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Covid’s new wave of tentative optimism

SDCE’s global distributors have reported a near-return to “business as usual” following a period of adaptation in the face of Covid-19 restrictions. The far-reaching impact of the global pandemic saw the textile testing sector affected by freight restrictions, enforced home-working and reduced contact with clients, forcing each distributor to evolve in accordance with their country’s own legal guidelines to maintain their business model in the face of adversity.

After a challenging 20 months however, distributors have reported a sense of renewed optimism, with many predicting a return to normal sales in the months to come. As the industry starts to see a tentative return to normality, SDCE’s distributors have revealed that a resilient attitude, an innovative approach and a range of contingency measures have stood them in good stead to enter a new period of strengthened sales following some of the most challenging conditions the industry has ever seen.

“The biggest challenge for us as a distributor was not being able to visit clients face-to-face,” says Hank Kao, Goin International’s vice general manager and leader of one of SDCE’s biggest global partners with representation in China, Taiwan and Vietnam. “But we extended our client care via phone and email, and already had the capabilities to liaise via Zoom as necessary. Now we have resumed some face-to-face meetings in China, with the added protection of masks, goggles and disinfection. In Vietnam meanwhile, there is almost a total blockade with only very essential journeys being allowed, so it is a case of adapting to each country’s restrictions. We always feel that it is better to visit clients but, if they prefer to communicate via Zoom, Goin will always offer the software and capabilities to handle that.”

Goin’s other measures included offering staff the day off following their vaccination to recover, enhanced medical insurance and the option to work from home where possible. The company is now aiming for a 20 per cent increase in sales next year, following a gradual loosening of restrictions where appropriate and the ongoing implantation of safety measures that are practicable to both staff and clients.

For other distributors, adaptation to operating throughout Covid-19 led to improved working practices that will remain indefinitely.

“The lockdown period was the biggest challenge we have faced,” says Saleem Soreefan, general manager at Supplies Solution, SDCE’s distributor for Mauritius. “Air freight became so costly that we had to limit our imports, and this in turn affected our rapid delivery service which meant a decrease in sales was inevitable. However, we are now projecting long term stock to arrive via sea which has enabled us to keep our costs down and, if necessary, we will keep these changes.”

For Soreefan, the demand for product is prevailing, despite a new wave of Covid-19 cases throughout the country. “We are experiencing a new wave of cases in Mauritius, and we are adhering strictly to the obligatory measures of mask-wearing, social distancing and sanitiser,” he says. “However, the positive side is that Mauritian textile factories are still seeing the same orders from their regular clients in Europe and the US, so we do expect that business will pick up next year if there are no further lockdowns.”

Levent Bozdemir took a similar approach to keep distribution flowing throughout Turkey, prioritising stock levels in anticipation of the fallout from the global pandemic. “We increased the stock amount by calculating the possibility that the restrictions could cause problems,” says the director of Etki. “In this way, there was no problem in the supply of any product to the market. Yes, sales decreased throughout 2020 in direct comparison to 2019, but we are on track to catch up this year and we may even see an increase.”

It’s an approach that is being adopted across the world. In Western Europe, SDCE’s distributor for Portugal and Spain Charles Small is feeling philosophical about business after Covid.

“Restrictions continue, but life goes on,” he says. “We more or less worked normally throughout the pandemic to deliver excellent products and service and we are feeling good about the next year in business.”

This summer even saw a tentative return to face-to-face networking, with the delayed edition of ITMA Asia 2020 taking place in Shanghai, eight months after its original scheduled dates in October 2020. The exhibition brought together 1237 exhibitors from 20 countries, attracting 65,000 over the five day event.

The event was a pivotal moment in the industry’s recovery from Covid-19, with exhibitors and visitors alike relishing the opportunity to once again meet and network face-to-face rather than communicating “virtually”.

“Following this Coronavirus setback, the textile industry is excited to move forward,” says Ernesto Maurer, president of CEMATEX, the show’s organiser. “Due to a remarkable recovery in local demand, there is a need to expand production capacity quickly and to invest in new machinery to stay competitive.