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Interview with Jan van Daalen May 2020

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Old Wednesday 20th May 2020, 12:55   #1
Troubador
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Interview with Jan van Daalen May 2020

Troubador: Hello Jan, can you believe it is 19 months since our last interview? Back then, we had no idea that the future would bring Coronavirus to us all and what the consequences might be. So the big question I would like to start with is the obvious one: how has the pandemic affected your business?

Jan: Coronavirus hit our sales from the last week in March. More or less overnight our sales dropped 95%. The situation in the Netherlands was critical with hospital Intensive Care Units flooded with 300% of the number of patients they would normally treat. It was so bad that 2 people sharing the same ventilator was not unusual at that time. It was understandable that people stayed at home and didn’t visit shops that serve leisure activities.

Troubador: Tell us a little about your shop because it has seen some changes in recent times.

Jan: OK. Our shop specialises in three product segments:
Comfort shoes that may be part of the treatment recommended by a foot care specialist.
Outdoor shoes and boots, from ordinary walking shoes and desert-boots to extreme cold weather boots, and specialist mountaineering boots.
And of course optics (but not riflescopes).
Here we are half-way through May and the sales development has been like this:
Comfort shoes are only at 5-10% of normal business because the elderly people who are the main customers for this kind of footwear continue to stay at home.
There is no holiday travel so our sales of safari/mountain/low temperature boots are zero.
Which leaves the optics business. Seventy to eighty percent of our optics sales normally goes to safari-goers, visitors to Spitzbergen (for whale and polar bear watching) or visitors to Antarctica, and this entire market is absolutely and totally dead at the present time.
But help has come from an unexpected direction! The VBN (Dutch Birding Protection Society) base, which is only 15km from our shop, has voluntarily gone into lockdown, and as a result our optics sales are now higher than last year at this time as the birding community has discovered who and where we are. For example sales of Swarovski scopes and binoculars have exploded, and we now make 10 sales of Swaro optics to 1 from Zeiss and Leica is absolutely nowhere.

Troubador: That is a startling ratio of Swaro to Zeiss. What is behind this?

Jan: Zeiss does not have a model to compete with the CL30 and does not have an equivalent of the SLC 42 at around 1.350,00 Euros. Zeiss has announced SF32 but it has not arrived on the market yet. In addition Conquest and Terra have several good competitors both on price and looks with a similar performance and it is the same story with the Gavia scope. Also Zeiss has stopped selling digi-scoping accessories for the Harpia which does not help. In my opinion Zeiss need to step up with redesigned Terra’s and Conquests and something to replace the HT42 model at the same price point as the SLC 42.
If they would lower the prices of new Terras and Conquests, put an HT42 replacement in the 1.500,00 Euros range, and with the SF in 32/42, and more openness about the country of origin of Conquest (which they already do for Terra and Victory Pocket) then they would be back in the race again. The blue label is solid. For me it is unbelievable that they let it slip away.

Troubador: You have mentioned on Birdforum that you have rejected Leica as a supplier due to them only selling what members are calling the Retrovid through Leica Shops and not through dealers, although Leica have very recently announced that they have reversed that decision. Leaving the Leica situation to one side, have you taken on any new brands?

Jan: Earlier this year we took on the GPO brand (German Precision Optics) and with their Passion ED line they are stealing business from Bynolyt and Bushnell in the lower-priced segment and with their Passion HD they are pushing Meopta MeoStar and Zeiss Conquest from the higher-priced segment. Taking all of this together it means our total shop turnover is at 70% compared to last year.

Troubador:
What other changes have you noticed in the Netherlands?

Jan: It seems clear that our customers are spending their budget for travel on other outdoor activities within the Dutch borders now that they cannot spend it on holidays, and birding is taking an extreme boost here in the Netherlands. TV birding programs, items in magazines and newspapers about this new “wave” are appearing more and more frequently. The requests/orders we have received for the Swarovski Digital Guide is higher than our total scope sales last year, but Swaro can’t deliver due to their current lockdown.

Troubador: What can you tell us about the split in your sales between the so-called top alpha brands and the other brands?

Jan: We have always sold more alpha brand models than the sub-alphas and surprisingly we still are. It seems it is not a matter of which customer target group comes in our shop, it is much more a matter of pointing out to the customer the logic of his/her final choice. Looking at the balance of optical and other qualities and price it is easy to see that with a street price of 1.350,00 Euros the Swarovski SLC42 is now extremely attractive and as a consequence sales in the Meopta MeoStar/Conquest are almost dead. Similarly at the next lowest price point the GPO HD series weighs less, looks ultra-modern and is of the same optical quality so for our customers who do not want to spend more than 1.000,00 euro it is now the bin of choice.

