New Faces At Surf Hardware

While it hasn’t exactly been front-page news, a lot of new faces have joined Surf Hardware in the last year and a half. While not new to the company, Tyler Callaway has a new position in U.S. business development. Then there’s new U.S. Regional Manager Ken Curry, new Global Marketing Manager Wylie Fowler, new owners, and the semi-new top dog Tim Ford in Australia. Ford replaces former CEO and co-founder Bill McCausland, whose reluctant departure from daily operations in the company has resulted in ongoing friction between he and other board members. (McCausland still retains significant shares in the company and holds a seat on the board.) How will all these changes affect retailers? We caught up with Tim Ford to find out.

For some of the folks here in the U.S. who might not know you, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Tim Ford: Sure, I’ve been working with Surf Hardware since January of last year. Prior to that I was running my own marketing business for about ten years. It focused around the service industry, licensing high-performance sales and marketing programs, also generating better team environments with our clients. I think that was one of the reasons the new owners of Surf Hardware were interested in me, because I had done a lot of work in sales and marketing in a very practical way.

So were retail relationships a part of the business they wanted to put a renewed focus on?

Yeah, definitely. One of the things that perhaps Surf Hardware has been guilty of over the past two to three years is not connecting closely enough with the industry. We had gone through a very high growth phase over recent years, and I think the previous direction of the company was not as respectful of the market and the customers as we need to be.

So my job is to look at how we can reconnect with the industry in a really positive way—how can we show a really true and genuine commitment to our customers, and how can we empower each of our overseas offices and management teams to respond more appropriately and tactically to each of the pressures in each of their markets?

We’ve done a lot of work in the last twelve months on restructuring the company and appointing regional managers in each of our overseas operations—including the U.S.—who have a much greater degree of empowerment to respond to the challenges that they’re facing.

We’ve also asked Tyler {Callaway}, who was previously running our U.S. operation, to move into a business-development role for the U.S. mainland, which is effectively an extension of our global marketing area and reflects our increased commitment to make sure we’re responding appropriately to the sales and marketing pressures in each of the markets.

So developing regional strategies is a high priority?

We are a global company, but we want to make sure we recognize the regional differences in the surfing market and respond appropriately to them. And again, that’s something that we’ve not done well in the past. I think perhaps we controlled things a bit too much out of Australia, and I’m looking to make sure the head office here adds value to our regional businesses while not constraining their ability to react to whatever is challenging them at the time.

What we’re hoping to do is to show a much greater degree of respect and humility for the position that we occupy in the industry, and interact with the industry in a positive way. Those two words are really important to our business right now—one is respect, and one is humility. If we show a high degree of both of those, it will really drive a strong commitment to our customers.

What role is former CEO Bill McCausland playing now at Surf Hardware?

Bill’s no longer involved in an operational sense, and he’s no longer a director of the company. But he’s still a major shareholder in the company and therefore has got a strong interest in where we’re heading from a strategic point of view.

How will aall these changes enhance relationships with U.S. retailers?

We’re trying to listen much more to our retailers. We’re also looking to reallocate some of our marketing budget to put more money into better point-of-sale merchandising, better retail education programs, better in-store displays, and really provide a much greater collaborative partnership with our retailers. We’re making a genuine commitment that we’re trying to help them build their businesses while also continuing to find areas where we can increase our own revenue as well.

Also, the depth of {our} customer relationships is relatively superficial. We’ve got a strong range of accessories, not only in the area of fin attachment systems and fins, but also in grip, leashes, and boardbags. And one of the things that we’ve noticed is that the number of products that are held by each of our customers is relatively low, compared to what we’d like it to be.

It makes me happy to go down to the beach and see a surfer with a board with our fin system in it, but if that board is then being put into a competitor’s boardbag, and it’s got a competitor’s grip on it and they’re using a competitor’s leash, well, then I know that the depth of relationship with our customers is relatively small. I want to deepen that as much as we can. This is where we’ve got to work closely with our retail partners to try and improve to a level that suits them, but that also ultimately improves the loyalty of our customers as well.

Can you give us an update on the FCS 2 system?

We are constantly searching for ways to improve our current attachment system, and our new product design team is looking at ways to improve that. Brian Whitty, the original inventor of the FCS system, made a really good system. There’s no doubt, though, that it can be improved in some ways, so we’re looking at that right now. The bottom line is that we are continually looking to improve that, but in terms of when that’s likely to be released, I really don’t have a firm date on that at the moment.

What segment of the business delivers the most revenue, and from what segment do you expect the most growth going forward?

Japan still maintains our biggest market, followed equally by the U.S. and Australia, followed then by Europe and Hawai’i. We want to put more commitment to the U.S. market. We think there’s great potential for us in the U.S., but we’re going to have to work hard at that. So geographically we want to service all our customers well, but we’ll definitely be putting a disproportionate share of effort into building our position in the U.S. over the next twelve months.