ICFA survey reveals mounting concerns, hope for a quick return to normal

Melisa D. Galvin

HIGH POINT — The International Casual Furnishings Assn. has conducted a another survey of its members on the impact of COVID-19, finding that financial pressures are mounting across the outdoor industry despite relief programs like the CARES Act.

The second in an ongoing series, the new survey was fielded for the ICFA by research firm Industry Insights April 6-8 and “clearly demonstrates an escalating crisis,” according to a release from the association.

In the first survey, only 1% of members surveyed reported having an employee with COVID-19. Three weeks later, that figure had climbed to 8%. Similarly, the number of companies experiencing a direct financial hit due to COVID-19 increased from 52% in the first survey to 81% in the second.

As a result, an increasing number of companies have made cutbacks on staffing and advertising. In the firstsurvey, most organizations planned to hold employee staffing levels intact and maintain spending levels for advertising and technologies. In the second survey, more than half say they expect staff reductions, with some 32% reported furloughing, laying off or terminating employees since March 1. Currently, 25% of respondents also reported making “major” reductions in advertising, with another 31% describing their reductions as “moderate.”

Technology spends have been less negatively impacted, though, with just 16% reporting “major” reductions. This is probably in large part because of the new move to online shopping as consumers comply with social distancing guidelines.

Of the industry segments surveyed, retailers continue to be most heavily impacted, although no group is being spared from the pandemic’s effect according to the survey.

“This is our peak selling season, and current sales are about 50% below where they were last year at this time,” said one dealer in his survey response.

The slowdown on the retail side is sending shockwaves through the rest of the industry, too.

“The timing of the virus-related closure at retail comes at a time when most retailers are full of inventory,” noted one supplier. “If they are not able to sell effectively during the critical months of April through July, the impact on the industry will be significantly felt for the next 12 months as pre-season purchases in the fall will be minimal.”

Since the first survey, 85% of the organizations are now distancing their employees, and 82% have cancelled all in-person meetings and group activities. A little more than half, 56%, also have at least some employees working from home.

Looking forward, almost 68% of members surveyed reported that they had applied for or intended to apply for loans through the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program. Of these, 64% said they plan to hire back recently laid off and furloughed employees once the loan has been disbursed. Another 22% plan to apply for a loan through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program.

As for when executives anticipate the crisis will pass and day-to-day operations will return to pre-COVID-19 status, the results were mixed, with 26% guessing it would take one to two months, 27% it would take two to three months, and another 22% guessing four to six months. This pushes the average date for the return normalcy from June 1 in the original survey to sometime in late July.

According to Jackie Hirschhaut, executive director of the ICFA, the most positive findings from this survey are member expectations for how quickly businesses will return to their offices, traveling and large group events and conferences when the danger passes.

“Nearly three-fourths of the companies surveyed plan to immediately return their workforce to the office once the ban is lifted,” she said. “And 94% plan to return within three months.”

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