Navigating 30 year storms

We continue to diversify how we work with our partner brands, be it supporting European brands in territory or engaging just on one of our stand alone pillars such as vvastBI or Marketplaces. 

However our bread and butter is still very much bringing US based lifestyle brands to the EMEA market.

With that in mind, late February 2023 this year saw myself and Saj, our Commercial Director head to the West coast of the US with hopes of an early California spring and to meet face to face with our existing and some potential brand partners. 

This time we experimented with a heady trip length of a whopping two weeks and it’s a good job we did. 

The first few days very much went to plan meeting with our brilliant editorial partners at Shop Eat Surf in a sunny Newport Beach. We even had time for a jetlagged couple of surfs at Huntingdon Beach and a Whale Watching trip in which we saw no Whales but a group of happy Sealions and the much fabled Pacific Ocean single use plastic bobbing around. 

After our Newport Beach meetings we then headed south to San Diego for a meeting and then north for a solid 8hrs drive to Reno.

It was about this time we realised we were driving into what we now know as the 30 year California/Nevada snow storm which saw 8ft of Powder dumping in the likes of Tahoe – as we drove past it. 

Driving was shared and (on the whole) Police speed trap guns avoided. We rolled into a snowy Reno after dark where we proceeded to get snowed in for 3 days.

Being stuck in a Reno Casino for 3 days certainly makes you contemplate commercial models that’s for sure, especially when you have zero interest in the casinos number one revenue source. 

This gave us a chance to summarise some of the repeating questions from our various meetings which were:

How is the European market trading?

A: Q4 2022 wasn’t the as doom as gloom as the media would have you believe. Yes there were considerable head winds with the cost of living crisis looming and inflation souring but largely we saw double digit YoY growth and in some cases triple within our portfolio. The wider market less so, with the Bike sector having a particularly acute over stock position. 

Brexit continues to dog the UK market with a suppressed GDP situation, small to medium sized UK business are being throttled by the excessive exporting red tape into their closest and most lucrative market the European Union – and likewise for EU based businesses trying to sell into the Ecom saturated UK market have in some cases given up, kissing good bye to large swathes of revenue. 

What do you think 2023 looks like?

A: We’re seeing encouraging early signs YTD but there is still caution in the market with buys tending to stay flat YoY. 

The brands and retailers who have invested in their supply chains, brand innovation, palpable sustainability (not green washing) and a seamless customer experiences are set to win – footnote vvast can help with all of the aforementioned

Q: But Europe or anywhere outside of the US is so hard to operate in?

A: It can be unless you use a solution vvast solution. Some of the small to medium size businesses are even struggling to register an entity or open a bank account in UK/EU.

Q: We’ve got a lot of inventory in the US right now, can you help?

A: While you are sitting on a lot of stock & the Pound is not as strong as it was. Why not open another revenue stream. The vvast performance model is here to help brands navigate huge set up costs in the region and guide them through markets.

Anyway, back to Reno….

The hotel door rattled as it was banged by an excited Saj – “quick let’s get out!”. 

Yes, we had a clear path finally south back to LA and on to Santa Barbara. Having taken much needed local advice on how to avoid the mountain passes goings south (thanks Paul, you legend) it was time to get back in the 4×4 for SIXTEEN HOURS!

Not many drive to LA and on to Santa Barbara via Las Vegas but we did. 

Death Valley in a snow storm? Check. 

Advised by another local to not go on a certain road narrowly avoiding an in car snow-in scenario mid desert situation. The coffee we bought there was also strangely chewy, near sludge like. Check. 

Each driver having life affirming loss of grip at 50+ mph, 10hrs+ into the journey. Check. 

We finally rolled into Santa Barbara around 1am to the wrong Marriot hotel which led to slightly delirious laughter. 

Saj became so delirious on the last hour of driving he (even) slowed to sub 70 mph. 

After some great meetings and Sushi in Santa Barbara it was time to head south back into LA with me peering out of the window on the 101 at surfing’s point break Mecca of Rincon (it was onshore and flat while the UK had a solid 2+ weeks of surf) to see our OG brand Stance in San Clemente. Their office still blows our mind every time we go there.

The last day was on to Troy Lee Designs and their HQ packed full of memorabilia and so much 90s Purple Anodising to top the trip out. 

Massive props to Jason who lent me a board for a farewell surf in small but fun Laguna Beach dawnie conditions with his super welcoming local crew. Humbled and stoked. 

The lesson? 

Don’t go to California that time of year for two weeks. Try and limit iHop consumption to two per trip and don’t let Saj drive for more than 5 hours strait as he starts to make no sense when speaking. 

In saying all of that it was a great trip, always wonderful to see all of our existing and prospective brands. We’ll be back when it’s a bit warmer and less like the UK.