Troubador: Do you accept internet sales Jan?

Jan: We never done this, and as long as I run this show, we never will.
Of course we have a business website and people can mail/call us and order. Sales taken like this are good for occasions such as when a customer has had his/her binos stolen and they simply want to replace it with exactly the same model. For those people who don’t know which binocular they need it is by far the best solution for them to visit a store to make comparisons so that the right choice can be made. Of course you could perhaps make that choice at an Optics Fair or something like that and then order online, but the Netherlands is a small country and our shop is right in the middle of it, so travelling to visit us is not a big problem. Anyway if you are spending more than 1.000,00 euro on optics it is advisable to do this in a place where assistance is available if something goes wrong.
I can imagine that in countries where the customer has to drive for hundreds of miles/km to get to a shop (if that shop even can deliver multiple brand choices) he is happy with the internet. This is not an issue in the Netherlands.

Troubador: How have you and your staff responded to the Coronavirus threat and how is your shop organised today?

Jan: In the shop we take the 1.5 meter social distance seriously, staff wear gloves, masks are available, and we disinfect binos and shoes/boots that have been handled by customers. We have 7 employees, the last one came in two years ago and this year a permanent contract was in order. Business is slower but increasing, we have a solid devoted team and we have to go through this mess together. Instead of waiting until the official date in July we gave her a permanent contract on the first of May which gave her peace of mind and was also a signal for confidence in the future to all. We are a financially healthy company and can handle a bump, but I hope never to experience a loss of 95% in sales again.

The optics part of the shop has been completely redesigned, following Leica leaving our line-up, and is split in two. In the half devoted to optics priced at more than 1.000,00 Euros, Swarovski has now a separate 30 square meters in the corner where every Swarovski optical item which is available for sale is present except riflescopes, which we do not sell. Next we have the complete Zeiss stock, then the Meopta MeoStar binos and then the GPO Passion HD line. In the middle, we located the optical museum which splits the shop over the length in two and on the other side of the divide is where the optics costing under 1.000,00 Euros are sold.

Troubador: Summing up?

Jan: It is well-known and discussed on Birdforum that Leica and we went different ways. There is no substitute for a brand like Zeiss, Swarovski and Leica. So Leica left a gap in our optics department. When customers ask about Leica we show them the 7x35 Retrovid and explain Leica’s original policy to sell this only through its own stores and never through optics dealers. The 99.9% reaction from the customer is disbelief over the arrogance and disrespect, and Leica is now completely out of the picture. Leica’s recent change of mind about this policy is something to consider when and if the insult fades.

Troubador: As always Jan it has been a fascinating discussion. Thank you for allowing Birdforum members and visitors a glimpse into the world of optics retailing.

Jan: You and Birdforum members are very welcome, thank you for the opportunity.


Lee
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Old Wednesday 20th May 2020, 14:18   #2
lmans66
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Interesting...thanks

Lee...Lots of interesting things he stated.

First..he was stating how Zeiss and Meopta have dropped the ball by not finding a product to match the Swarovski SLC. This is true for the SLC is a better bin than the Conquest and the Meostar I am sure. But at the same time, Swaroski doesn't have a solid product under $1000 US. That was what Zeiss and Meopta were after in my thinking. Perhaps Swarovski needs to have a Terra line, or at least they should have a line that competes with the Conquest. I think the Meopta B2 (when it arrives) will be a challenge for the other Alphas.

Bringing back the HT to compete with the SLC is something Zeiss can do for I feel those two are real close in optics as I compared both of them for a few weeks side by side. But is there enough of a market? Zeiss took the road a long time ago to 'bring in cheaper products' other than Alphas such as the Terra and Conquest brand, so they just went in another direction for the 'masses' and not the alpha-ites.

Interesting to hear him say that Zeiss has to be 'up front' with where the Conquest is made. I agree. They market it like it is 'made in Germany' while it is not and I know that is something that I have taken into consideration.

The CL is great.....but as many have talked about on this board, there are other options out there that are less expensive and at least in many minds, a better product.

Last edited by lmans66 : Wednesday 20th May 2020 at 14:32.
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Old Wednesday 20th May 2020, 15:35   #3
jan van daalen
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lmans66 View Post
Lee...Lots of interesting things he stated.

