It’s important to stay positive with tough times to come, says this business owner in his lockdown diary.
Shaws Equestrian is the UK and Irish sales and marketing hub for global brands such as Pikeur, Freejump, Roeckl, Eskadron and Myler.
At its helm is Monty Stuart-Monteith. Since introducing the UK to European equestrian fashion in the early 1990s, this former BETA chairman has been an insightful figure in our trade.
Now holed up at Shaws Equestrian’s rural Derbyshire HQ, he’s missing his regular visits to retailers and shows.
Here’s Monty’s lockdown diary for ETN…
“Our online retailers are ticking over, but it’s with the essentials like gloves, bits and stirrups. And online retail looks set to speed up.
“We’ve urged retailers not to cancel forward orders, but to put them on hold. Who knows what stock will be needed when the shops open again - and supply chains do need to be kept alive as much as possible.
“In fact, I cannot exaggerate the importance of keeping supply lines open in the long term. They are our life-blood and, in this environment, there can be no assumption that they’ll always be there with products at the price and quality required.
“There have been comparisons with the foot-and-mouth outbreak, but that only lasted a few weeks and there was nowhere the same breakdown in the supply chain.
“What we’re facing now is global. And you can see the inherent problems through the NHS supplies scenario.
“In our sector, if brands had not placed manufacturing orders in China, and their forward order books were only half way through, they could well vanish.”
“We’ve cut back on advertising, sponsorship and promotions; we’re just investing in communications for long term brand awareness.
“It’s important to plan ahead but we have to be realistic. A lot of money has been taken out of the trade and the cranking up again will take some time.
“We’ve rationalised and cut down on styles and ranges for the latter part of the year. And we’re talking to suppliers and [retail] customers alike to see if we can help, share problems and stay informed.
“We delivered a lot of spring stock in February and have given everybody longer credit terms.
“Although I don’t think our sector will see the same sort of reduction in size as the national GDP, it could be two or three years before we can even pretend to be back to 2019 levels.”
Cash is king
“It’s essential that cash is conserved and cash forecasting is as accurate as possible. Cash is always king, but never more so than in the next few months.
“Ours is a resilient sector, driven by resilient horse folk. However, it will be a tough couple of years.
“Horse ownership could drop and competition entries will follow, leading to a drop in overall retail sales. This will challenge a lot of marginal businesses, especially if they are debt laden.
“As a result, trade might concentrate around fewer brands and fewer retailers.”
People and products
“We’ve furloughed the staff, so Suzanna [Monty’s wife and business partner] and I are keeping very busy.
“I’ve spent a great deal of time fouling up dispatch tickets and making a mess of packaging. It takes a lot of patience!
“We’re also preparing new product launches and trying to re-vitalise products in the portfolio that we had forgotten about.
“An exciting new product is the Blocker Tie Ring, a quick-release system for safely tying-up horses. It’s being tested by our sponsored riders.
“Our sales team is being re-organised to maximise support for retailers once the lockdown is eases.
“And our big news in July will be a huge launch – and hopefully a new person joining us to give us another person on the road.”
Shaws Iberian Wines – a new drinking collection with equestrian-themed labels which Monty launched last year – was booked to exhibit at 20 shows this summer. So a quick switch of route to market was called for.
“Wine sales have really got going online,” said Monty. “The lockdown has given us plenty of time to work on it - the learning curve was vertical!”
Mindset is currently hugely important for business owners, says Monty.
“Cash wise, it’s about minimising overheads and keeping what you can up your sleeve, so that when bubble bursts, you can invest again.”
But he adds that ideas cost nothing. “Everyone needs to come out of this hitting the road as enthusiastically as possible. It’s about staying positive – because if people get into a trough, they won’t get out of it.
“If you need to kick a tyre, do it with a smile on your face.”
Ever the entrepreneur, Monty sourced hand sanitizer in the early days of the pandemic. “But it was too expense, and no longer in short supply, so we gave it away to a hospice,” he said.
Life in lockdown
With their children home from university and dogs to be walked, Monty and Suzanna have enjoyed spending time as a family.
The Shaws Equestrian showroom has been converted into The Shaws Arms – the ideal venue for an after-work drink, wind down and get-together.
“We don’t have any real ale, but we do create quite a buzz,” says Monty.
“Overall, we’re grateful that we are all well and very appreciative to be locked-down in such a good spot. We are fortunate indeed.”
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