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Covid-19 a mixed bag for business

Bivouac ceased all trading during level 4 lockdown. Photo: Matthew Cattin

The month of lockdown has been a trying time for all sectors of the outdoor industry. 

Bivouac marketing manager Andrew Powell said the level 4 lockdown halted all operations for the retail chain, but all staff has been retained.

“I’m proud that Bivouac has done the right thing in completely shutting down during this period and not pretending that we are an ‘essential service’ in the midst of a life-threatening pandemic,” he said. “Accepting economic hurt in the short-term is a hard option, but the most likely to result in a faster recovery for the nation and quicker return to some form of normality.”

Powell said online sales will be available during level 3, before the eventual shift to in-store retail. “The transition to retail will require changes in systems to ensure the safety of our staff and customers,” he said. “The entire outdoor industry, including guides, retail stores and magazines will come back in financially difficult conditions and will need the support of outdoor enthusiasts to stay afloat through the quieter winter months.” 

Backcountry Cuisine marketing manager Tony Caudwell said the company had a very busy end to the financial year as people stocked up in dehydrated food, but things have since slowed right down.

“Our domestic sales are up 74 per cent on last year – mostly driven by people making emergency kits for home,” he said. “We got cleaned out of stocks and had to put limits on what customers could order to make it fair for everyone.”

April is typically the biggest month of the year for the Invercargill company, but the lockdown closed most of its stockists, slashing sales.

Despite the disruption, Caudwell said the timing of the lockdown was necessary.

“We needed it to quiet down a wee bit – if it carried on as it was in March, production couldn’t keep up with sales,” he said.

Deemed an essential service, Backcountry Cuisine has started replenishing its stocks and supplying meals to other essential services such as LandSAR.
Newmarket outdoor store Living Simply has been shut since the level 4 lockdown began.

“The bottom line is our shop is closed until further notice – we are open for online essentials but effectively stuck without a sustainable revenue stream,” managing director Ben Sinclair said.

“My greatest worry is if the next alert level opens up all online trade, as this puts true bricks and mortar retailers at a massive disadvantage,” Sinclair said.

“Living Simply was built on the experience of visiting our shop and receiving exceptional advice and service – fitting backpacks and boots is very difficult without breaking social distancing measures.

“If the future of outdoor retail is trying to buy items from your mobile device, and receiving advice from an apparent expert in a live chat, customers will most certainly be making some poor purchasing decisions and having uncomfortable and potentially dangerous experiences in the outdoors.” 

For gear distributor Neil Stichbury, owner of Outfitters, the level 4 lockdown also meant the cessation of all business, but he is positive for the future.

“Traditionally the outdoor adventure industry bounces back quickly, and I think that will be multiplied by the fact people aren’t going to be able to travel overseas – people will spend locally and will want to get out and about,” Stichbury said. “We’re trying to gear up to make sure we’re in a position to come out fighting at the other end.”

Stichbury predicts the trans-Tasman border will be open by August, allowing a tourism boost for New Zealand and Australia.

He also forecasts the pickup of Kiwis enjoying their own backyard – in particular DOC’s Great Walks.

“We’re usually competing to get on the Great Walks as so many international travellers are coming to do them – I think they will have an immediate boost,” he said.

Travel broker Andrea Livingstone is also looking to the New Zealand market for the future of her business Wildside Travel.

The Motueka business owner organises and runs several overseas tours each year, but has recently picked up a South Island walking tour aimed at older demographics.

She feels fortunate to have future income opportunities close to home while overseas travel is off the cards.

“I feel quite lucky that I’ve carved those things out which I can fall back on – I’m not so volatile,” she said.

She hopes to run several South Island tours a year now – instead of the usual one.

“They should tide me over if they all go ahead. I will need to find another job if they don’t.”