Cricket accessories business fights for survival
From airlines, tourism and manufacturing to export, import and event management -- all businesses have witnessed the devastating and far-reaching effects of the novel coronavirus.
The pandemic also did not spare the cricket accessories business, which had been growing at a healthy clip because of the popularity of the game in the country.
Tarek Aziz Khan, a former national cricketer, entered the accessories business in 2011. He started with a retail showroom in Mirpur and gradually expanded in and out of Dhaka.
In the pre-pandemic period, the former right-arm medium-fast bowler had owned eight retail outlets. As losses grew because of the crisis-induced economic slowdown, he shut five showrooms in Dhaka.
"How is it possible to run the business for a long time without any income? I had to spend a huge amount for rent, wages and other expenditures," he said.
The businesses resumed in June last year after the first lockdown in April and May, but sales are yet to pick up as cricketing activities have not started in full swing.
The business was again hit with lockdown in April this year after the government shut down all economic activities, albeit for a shorter period, because of the second wave of infections. Recently, sporting events have started without spectators.
Khan is running the rest of the outlets with the help of depressed incomes from a jersey manufacturing factory.
"I couldn't tell right now how long I would be able to survive under the current circumstances," Khan said.
Fahim Muntasir Sumit, another former national cricketer, signed up for the cricket accessories business after quitting the game.
He launched his journey as a businessman in 2017 in a rented shop at the Cooperative Twin Tower Super Market in Gulistan. Three years later, he set up a manufacturing plant, the first of its kind in Bangladesh, to produce bats that are used in age-level games.
He set up the factory in Thakurgaon on a small scale with the help of local and foreign employees. There were five to six foreign employees who were all Indians.
Sumit, who is also involved in age-level coaching, sponsors Bangladesh Cricket Board's Under-17 Cricket Team. The players of the team are all using bats made at his factory.
"This is the first instance in Bangladesh that professional cricketers are playing with locally made bats," he said.
Sumit had planned to make bats for the senior players and started importing willow, the wood material used to make professional bats, from England. But the pandemic halted the plan.
All of his foreign employees went to their country last year and they have not returned yet due to the second wave of Covid-19.
Khan and Sumit's plight represents the overall scenario of the cricket accessories business.
Traders are witnessing a thin presence of customers but in order to keep their stores open, they had to spend hugely on the rent of shops and wages.
Many have taken loans with banks, non-banking financial institutions, and cooperatives. Some were forced to wind up operations after being loss-ridden and debt-ridden.
"The shops are open, but we cannot earn enough to pay the wages to employees. There are rents and other expenses as well," said MR Shamim Patwari, president of the Bangladesh Sports Accessories Merchant Manufacturers & Importers Association.
"In such a situation, many traders have been forced to close their businesses and many employees lost their jobs."
Students are the main buyers of sports items, but because of the indefinite closure of educational institutions, they don't come out of their houses much and play cricket.
"All of the sporting events have not returned to action fully. It is increasingly becoming difficult for the businessmen to survive," Patwari said.
According to traders, Bangladesh has an annual market of Tk 1,000 crore to Tk 1,200 crore for sports accessories, including bats, pads, gloves, taps, helmets, jerseys, and gym equipment. The market for cricket bats is Tk 150-200 crore alone.
The turning point for the accessories business was 2000, when the International Cricket Council gave Bangladesh Test status.
The Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), a T20 cricket tournament, and new domestic tournaments sent cricket's popularity to new heights. The accessories business also grew.
There are 8,000-10,000 shops that sell sports kits across the country. They directly employ 50,000 to 55,000 people.
There are 500-700 shops in Dhaka city, most of which are located in Gulistan. The Cooperative Twin Tower Sports Market and the Railway Supermarket in Gulistan are the two largest markets for sports accessories, and they supply products all over the country.
Around 90 per cent of cricket accessories come to Bangladesh from India and a small quantity from Pakistan.
Two types of bats, namely tennis bats and game bats, are used in cricket.
The demand for tennis bats used by kids is higher than the game bats because of lower prices. Professional players use game bats.
Tennis bat manufacturing factories have sprung up in Jatrabari, Old Dhaka, Kishoreganj, Barishal, Patuakhali, Thakurgaon, Habiganj, Chuadanga, and Gazipur in the last few years, meeting the local demand.
Shah Sports used to import all of the country's sports accessories since the Pakistan era. The newcomers in the segment, such as Khawaja Sports, Dhaka Sports and New Dhaka Sports, broke the lone domination of Shah Sports after the demise of its owner.
Mahedy Hasan, branch manager of Shah Sports at Maulana Bhashani National Hockey Stadium Market, said it sourced accessories from local agents to keep the business running.
Traders say the number of imported bats has dipped significantly for many factors, including Covid-19.
Mahmudul Haque Ringku, the owner of Active Sports, said the volume of imports had dipped largely because sourcing had become easier than in the past before the pandemic.
Mohammad Shaheen, owner of Sumaiya Sports in Gulistan, said small traders brought in accessories collectively without depending on importers.
Bangladesh mainly imports sports accessories from SS Sports in India through Khawaja Sports.
Patwary said there were 100 importers in Bangladesh. But their number was on the wane for the diversification of the sourcing.