For 40 years Val Surf has been a pioneer in the action-sports industry. The first surf shop to do mail-order, Val Surf was also Quiksilver’s, Hobie’s, and O’Neill’s first dealer. It was also one of the original Burton Snowboard accounts and one of the first surf shops with its own Web site.
As this family-owned business embarks on its fifth decade in business, it constantly reflects on its past to lay the foundation for the future. It knows that success isn’t measured in store fronts.
“We concentrate more on making a real impression with our existing core stores,” says Owner Mark Richards. “And instead of going on a massive exploitation of this industry as some stores choose to do — which is just storefront, storefront, storefront — we want to really be proud of the four that we have and not over do it. This industry knows what happened back in the 80s — when you have too much retail it comes back to haunt you.”
Val Surf recently completed its face-lift of its 13,000-square-foot North Hollywood store, and is drawing plans to expand and remodel its Thousand Oaks store, which Richards admits is a little tired.
While the surf-shop competition is heated in the Valley, Richards welcomes it: “It makes us do a better job.” However, Richards adds that a lot of the competition Val Surf faces isn’t from other surf shops, but from big-box stores.
“The state the industry is in right now, it’s not really competition, but exploitation,” Richards says. “There’re a lot of people coming in without roots in this industry and trying to capitalize on surf — from sporting-good chains, to pseudo board-shop chains, to clothing stores trying to sell the surf look.
“The only way to control it is in the hands of the vendors,” continues Richards. “Most vendors are dealing with it, but most aren’t addressing it to the fullest capacity. They should not give automatic dealership to any new storefront. They should look at that area and go, ‘Do we truly need more retail in those areas?’ and address it accordingly.”[IMAGE 3]
Even with the intense competition, business in Val Surf is solid — although a little softer than usual. Lately, footwear has been the strongest category, and Manager Damon Richards (Mark’s nephew) says smaller brands have been building momentum.
“Novelty brands like Stüssy and Freshjive are gaining some strength,” says Damon. “We’re changing our focus to buying up-and-coming edgy lines that we can grow with and build.”
Window Brands: O’Neill
Major Display Brands: Volcom girls, Roxy
Strongest Categories: Footwear, novelty brands
Weakest Category: none
Strongest Brands: Volcom, Billabong, Stüssy, Freshjive, LRG
Best Reps: Lee Westfall and Matt Bovard (O’Neill), Shamis (DVS, Lakai), Jeff Jones (Freshjive), Willie Morris (Quiksilver), Brant Turner (HIC), Bill Newton (Black Flys), John Sherwood (Globe), Kirk Hobson (Sole Technology). “But by no means does the list stop here,” says Richards. “Of the reps I deal with 90 percent of really good.”
Critical Issues: “Manufacturers have to address their decision of short-term greed versus long-term growth,” says Richards.