One of the nicest, honest and serious movers in our sport is Tom Whidden, President and CEO of North Technology Group. We thought it would be of interest to see what some companies are doing during this Covid-19 situation. Enjoy.
SA: No doubt, this Covid-19 pandemic is almost unbelievable. In the larger sense, and in this short time period, how has this impacted North Sails?
TW: Pretty Fluid at the moment. Some cancellations and obviously a number of regatta cancellations. But what would you rather be doing and where could you be safer than on your boat on the water?
SA: Assuming that a lot of people who might be considering sails have now put their orders on hold. What will you guys do – discounts, coaching, tuning, etc. – to entice people to buy?
TW: All options are on the table. But so far, not many orders have been cancelled. Our business has always been in large part servicing the sport in any way that promotes the pleasure of sailing. If this turns out to be the worst case scenario people will have other things on their minds and won’t need sails.
If we do what Americans do so well and persevere through this challenge, sailing will be a great way to be outside and safe, but most of all to enjoy what we love. It is our responsibility, I believe, to help facilitate that in any way that we can. Coaching, teaching, crewing, promoting, writing, speaking will all be important. My philosophy has always been, we can never stop learning and we can never stop teaching.
SA: Given that no one really knows how long this is going to last, a “let’s ride it out” philosophy doesn’t really work, does it?
TW: No, this is a new challenge, and I must say, never thought about in our various contingency plans. Luckily we are a global company so we do have some options. But our loyal team comes first, and any decision we make going forward will be considerate of their health, safety and well being. But to “just ride it out” would be irresponsible. Our Executive committee has been having bi-weekly calls since February in an attempt to understand and adapt to the fast changing landscape.
SA: How does “Buy now, pay later” sound as a marketing strategy?
TW: As I said, all ideas are on the table and that surely could be one.
SA: I am assuming that North already has a backlog of orders, but do you foresee reducing your work force at some point?
TW: I hope not. In the downturn of 2008, in which our order book was suddenly substantially lower, we voted as a team to all take a 10% pay cut from top (me) to bottom, in lieu of any workforce reductions. I was proud of our team to agree to that strategy to save reductions. In the end, we had a decent year, and as a surprise at Christmas we gave them all the 10% we withheld for a bonus. I would rather find a way to keep them all. Our technology lead is important to us, but our people come first!
SA: With so many of your customers owning high profile, full on boats and campaigns, and now that so many regattas are being canceled, do you guys do anything to keep hope alive for them?
TW: Sure, as I said, what could be safer than sailing? Let’s keep the regattas going and practice social distancing on the shore. There have been zero CV-19 cases on any of the many bodies of water we all race on!
SA: Does this give you time to spend more time on developing new products? Are there any that you can share with us. Gotta keep people psyched, Tom!
TW: Scot, if I told our guys to save money and stop developing, I couldn’t stop them anyway. It is in all of their DNA. Lot’s of development today with Helix load sharing technology being used in so many upwind and off the wind applications. And material science is ongoing.
Sails are getting lighter and stronger all the time. Remember, we use monofiliments (human hair thickness) in ultralight composite membranes today. That is how your North sails are made on your own boat. If you asked me 20 years ago if that was possible I would have said no. On the wild idea side, I can imagine spraying a liquid solution in an adjustable mold that forms a firm, but very light, non porous downwind spinnaker material when it cures. Lots of great ideas out there to make sailing more fun and easier. Honestly, the sky is the limit.
SA: Thanks Tom!
TW: Thanks for all you do for our sport Scot. It is time for all of us who love our sport the way we do to be champions for something that we can do safely in the outdoors and on the water. As I said earlier, What would you rather be doing?