First..he was stating how Zeiss and Meopta have dropped the ball by not finding a product to match the Swarovski SLC. This is true for the SLC is a better bin than the Conquest and the Meostar I am sure. But at the same time, Swaroski doesn't have a solid product under $1000 US. That was what Zeiss and Meopta were after in my thinking. Perhaps Swarovski needs to have a Terra line, or at least they should have a line that competes with the Conquest. I think the Meopta B2 (when it arrives) will be a challenge for the other Alphas.

Bringing back the HT to compete with the SLC is something Zeiss can do for I feel those two are real close in optics as I compared both of them for a few weeks side by side. But is there enough of a market? Zeiss took the road a long time ago to 'bring in cheaper products' other than Alphas such as the Terra and Conquest brand, so they just went in another direction for the 'masses' and not the alpha-ites.

Interesting to hear him say that Zeiss has to be 'up front' with where the Conquest is made. I agree. They market it like it is 'made in Germany' while it is not and I know that is something that I have taken into consideration.

The CL is great.....but as many have talked about on this board, there are other options out there that are less expensive and at least in many minds, a better product.
Hi Imans,

The market rules, can't and won't help that.
A satisfied customer brings 5 new ones on board and a not satisfied customer will cost you at least 10. So it's the retailers job to show what's in the market and for the customer what he is willing to be able to see for what price.
Why should Swarovski bring a binocular under the 1.000,00 euro range in the 42 segment (not counting the Porro Habicht)?
They would have to lower the quality, which is something they'll never gonna do. The A-status comes with a price-tag. The market rules and seems to understand that.
Zeiss went for the down grade with the Terra. Reality shows that we have customers with a (somewhere else bought Terra) who have looked trough a Swarovski, or high end Leica from somebody else in the field and want such a bin. They don't want another Zeiss because their quality is disappointing in their believe. Only after offering them the SF and in a earlier state the 42HT they understand the difference and still won't buy another Zeiss because they feel being fooled by the brand Zeiss. In their imagination they were convinced they bought a Blue Label product.
That is a serious downside of downgrading by a High Standard brand.

In regards to the Conquest/Trinovid line, Swarovski ownes the Austrian Kahles brand and they offer the same (Japanes built) quality bin as the earlier mentioned models. Put the superb Kowa, the Meopta Meostar and the GPO Passion HD (and I am sure there are a lot of similar bins from other brands) on the table and you are in the middle of a crowded market.

The original CL30 stood model for the Japanese built Kite Lynx and Nikon and these are nice and well built bins. Put the Meostar 32 above that on the table and reality shows that the customer still buys the Original.

If it was otherwise I really would say so.

Jan

Last edited by jan van daalen : Thursday 21st May 2020 at 07:58. Reason: typo
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Old Wednesday 20th May 2020, 16:08   #4
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Originally Posted by jan van daalen View Post
Hi Imans,

They would have to lower the quality, which is something they'll never gonna do. The A-status comes with a price-tag. The market rules and seems to understand that.
Zeiss went for the down grade with the Terra. Reality shows that we have customers with a (somewhere else bought Terra) who have looked trough a Swarovski, or high end Leica from somebody else in the field and want such a bin. They don't want another Zeiss because their quality is disappointing in their believe. Only after offering them the SF and in a earlier state the 42HT they understand the difference and still won't by another Zeiss because they feel being fooled by the brand Zeiss. In their imagination they were convinced they bought a Blue Label product.
That is a serious downside of downgrading by a High Standard brand.

jan
I agree with this... Zeiss cheapened their blue label by offering the Terra...they should never have gone down that road. The Conquest line, as you state, is a crowded pack...but a good one. If someone buys a Conquest, they are not going to develop a poor view of Zeiss....But I can see that with Terra. They will be thinking to themselves, " I want to upgrade and Swaro is it'...
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Old Wednesday 20th May 2020, 16:58   #5
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Hello Lee,

Thanks for posting this.

There are a lot of difference between retailing in the USA and in the Netherlands. I can think of only three retail establishments selling high quality binoculars in all of New York City; all of them do a big online trade. There used to be two more. One store owner retired and moved to Florida; the other store moved to the suburbs and has a big online business.

Stay safe,
Arthur
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Old Wednesday 20th May 2020, 23:58   #6
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Interesting, I hadn't thought about the lack of options between $1000 and $2500. The only ~8x42 options in the US are the SLC, Kowa Genesis, and Vortex UHD. Hopefully we see more competition in this price range soon. An updated Meostar B2, Kowa Genesis, Nikon MHG, and Zeiss would be interesting.

Last edited by lgguy : Thursday 21st May 2020 at 00:15.
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