These days there aren’t too many surf-shop owners who shape their own surfboards. Planers and handsaws have been shelved as the intricacies of running a successful retail store are at the front of most owners’ minds.
But Natural Art Owner Scott Busbey still finds time to shape boards. It’s his passion. Busbey shapes a handful of boards every month — and not for wholesale, but for fun. “That’s what a real surf shop is,” says Busbey, “a shop that makes its own boards.”
Of course, Busbey is a businessman, too. He knows that margins on hardgoods are grim — that’s one reason he sells direct to customers. In his shop, located minutes from the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (and its adjacent surf break), sales from Lycra and trunks — not surfboards — pulled in the majority of profits this past summer.
Rip Curl and Quiksilver are the hottest brands with Natural Art’s customers, who range from the handful of Buxton and Hatteras Island locals to the droves of tourists from the Mid-Atlantic who take a sojourn in the Outer Banks. There is also a strong presence from MCD, Volcom, Lost, and No Fear.
On the remote Hatteras Island, there’s a six-month make-or-break period for retailers, restaurateurs, and hotel owners when business really cooks. That window spans from April to Labor Day weekend, and when we visited in mid September Busbey had already noticed the drop in traffic: “Right now our weekend business is only as good as our weekday business in the summer.”
Yet that doesn’t worry Busbey — it’s what he expects. After all, Natural Art has been in business for nearly 25 years, so Busbey is keyed into the retailing cycles on the Outer Banks. In many ways, the September ebb couldn’t come at a better time: it’s when the surf gets good. The break also gives Busbey time to tune his shop for the spring break rush, sneak out of town for a couple weeks, and shape more surfboards.
Busbey enjoys being in the surf business, but he says manufacturers could be doing a better job at progressing their brands and the industry. “Nothing’s really been hot in the last couple of years,” he says. “Everybody’s been doing the same thing over and over.”
Window Brands: Lost, Rusty, Rip Curl
Major Display Brands: Rip Curl, In The Eye and HIC surfboards
Strongest Category: Rashguards, trunks
Weakest Category: n/a
Strongest Brands: Rip Curl, Quiksilver
Best Reps: Lynn Shell (HIC), Brad Williams (Rip Curl), Ken Hunt (Oakley)