The New Normal: Banks Journal’s Rama McCabe On Small Brand Leadership And Grace Under Pressure

by stab April 07, 2020 5 min read

The economic fallout from the COVID19 pandemic is yet to be quantified. Every day strikes new blows to the financial base of the international economy. 

The surf industry has followed suit with most every other “non-essential” sector of the market, furloughing and laying off staff, closing retail doors and fulfillment centers. Many of the brands we grew up on may very well disappear in the coming months. 

For successful upstarts like Banks Journal, the opportunity lies in a small ship’s ability to deftly navigate this current storm, and emerge on the other side with the communal boost of goodwill towards the remaining players in our little subcultural game. 

We caught up with Rama a few days after he’d shuttered Banks’ offices and made some tricky, sound decisions immediately following the stay at home order in California. 

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Stab: Where will you be riding out this thing? 

Rama McCabe: California is my home now. I was born in Australia, but my business is here and my close friends are here and I think it’s really important for people to stay put. I’m here supporting our employees and work with our partners and try and navigate through this. 

Yeah, I feel like a lot of people have just sort of checked out. They’re like, cool, I’ll see you when this is over.
I’m a firm believer that people in a leadership role should be going down with the ship, in all cases. If we’re checking out then there’s no reason for our employees to be really focused working from home. 

Right now I think all the employees and myself have to be working harder than we ever have because in the last 5 days we’ve lost 90% of or wholesale business. So that leaves us with one source of income which is our online store.:

Has the pace of news coming from the bigger brands and retailers been a surprise? 

I thought their reaction time to what was happening out there would have been a little faster. They were all pretty slow to close their stores and offices. I believe when you’re a large business like many of the retailers and brands that surround us you need to be leading by example and protecting your employees alongside the general public. 

How different is the reality of a small brand dealing with this than a big brand?

I can only talk for myself and Banks Journal but the biggest difference for a small business is how cash flow dependent we are. There is no large sum of cash sitting in the bank or access to hefty overdrafts like you see a lot of the larger business tapping into through this. 

How long-term do you foresee dealing with this, realistically?  

It’s going to be two to three months before we’re back on track, and I think that’s optimistic, so we made some drastic changes within our business over the last 24 hours. We had a company-wide meeting and notified all of the staff including the my self and the other founders that we would be needing to take a 30% reduction in salaries for the next three months. Along with this we are reducing as many costs as possible. We are looking into reduced rent with landlords, postponing payments and orders with factories, and really trying to buckle down during the storm so we come out on the other side stronger than how we came into it. 

I think even though the industry has been tricky, people have become a little bit complacent. This is a scenario that we’re all facing together. It’s gonna make us all come out a lot smarter.

I think as a brand, we reacted pretty quickly to this because we have the luxury of being small and the majority of the staff sitting in one office. Taking in what was going on, Myself and the other founders were able to make a decision on the spot and implement it within a couple minutes. 

So we’re in a position to follow this as it shifts in different directions. 

I think now we need strong leadership through these times as it is easy to lose sight of the positives that I’m hoping will come out of this situation we are all facing. I really believe brands that make it through this issue are going to come out of it stronger and better than ever. Especially on the direct to consumer side of things. 

Are brick and mortar retailers going to need the most support?

We’re really trying to figure out how we can support them through this period.

We are really focusing in on e-comm businesses; they’re still going to be moving product, so we are making sure that they know we are still shipping product and offering great customer service. 

I think that’s really important: just solidarity and support to all the people that have been supporting us the last five years.

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What will the surf industry look like if this lasts six months? 

Retailers and brands with the lack of an online DTC model will cease to exist and the ones that have been able to adapt and be creative are going to thrive in a thinned-out less competitive landscape. If we can be one of the successful businesses to weather this storm and see the sun peak through the clouds at the end I believe it will be an exciting time.

Who are you isolating with and are you sick of them yet?
I’m lucky, to be honest. I’m with my girlfriend Shannon and our three month old puppy Hula and they’re the best company I could ask for.  

Screen-time up from previous weeks?

Okay. So I try to avoid this kind of information, but… it’s actually down 17% from last week. Two hours and 46 minutes. 

But.. I do the majority of my work on my laptop, so that’s probably a little bit misleading.

What have you been doing to keep the restlessness at bay?

Eating great food, drinking some nice wine, getting a lot of work done, puppy training and trying not to get bitten too much by those sharp little teeth of hers. My hands are so shredded.

Puppy teeth, man.

She’s like a little tiger. It’s intense. She loves to bite anything and everything that is in front of her.

Three essential apocalypse foods?

I really love Indian food, so I’ve been really into dahl. Um, I love making it and love it. A lot of coffee and, and probably just a little water as well, over wine, I guess. During the day [laughs].

What are three non-device essentials?

My beanie, Doc Martens and a black sweater.

A man after my own heart. If you could do this whole thing over again, is there anywhere else that you would prefer to be quarantined?

Hmmm possibly somewhere with perfect waves and warm water would be nice but in saying that I’m super happy where I am.

Where’s the first place you’re going to go after all this?

I’ll probably try and go back to Australia for a couple weeks to see my family and my brother and his kids. I’m looking forward to getting back there and having some family time and hopefully scoring some fun waves around my home town of Byron Bay.

How close has the virus touched you and your family and crew?

We are all very lucky to not know anyone that has caught the virus as of yet. The only thing that has really affected us is the lack of toilet paper at the corner store. 

All right, last one. Any final thoughts or takeaways from this experience?

There’s a lot of really great small emerging brands out there and I think it’s really important for all of us to band together and be open with each other about how we’re dealing with things as they come. For us all to come together, rather than going off in our separate directions. Communication between small brands will keep them alive and we can all get through it together. 

Rama, this is the uplifting interview that people need today. I very much appreciated it.

 

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