By Mel @troubleon8wheels
It's safe to say that I didn't think I would ever be in the situation in 2020 that I would be able to leave the primary classroom behind, but when September rolled around, I was busy enough with Roller Girl Gang, filling orders, planning classes and doing my best to continue to support our rapidly growing skate community to do just that. I feel incredibly lucky to be in this position!
Following the October pop-up shop, the manager in the Corn Exchange said that he felt the Roller Girl Gang vibe really fits in with other high-quality independent retailers and would I like to move in? Yes, thank you very much!
Keen to be open as soon as possible, (ideally in time for half term,) we set to work. Our unit on the ground floor is still undergoing transformation, but it's looking really smart. My partner just happens to be really handy with a mitre saw, jigsaw and any other kind of power tool, so we have done the build ourselves. He is amazing. A brilliant local gang have also offered their help and supported me to move stock and equipment to the new store.
We have lots of display units, a photobooth area (of course!), plenty of storage and I will even have a little desk and a workshop area - I'm so stoked to be moving out of the kitchen!
I am planning to have the new store open in half term as planned - opening hours are on the website. I will be here everyday, completing the set up and finishing off, and our official opening will be Thursday 29th October.
I have one main problem in opening a skate shop though - where are all the skates?
Well there are some skates in stock, but I have received messages of delays from all the suppliers without exception. Yes it is entirely the virus' fault. Here is the situation as I understand it.
The chain to supply skates goes like this: Factory makes them for the skate company. Skate company deals with distribution companies around the world (usually one in each country). Distribution company works with the dealer / skate shop (I'm in this category). Skate shop sells to the customer.
You can see there are many points for potential delay along the chain right?
Let's work back and start with me. As a very small skate shop, I have streamlined every process possible and I can turn deliveries around the same day, depending when in the day I receive them. If I'm waiting for a delivery to fulfil a customers order, I will usually unpack it the same day, tell our members what has arrived and then make sure outstanding orders are filled as a priority. When skates arrive, I check very very carefully to make sure the correct person is contacted and they are shipped to the right person. I have only made one error with this so far, and am doing my best to get this right every time.
Particularly with skates (in fact everything) being imported into the UK, our customs hold things seemingly to ransom, and then charge us for the privilege. Of course it's not like this, but I won't start on the reasons we have customs here. Just know that customs causes a delay to importing goods. It can be anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, depending on their workload.
The distribution company is the next step. These companies buy on a much larger scale, and sort their customs out separately so the charges are paid. It means the landed fee we pay can be higher than other countries, depending where in the world the shipment has come from, the value of it and so on. All these companies have been hit by COVID-19 and with many companies running on far fewer staff than usual, but filling a much higher volume of orders. Orders are therefore slower to leave their premises, and get on their way to me. We all want them to stay safe, so we accept things will take a little longer.
The skate company / factory is at the top of the ladder. Sometimes they are the same, as in the case of Riedell making Moxi in the USA. Sometimes they are different, as in the case of Rookie, Luna and Moonlight having their skates made in China and then shipped to their skate company for re-distribution to the rest of the world.
But why are the skates taking so long to arrive?
My honest answer is I don't know. Whenever I enquire about stock, I either don't get a reply for a week or so, or am met with a vague response. I don't deal directly with the factory - the chain is in place to allow the factory to get on with production without having to answer a million emails a day.
Back in July when Roller Girl Gang started to take pre-orders for Moxi, this was done in consultation with the UK company distributing Moxi. They know what they had ordered, and had been told expected delivery dates by Riedell. Very few of those dates have been met. I know this as only a very few people have received their skates. My heart sinks when I'm told 'backorders have arrived' and I can see it is only for a few pairs of skates.
I'm not surprised that customers are getting annoyed and cancelling their orders. I probably would too. You perhaps think that I'm being dishonest, and you have ordered a pair of mythical skates that do not exist. I can assure you that I opened pre-orders in good faith that orders would be fulfilled in the time frames given. It seems the supply chain for parts of the skates took much longer to receive than expected. Picture this: If you tried to order something for your garden during full lockdown and couldn't get it... and now there are still quite a lot of delays due to the re-stocking taking ages... the same thing applies for the skate industry.
I have spoken to various suppliers all over the world. Disco said orders for Blox were off the charts. Where he used to be able to fill orders in a couple of days, it's now taking a couple of weeks or longer. RollerStuff have not re-opened wholesale orders since March. Abbey is a one-woman small business making her toe caps by hand. The quality is superb, but she simply cannot satisfy demand at the moment. If you are following her on the 'gram, you'll know how backed up she is. Other companies who's products I was keen to stock, as customers have asked me for them, are not opening new dealer accounts at the moment, as they struggle to fill the orders for existing dealers.
This week I found out that the Beach Bunny, Panther and Ivy Jungle stock is split. Apparently there is some stock in the US that has been assigned to the UK, and is due to arrive this month. But we are running out of October, and there is still no sign of the shipment. Our suppliers are in contact regularly with the factory, but their requests for information have fallen on deaf ears. The bulk of the shipment is being made in China, and is not due to arrive until November. This is new news to me. Had I known this at the outset, I would have advertised this.
The skates you have ordered WILL arrive. Riedell is a long standing brand, known for quality. I can imagine they are not rushing, because doing so would compromise that quality and ruin the brand. They probably never imagined that the back order list would get so long.
Customers are asking will their Moxi skates be delivered in time for Christmas if they order now? I would hope so, but I just don't know. Your order is placed into a queue along with orders from all the other skate shops. The sooner you order, the quicker you are likely to get your skates. However, my customers who placed their orders in July and are still waiting won't get much comfort from that statement.
Moonlight skates - delayed. They had issues with US customs, who are still holding their shipment. They were hoping skates would be with us by now, but it will now be November.
Luna, Rookie Artistic, Moxi Rainbow Rider, Chaya Love is Love and Chaya Kismet skates - all due to arrive in November. Apparently. Roller Girl Gang will not be taking pre-orders for these skates. There is limited stock arriving of each of these, as RGG is only a small company, with limited buying power. (By supporting RGG though, you are helping to make each subsequent order a bit bigger. ) Members will of course know first that the stock has landed, otherwise you just need to check the website.
Members - I post new stock arriving, new classes and any other exciting news in the 'Breaking News' forum. If you head to the members' section and click on Forum, you can choose to follow this category by clicking a button in the top right corner. You should then receive an alert when something drops in that forum. If you have the mobile WIX app, scroll along the top menus, and look for 'forum' and 'breaking news'. You can follow the category in the same way.
Back to the skate store then. Opening shop without skates for sale?
Luckily, I have a lot of the components needed to build skates, so I am able to offer this service. More importantly though, the store will serve as a community hub, where we will host skate maintenance workshops, testing of the wheel library and a whole lot more. We roller skate for physical and mental wellbeing, so just as in lockdown when we had our daily lunchbreak for those who needed to talk to someone, we are here to support you on your skate journey.
Everything is challenging right now. We are struggling to meet and skate due to government restrictions and the weather. However, RGG are providing classes where we can, to keep you rolling. Once the new store is sorted (give me a couple more weeks!) there will be online class offerings for our members too.
We want the new skaters of 2020 to keep roller skating.