspended their orders with manufacturers, which was a logical and safe move at the time. But when, unpredictably, fishing became much more popular, they did not have products available in time and have suffered a significant negative impact on their business. A retailer will not leave his pegs empty, so if he cannot get products from his usual supplier he will get them elsewhere.
No-one is to blame. In January 2020 nothing was written. Visions of the future were blurry and there was no clear and sure path. It could have easily worked the other way around and those who suspended orders would be in the strongest position today. This is why unstable times like these benefit the stronger players and leave less room for those who are small or less well known and which carry lower stock levels.
A Band of Anglers is still less than four years old and is relatively small compared to some companies. This is why we made sure to place enough orders to be able to respond when demand improved. We are now carrying inventory in our Florida warehouse worth more than $2m in sales value. We also have more inventory in Asia that we can ship to international customers or to our own warehouse.
I would emphasise the need for retailers to make sure they develop their internet business. Many are still not investing enough in it, despite the big swing by consumers to e-commerce. Established online stores should do really well this year, but I believe in 2022, when the number of people infected by the virus should drop significantly, anglers will be happy to go back to brick and mortar stores.
Part of the pleasure in the buying experience is seeing and touching the products and talking fishing with the shop’s staff. So far this is something that no one has been able to recreate online.