Electrocoin’s John Stergides is in determined mood; all parts of the industry, he argues, have not had the full benefits of support from government and local authorities.
How do you see the first few weeks of the industry’s re-opening panning out for you?
John Stergides: It’s just very difficult to predict at this stage as the high streets only re-opened in mid June, footfall is still down in comparison to previous years, and the arcades only opened on the 4th July.
The first indications on the progress of our industry appear slow and that is what we anticipated the beginning to be like but believe there will be a gradual improvement every day.
However, we do feel that although there will be some people who are nervous to leave their homes, there will be plenty who are eager to get back into a ‘normal’ routine. We expect that there will be fewer numbers but there may be an increase in individual spending and with the summer holidays approaching, people will be eager to go out even more as seen previously when there’s been good weather.
Social distancing and international travel are two key areas that will need adjustment. How will that impact on your business and what measures are you taking to adapt?
John Stergides: Social distancing to maintain wellbeing has already culminated in an increase in costs for our company just like many others in order to provide a safer environment i.e. providing hand sanitisers, fever detection cameras, gloves, masks , even screens between machines where necessary in AGCs.
And some of these will be ongoing costs, not just one offs, which will have an impact. Plus, the need for social distancing in amusement centres may require some machines to be off or a re-think of the layout to make sure popular machines are not as close to each other as before.
It is much preferred to take these precautions if it means we can gradually and steadily get back to a routine rather than shut down completely as the latter will make it more difficult to recover.
With regards to international travel, it’s impacted our business as exhibitions have had to be cancelled or are still in consideration and these play a big part in our industry.
Further to this, with fewer tourists coming in, this will have a negative impact on the FECs and other attractions like the London Eye, Brighton Pier, the Grand Pier Weston-super-Mare, the Pier in Felixstowe and the latest gem of the industry Clacton Pier.
Although they will have less overseas tourists they will have an increase in domestic tourists – as we have already seen, and as they have fantastic facilities and are well run provide great enjoyment to their customers. This is one benefit that will boost our industry, it is good for us and also good for visitors who feel more comfortable being closer to home. The coming months are crucial to the health of the business.
What do you think the government needs to do in terms of grants, tax concessions and regulatory support to ensure a sustainable way forward for you?
John Stergides: The government needs to provide grants and tax concessions where possible for the hospitality and leisure industry that we too are part of.
Many companies, who are part of the supply chain, have experienced just like us, that councils won’t see us as part of the hospitality/ leisure industry, so currently they are not giving any exceptions when it comes to rates, grants or loans – we have been excluded, which is unfair as it’s the main source of income.
As manufacturers and distributors with parts and as essential suppliers, we are the back bone of the industry, and we need to be able to support and service the thousands of equipment at locations.
Our customers’ have been shut down like us, so the Government must act very quickly as we are already seeing companies that have been trading for many years close down like Alan Davies Automatics Ltd.
It is expected to be a tough year as consumer confidence is currently low as we enter the main summer season but hopefully the government will do more to help the leisure industry during this difficult period. What has been the real impact of lockdown on business and the industry in general? The industry came to a halt at the end of March just as we were approaching one of the peak seasons for the year, which is the most important for operators.
Based on previous years and the weather we experienced, we all missed out which is frustrating as the industry, like the rest of the country was buzzing and I think it would have been one of the best years in a while.
I would like to highlight that seaside arcades and most family attractions businesses slowed down in October last year.
From then until the end of February this year they had down time waiting for the season to start again in March, which didn’t happen.
So in actual fact the amusement industry did not shut down in March this year but last October, therefore, the government must provide more support to our industry as business has been on short term low trading and then frozen of total of more than 9 months.
It will be a difficult year as we all get to grips with the new ‘normal’, however, we have weathered previous storms in our 50 years in the industry and I except as an industry we will do so again and come out stronger if we work together to overcome the obstacles in front of us.