Tuesday, December 01, 2020

COVID surge meets consumer demand

 As goes the nation, so goes New Hampshire. Cases of Covid-19 are surging. The church we can see from our back windows finally managed to turn itself into a super spreader. Mask use has become almost universal. That's the only good effect: a majority of people are now willing to do the simple things which, if adopted much sooner, would have kept disease spread low enough to make us wonder what the fuss was about. But Americans love to run full-face into crises just to prove to themselves that the danger is real. Then we can brag about our valor, display our scars, and weep ostentatiously for the dead.

Meanwhile, demand for winter recreation equipment is matching the public enthusiasm for bicycling that swept the country during the traditionally warmer months. Here it is, December 1, and the temperature outside is almost 60 degrees (F) at dawn. But this is usually a wintry time of year. People are buying cross-country skis and snowshoes in anticipation of something like normal winter weather at some point between now and May. They're getting their existing equipment serviced. At the same time, riders continue to ride, or want one last tune up before storage, or want their trainer bike spiffed up for its months under a rain of sweat.

Because I haven't had a hair cut since... I don't even remember, I have taken to wearing a bike hat at work. The short brim is less likely to get stuck in something when I'm working close, and I refuse to wear a baseball-style cap backwards. The flip brim also handily holds alternate eyewear when I have to work at the computer.

The bike industry was blindsided by the sudden demand for their goods in the spring. Production had been hampered by the disease breaking out in Asia, where most of the products are made. Then transportation was disrupted by many aspects of the disease and the efforts to contain it. This was on top of smaller production in an industry that has been technologically hyperactive, but economically stagnant, for at least a decade, maybe two. But the winter sports industries can't claim to have been surprised. Our own reps were telling us to beef up our orders months ago as we all observed what was happening in the spring and summer market and extrapolated to fall and winter. In spite of that, now we're not even getting everything we ordered in our routine preseason planning, let alone the extras. We've sold through on some categories and no more is in the pipeline.

The cross-country ski industry has been in decline for even longer than the bike industry. A really nice ski set is still way cheaper than a corresponding bicycle, and is much easier to store, but there's no way to avoid the need for some skills and agility to use them. Also, skis come in categories just like bikes. Each category has its own skill set. A skier might do any number, limited only by budget and time. It makes sense to have two or three options because snow conditions can vary enough to favor one or another within a day or two. But in most places skis don't fit into a multi-mode transportation model very well. I tried to figure out a way to ski to work, but it was always going to take about three hours each way and involve a lot of sidehill slogging on salt-splattered embankments next to a highway.

Because the shop is slammed and our technical staff consists of mostly me, the days are a blur of varied tasks seen through fogged glasses over a mask. If anyone says "it's good to be busy" I always point out that there are limits, and that surge workloads are like getting your whole year's worth of meat intake by having a couple of large pot roasts shoved down your throat. Dry.