Italy, France, Spain are currently on near-total lockdown. The only trips allowed are for food shopping or medical supplies leaving millions of people quarantined and waiting out the most disruptive pandemic since the Spanish flu.
Stock markets are crashing, those who go to work must wear masks and gloves and we’ve even read stories of cyclists in these countries threatened with fines of up to €3,000 and a year in jail for riding their bikes. In short, life has rapidly become very different for those in western Europe. We wanted to know how the lockdown is affecting the brands that operate out of these countries too so we spoke to Orbea (Spain), EXT (Italy), Met (Italy), Commencal (Andorra) and Formula (Italy) to gauge their current reaction to the situation and how it will affect their future. It’s worth noting that these questions were asked and answered on March 18/19 and can only provide a snapshot of a rapidly evolving situation.Operations
Every brand we spoke to was still able to operate in some form under the lockdown. Max Commencal explained that production in Taiwan was working normally so most of his staff were able to work from home, while the logistics department has “set up processes which respect the recommendations of relevant health authorities.”
Extra precautions have been taken at brands such as EXT where staff are on-site and assembling parts. Franco Fratton, the Technical Director of the brand, explained that all workers must send a picture of themselves with a thermometer to prove they do not have a temperature before coming in to work. Another change is to have a dedicated courier drop off point in a quarantined area so that no unnecessary personal contact is created. Any deliveries that do arrive are then sprayed with a 70% alcohol antivirus solution before they are taken inside the factory. EXT have also divided the work day into 2, a morning shift and an afternoon shift, so fewer people are working together.
Orbea has also introduced new regulations that they have borrowed from their Asian suppliers that go above and beyond the protocols of the Spanish government. These include hiring busses to safely transport their staff to work, introducing the 1.5 metre distancing protocol before it was legally mandated in Spain and staggering break times so that there are never too many people in one space.
A seamless transition to full operation hasn’t been the case for all brands though. Hutchinson, who have a factory in Chalette-sur-Loing, France, have today closed for safety reasons until April 6 and will not be making deliveries until then. Met have also put their warehouse on hold "for safety reasons but also to follow the general lockdown of the shops". The other brands we spoke too also expressed that if the situation worsens that they may have to do the same too but for now they are trying to carry on as normally as possible.The implications of the lockdown
In the short term, frustration seems to be the biggest issue for the brands. We’re only a few days into the lockdowns and in reality that’s not enough time for brands to feel any serious effects yet. Ander Olariaga, Marketing Manager at Orbea, said: “I think that the difficulties are similar for most of the brands; uncertainty generates stress, to stay at home with the kids is stress, not being able to ride a bike outside is stress.”
Forecasting ahead, however, paints a more gloomy outlook on the implications of the lockdown. Of course, there’s no telling how long the lockdowns will last, especially as both the Italian and French governments discussed extensions to theirs earlier today, but the longer they are, the greater tolls they will undoubtedly take on the brands affected.
Vittorio Platania, Marketing Manager at Formula, said: “We know there will be a beneficial effect due to these measures, but we still don't know when this will happen. We are all fighting against an enemy who does not allow us to take immediate and evident actions. Everything we do will have an effect in the next fifteen or twenty days... predicting the future is impossible at this stage. The containment, at the moment, is the only tool we all have to overcome this outbreak in the shortest time possible.
Max Commencal said of a longer lockdown: “In this case, it would, of course, be more dramatic. Not for us in particular but for the whole planet. We [Commencal] are not the most fragile but we should not exaggerate either.”
Ulysse Daessle, PR for Met and Bluegrass, added, “There will definitely be an impact on the revenue and the global activity of all the brands in the cycling industry… The intensity and the number of problems that will emerge from this situation depend also a lot on how long it will take to stop the outbreak.”
A few brands also mentioned the impact the shutdown was having on their athletes. With the race calendar up in the air and uncertainty rife throughout cycling, training plans will have to be thrown out the window and athletes may have to make the most of an indoor set up for now. Athletes are also tied into contracts that may require them to attend a certain number of events or races, this could mean difficulties down the line if a flurry of clashing events are packed together in autumn.
Olariaga said, “it will change the industry for at least a couple of years - races, shows, product launches, everything is postponed or cancelled and there is not time for everything to be organized again at the end of the year. We need all of them to survive but it won't be easy.”What's next?
The biggest immediate danger seems to be facing local bike shops who will lose at least 2 weeks of custom and are a vital link between some of the brands we spoke to and the public. Shops can also be a valuable resource to the local riders by providing advice, organising group rides and being a hub for the community.
Ulysse Daessle, PR for Met and Bluegrass, said, “After the outbreak, I think it will be important to support your local dealers. They will need it as they will be impacted hard by this crisis. And obviously to go riding and connecting with the brands you share values with.”
Orbea's Olariaga was also hoping for unity to help the recovery of the industry. He said, "if the industry is not united we all will suffer the consequences. We are a huge peloton that needs more than ever pedal together. We know that some people will lose their employment but we need people to continue normal habits. It's very important that once they are able to go outside, to support their local shops. The small shops will suffer a lot because they do not have the capacity or the right to keep the business open during the lockdown."
The clear message that came from all brands was to follow the guidance of the local health authorities and self-isolate to stem the spread of the virus. The sooner that the virus passes, the sooner things can return to normal and the disruption should be kept to a minimum. Commencal even echoed the Italian Cycling Federation in asking people not to ride. Max Commencal said: “we recommend not going out to ride. Now is not the time to clutter hospitals. Put your life on hold, stay at home and trust the people in charge. This is serious and it's not the time to play unruly for once. It’s simply the quickest way to get back to this 'normal' life that we love so much."
In an unprecedented period of history, the brands in the heart the European shutdowns seem to be managing so far however with uncertainty surrounding the next steps of the Coronavirus outbreak, the worst is likely still to come.