Buford, GA – There’s no ducking it. The coronavirus, whether you believe the world is overreacting or not, is dramatically altering the global economy. International stock markets are yo-yoing, the ups not balancing the downs. Shelves are getting wiped clean of, well, everything from disinfectant wipes to bottled water. And our very own fishing and marine industries are feeling the effects of global breaches in the supply chain.
Not that any manufacturer endemic to outdoor recreation had a prepper-plan for the potential of an international pandemic, but Gill’s intelligent design, manufacturing, distribution and sales processes put the U.K.-based company in the best position possible.
Matt Clark, Gill’s long-tenured Product Development Director, knows the chief concern among dealers is the ability to deliver products from overseas manufacturing facilities. Clark has an answer. “Managing the production and supply of goods for a global audience has always been a complex issue, and we constantly review our supply base to ensure that Gill is not overly reliant upon one single country of origin. Consideration is given to those countries with preferential trading relationships with our key export territories, but more recently reducing production in those countries facing punitive tariffs.”
Clark continues, “The latest challenge faced by all brands currently manufacturing in Asia is the effect of COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus. Production schedules have been impacted by the late opening of production facilities in China, as well as disruption to the wider supply chain across Asia as components and fabrics are delayed.”
Fortunately, Gill has been casting a wider net. “The positive news for our brand is that we have been expanding our supplier base over the past few years, reducing our dependency on China and spreading production across a wider geographic region,” said Clark. “Our priority has always been to work with specialist suppliers with key skill sets and an ability to meet our strict quality, ethical and environmental requirements, so this has been a long-term strategic decision of the business.”
“Secondly, we’ve insulated ourselves from the worst effects of tariffs and delays due to coronavirus by accelerating our production schedule. A year ago, we began to take delivery of key lines a full four months ahead of previous seasons, meaning that retailers could take advantage of early deliveries ahead of the Holiday Season, leaving us in a positive stock position as the season started.”
Being in front of the eight-ball positions Gill ideally for introducing new products. “These earlier deliveries mean that we’re presenting new collections at an earlier stage, so that key retailers can start planning their forward order commitments,” said Clark. “We’re prioritizing stock allocation to those customers who placed early orders, so even in the face of supply difficulties, we’re supporting those retailers who bought into the program.”
Enter the element of trust. In this environment, dealers are more apt to stock proven, legacy brands like Gill, than relying on startups and smaller players to deliver as promised. “In an uncertain and challenging retail environment, we’re certainly seeing retailers taking a cautious approach, backing trusted brands with a commercial product offer and an ability to resupply when needed,” said Clark. “However, there is also an interest in innovation and newness with retailers taking a tough line on established brands that simply aren’t delivering in terms of product offer or service. There are opportunities for brands such as Gill that have a compelling product offer and are investing in marketing and in-store support.”
The issue of climate change is temporarily taking second chair to the coronavirus, but Gill knows that shifting weather patterns also require progressive planning. “There’s no doubt that weather patterns can directly influence our sales, both negatively and positively,” said Clark. “The positive for Gill is that over the past 18 months we’ve seen a significant increase in sales of our sun-protective UV Tec styles, as many territories have experienced longer and hotter summers. If we were overly dependent upon waterproof styles, then I’d be concerned. Changing weather patterns only emphasize the importance of having a broad product portfolio with something for everyone, regardless of climate.”
To that, whether it’s climate change or simply unseasonable and unpredictable weather, Gill continuously looks out in the headlights. “As well as fine-tuning our delivery dates, we’ve also worked hard on reducing manufacturing lead-times so that we can react to opportunities presented by changeable weather,” said Clark. “We work in partnership with our suppliers, keeping them regularly updated with sales data versus our forecast so that we can replenish stock at short notice when we see an uplift. To allow us to track sales patterns and respond accordingly, we’ve invested and doubled the size of our merchandising team over the past six months.”
Manufacturing and global distribution is certainly under duress, and the marine apparel category was already highly competitive. Yet still, Gill remains optimistic about its leadership position and strength of brand. Let’s just say the company won’t be caught flat-footed.