2019 Review: Brexit And Buying Gear

With the UK about to leave the European Union, we need to talk about Brexit: the impact it has already had on guitars and gear, and what impact it might have going forward.

This post is all about us here in Britain, and the British guitar gear market.

Things Are More Expensive

If you go into your local guitar shop today to buy a guitar or amp, on average you’re paying up to 30% more than you did in early 2016.

You might not realise it, but nearly everything in the shops in Britain is imported. This is especially true of guitars and related gear. Very little is ‘Made in Britain’, and most of what is includes parts imported from overseas. As a country, we’ve imported more than we’ve exported for the last 40 years. It’s nothing new.

The Brexit vote has made those imports much more expensive.

The pound in your pocket is worth less than it was before the vote. Against the US dollar, the British pound is worth about 20% less (on a good day).

To put that into perspective, if you work five days a week, you now need to work an extra day every week just to make up the difference.

The second hand market hasn’t fared very well either.

The Biggest Drought In Living Memory

In 2019, the second hand gear market practically dried up.

The second hand market is a great way to get hold of gear that you either couldn’t afford or couldn’t find in the shops. It’s also a great way to get rid of gear that you’re not using, so that it doesn’t end up in a landfill.

Most of the ‘New Arrivals’ I’ve blogged about in 2019 were second hand items. But since the summer, there’s been very little second hand gear to choose from.

I’ve been buying and selling on eBay for the last 19 years. That’s pretty much since eBay first came to the UK. I’ve never seen so few items for sale before.

You don’t have to just take my word for it.

Whenever things get bad, eBay resorts to a ‘max £1 sellers fees’ weekend. Instead of charging you 10% of what your item sells for, they charge £1 instead. If the average pedal sells for £100, eBay is losing out on 90% of its revenue from those sales.

(I’m talking about eBay because Reverb isn’t really a thing in the UK market.)

eBay started doing these ‘max £1 sellers fees’ weekends in early July 2019. They’d never run these before. (My email archive goes back to 2004. I checked it to make sure.) At first, they happened once a month. At the time of writing (late December 2019), they’re happening almost fornightly.

No business gives up 90% of its revenue unless things are very very desperate. And no business runs a sale so big, so regularly that it destroys their non-sales business unless they’ve got no choice.

A Smaller Place In The World

Not all of my second hand gear was bought from Britain. And not all of my new gear was too.

Being part of the European Union meant we were part of the European Single Market. It’s the largest trading zone in the entire world – even bigger than the American market. As long as someone in (for example) Germany or Greece was willing to ship an item to Britain, there were no extra fees to pay. No customs fees, no British sales tax, and no British ‘admin’ fees.

(Yes, British ‘admin’ fees on imports from outside the EU are a thing. You pay them on top of the taxes claimed by the British government – even though you’ve already paid an international shipping charge. Frankly, they’re a scam that should be outlawed. Fat chance of that happening in my lifetime though.)

We’re already ‘Rip-Off Britain’. It’s often cheaper to buy something from Europe and ship it to the UK than it is to buy the same item here at home.

And we’re about to lose that option.

At the time of writing, the UK government hasn’t negotiated the terms of our future relationship with the European Union. They are in the process of passing a law that means they only have five months to do so. Trade deals take many years to negotiate. History says that it is impossible to negotiate anything but the most basic of deals in the time that Britain has set for itself.

750 Trade Deals Need To Be Replaced

As part of the European Union, Britain has been able to enjoy collective bargaining with the rest of the world. Together, we’ve negotiated some 750 deals between us and everyone else.

They will all need to be replaced after Britain leaves the European Union.

To put that into perspective, if Britain can somehow manage to sign a new trade deal every month, it will take 63 years to replace all of the deals that we are about to lose.

That’s a lifetime. Almost no-one reading this blog today will live to see that happen.

And there’s almost no chance of Britain being able to sign new trade deals at that pace.

Britain as a country has no experience of negotiating trade deals. We’re starting from scratch. We’ve got to hire people, train them as best we can, and learn on our feet. That would be an immense challenge at any time. Under this government, which shows nothing but contempt for facts and reality, the conditions for success simply aren’t there.

What happens in the mean time? We’ll find out in 2020.

Without trade deals, there are trade tariffs. That means we pay more to import things into Britain, and other countries have to pay more to buy things from Britain. Everything will get more expensive, and some things will no longer be sold, because it just won’t be profitable.

You Can’t Afford To Wait

This is why I sold some gear and raided my savings to get my home studio revamped this year. I don’t know what will be available in 2020.

The cut-off for negotiating the new trading arrangements with the European Union falls in the summer. Those new arrangements need to be approved by every parliament in the EU – because EU states are sovereign democracies – and that takes time.

If things go badly, it’s possible that we’ll start to see imports drying up from that point onwards. Companies are going to look at these new arrangements (assuming that there are any at all; that is far from a given right now), and then decide whether or not its worth continuing to trade their goods into Britain.

The items most likely to be affected are anything where there’s no British importer at the moment – where the importer is a European company. British importers are likely to do everything they can to stay in business. European companies – especially with all the awful racism unleashed by the UK government – could well decide that it’s just not worth it.

(Btw, if you’re someone who goes around telling people to ‘go back home’, kindly fuck the fuck off right now. Racist scum like you are not welcome in this community.)

Hopefully, it’ll be business as normal until the summer. If there’s a piece of gear that you want or need, have a think about buying it as soon as you can. Just do it responsibly. This is a very bad time to be getting into debt just for a piece of gear.

Support Your Local Guitar Shop

If you are buying gear in 2020, please buy it from your local guitar shop if you can. They’re going to need your help.

I’m lucky: my local guitar shop AStrings.co.uk is one of the ones that has thrived since 2015. Some of the independent places I used to buy have had to cut back on what they offer. Some of them went out of business entirely.

Here’s how you can support your local shop:

  • When you’re buying something new, go into the shop and discuss it with them. Is it something that they already stock? Is it something that they can order in for you? Maybe they can’t get that exact item, but they can get an equivalent item. Give them a chance first, before you order online from one of the big boys.
  • Don’t expect them to price-match prices offered by the big three (Andertons, Guitar Guitar and PMT). Those three companies buy as a group (which is why they end up promoting the same brands as each other!), and they get such deep discounts, they can sometimes sell gear for less than the wholesale price offered to an independent shop.
  • Local shops rely heavily on word-of-mouth. Tell people about your local shop. They may not know it even exists. Tell people about them on social media. Share their social media posts. Even if you’re not buying yourself, you may connect them with someone who is.

Next time you want your guitar setup, stop and think. How would you do that if your local guitar shop was no longer there?

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