First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Marcel Fairbairn: We are doing great! My son is a professional racing driver, and although his series was delayed and certainly had challenges, we still spent the summer at some incredible tracks. Oddly, almost no one I know has had (or admitted to having) COVID. So while it has literally destroyed businesses and some lives as well, it hasn’t really been as widespread as some would want you to believe.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded GearSource.
Marcel Fairbairn: I was a musician growing up in Calgary, Canada – and actually, left school early to pursue my music career, which was essentially touring the bar scene in Canada. I did that until the ripe old age of 19 before deciding I wanted a “real job” and a Corvette. Yes… that was my initial motivation. I began working for a music store, supplying gear to the touring bands, and fell in love with that business, especially early-stage business development.
Yes, I was able to earn my first Corvette as well… and 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. By age 24, I had stumbled on sound and especially lighting. I followed that path, ending up in Florida, with a lighting manufacturer based in Denmark. I helped them grow their brand globally from a few million in 1990 to around $150m by the time I left in 1997. Shortly after, I came up with the initial idea for GearSource, a company that would help manufacturers and production / rental companies – to dispose of b-stock, end of life, or other gear they just needed to move. I was essentially a marketplace, but that term was yet to be thought up in the 2002 e-comm world.
How does GearSource innovate?
Marcel Fairbairn: GearSource always pushed the envelope on what was needed, what “competitors” were doing, and what would be best for our buyers and sellers – globally. Speaking of global, GearSource was the first and remained the only true marketplace operating in this industry, on a global scale. When our competitors were using a Rolodex, we build the first e-commerce site in this business. We expanded it to become more like a marketplace, and when we really learned about marketplaces, we decided to push fully in that direction. Today, GearSource is the first and only REAL marketplace, catering exclusively to the pro gear business. We are always working closely with buyers and sellers everywhere to develop features and tools they want to make their jobs easier, more efficient, and sell more gear!
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Marcel Fairbairn: I happen to be in an industry that is among the worst impacted. Live events ended completely in early March and will absolutely not return to “normal” until at least 2021. Companies who experienced their best ever year in 2019 have woken to a nightmare in 2020. Most have furloughed 50-90% of their employees and have lost the same in revenues, only surviving on tiny drive-in or virtual shows. On the other hand, my business services the industry in a unique way, given the times. We help businesses to shift assets when necessary, or even to liquidate completely. While our business is off, it’s not nearly as bad as most in our industry. In fact, during COVID, we have invested hundreds of thousands in our platform – finalizing our Marketplace software that we began developing 2 years ago. We launched in August and will continue to improve going forward.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Marcel Fairbairn: Of course. Most businesses made tough choices. For us, the first tough choice was whether to pull back or push ahead harder on our platform development. For me, pulling back was not even something I considered. I knew that the world would need exactly what we were creating, and they needed it fast. Of course, the toughest decisions have been human ones. The decisions that we and so many businesses have been forced to make – impacting others’ lives. Layoffs are never fun, but when you know full well that the folks you are letting go may have no other options – it’s that much harder.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and GearSource in the future?
Marcel Fairbairn: Those are a couple of loaded questions!! For myself – I’ve been quite good at managing the stress. First, I wake early and fill my head with positive “stuff,” including podcasts, excellent business books, and yes, meditation as well. I have made sure to eat healthily and exercise as well. And I have absolutely reached out to as many people as I can – to make sure I offer them my support in these crazy times. Protecting my company is much more difficult – because we are at the mercy of incredibly divisive politics. We cannot control when our industry gets back to work, and we cannot add massive debt like many larger or public companies. So we’ve had to do what we can – to make sure the business survives, while also waiting on the fed to offer debt programs that will help us scale the business up quickly as the sun returns.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Marcel Fairbairn: Strangely, our biggest competitors are not really in the production gear business. Reverb and Ebay are likely our two largest competitors, as they are both large marketplace platforms. However, our clientele is very different from each of those and requires a certain brand of expertise offered by my team.
Your final thoughts?
Marcel Fairbairn: I firmly believe that COVID has been a combination of “gut-check” and a big ugly filter as well. Those who survive COVID will absolutely come out the other end and become much stronger. I feel like this is somewhat of a new beginning. A restart for every business in whatever industry you find yourself in. Everyone is even, and the opportunities will be immense. But we will likely not return to “normal” or the same – but we will evolve to something so much better.
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