The only product we sell that was in high demand in 2020 was our shoe sanitiser. We sold pallet loads of it to Skechers and other major retailers. We even made it onto the BBC news as part of the safety protocols being implemented by JD Sports.
We were getting daily requests from independent retailers and our product information was circulated by the British Footwear Association to their members.
We had no idea of what would happen with the bowling industry. We went from struggling to keep up with customer requests to having no activity what so ever. All of the discussions with clients and partners in the hospitality sector went from business growth to aspiring towards breaking even.
Opening up a new market
Our business had become exposed to a new market. We were selling individual cases of shoe spray to boutique shoe shops, as well as providing bulk products to the PLC’s. Combining this with our existing range of workshop consumables, and the covid range, we set about creating a new B2B brand to extend our market beyond bowling.
We worked to get everything into place – A new webshop and a select range of specialist cleaning and sanitation products lined up to be private labelled under our new brand.
It was a very straight forward strategy. First we were to build volume with our covid range to bowling centres and try to change their buying habits. This would serve us now, and down the road as we prepare our business for life after freefall. As StringPin sales dominate our parts sales are quickly declining. StringPin technology reduces pinsetter parts sales by something like 95%.
We expected sanitisation of shoes in retail to also become the new normal – Why hasn’t this always been the case? Especially as there is a sockless trend in footwear. Gross.
We would then be able to justify the volumes needed to launch our own range of eco-friendly cleaning products to be cost effective, and branded in a way to look as good on the bar of a boutique bowling centre as it would on the counter of a shoe boutique. We believed that being sterile didn’t need to look sterile and saw an interesting gap to investigate.
Our brand flip was a flop
The products that sold well to bowling centres were the only the specialist items – The pallet of disinfecting spray and wipe cleaner that we purchased to move into general cleaning supplies is still sat in our warehouse collecting dust, let us know if you want a good deal on that one!
We also saw the retail market go straight back to old practices in a number of weeks from the first re-opening of non-essential retail. Very little repeat custom on shoe spray. Then the facepalm realisation arrived, pivot into cleaning and sanitisation during a pandemic? I think that Proter & Gamble may have this area covered…
As soon as supply chain caught up with demand there were baskets of hand sanitiser in every shop – Often for incredibly low prices. They were now consumer product. There is no way that our volume could get us anywhere close.
Know when to fold 'em...
We made some key learnings to inform our current strategy so it wasn’t a total waste of time.
It’s okay to quit – sometimes you’re just barking up the wrong tree. We put ourselves in the position to catch momentum, it didn’t come so we got out quickly without getting married to the idea.
Good ideas are easy, it’s the execution that’s hard – Even some of the best ideas may be unworkable within our existing infrastructure and core competencies. Those companies who made the news because of huge transformations were exceptional. Success is not easy, all you can do is position yourself to make the most of the hand you’re dealt.
There are no regrets with this failure because there is very little joy in sanitation. We’re a bowling company, and we love that. We’re the exclusive distributor for Brunswick, an amazing brand. If we focus on the joy and get better at what we know, we can use our experience and resources to support the industry to grow… and have fun doing it!