Imagine emptying out your garage, disassembling a hot rod, raiding Home Depot, and then masterfully mismatching all the parts back together in an eye-pleasing way. That’s what Becker Merchandiser Brian Bent has been doing for Becker Surfboards for the past sixteen years. And his mission continues at the shop’s brand-new location in Huntington Beach, California.
“I like atmosphere,” Bent says. “You know when you’re going into those Rainforest Cafes? You go in there, it’s something visual. It’s not just, ?Here you go. Here’s your food.'”
In the same manner that restaurants aim to provide diversion with dinner, Bent has set out to make shopping at Becker’s new 3,500-square-foot store an experience. “The whole point of the uniqueness is to stoke people out,” he says. “It’s like three-dimensional entertainment.”
This notion is nothing new to Becker Surfboards. Each of its five stores scattered throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties has its own playful signature. Inside each shop are custom-built displays and hanging artwork made from driftwood, pipes, Plexiglas, vacuum cleaners, automobile parts — anything, really — that makes visiting the store just plain fun.
On the outside, the new Hutington Beach shop fits inconspicuously among the rest of the storefronts at Sea Cliff Plaza. It hardly looks any different from the center?s Baja Fresh or Baskin Robbins. But step inside Becker Surfboards and you enter a small world saturated with a potpourri of avant-garde artwork doused in yellows, browns, and neon pinks.
“There are four or five main colors through the scheme,” says Bent. “Neon pink represents youth and punk, and yellow represents glory.”
Bent works closely with Becker Owner Dave Hollander, but when it comes down to the look, Hollander gives Bent carte blanche. “This is the second store in a row that I do all the lease arrangements, and I give him a credit card, the keys, and say, ‘Have fun,'” says Hollander. “You’ve gotta believe in Brian, because what you see at the outset isn’t what you get. The ground work can be really crude and lack any kind of direction, and then all of the sudden it clicks.”
Bent and Hollander did collaborate on the shop’s floor plan, however. They set the store up similar to Disneyland; the checkout is in the center like Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (for both customer-service and security purposes) and the remaining sections — kids’ land, juniors’ land, surfboard land, men?s land, and skate land — revolve around the center counter (there’s even a map at the front of the store). For image, Bent wanted the front of the store — the prime real estate — to be devoted to surfboards.
“Brian wanted you to come in through the surfboard area,” says Hollander. “The conventional wisdom is you put your surfboards and your wetsuits in the back, because if they customers want a surfboard or a wetsuit, they’re going to go find it — you don’t need to put it in your prime retail space. But his feeling, and I agreed with him on that, is the first feeling you get when you come through the door identifies who and what you are with the customer. With us, that’s surfboards, and even though surfboards may be only ten percent of our sales now that we’ve grown so much, it’s 90 percent of who we are.”
Of course, that could all change. Most of the custom-made racks are modular, which allows Becker to alter the floor plan in order to accommodate growing categories.
“Our stores are kind of like a boat,” says Hollander, “you’re always working on them. If one area’s kind of getting old and tired or that category’s not valid anymore, Brian comes in and we redo stuff.”
It’s definitely a work in progress, but it’s worthwhile because it keeps the customers happy. “We see a lot of people smiling and going, ?I just love this stuff. Who does this stuff?'” says Hollander. “They’re laughing. He has the ability to think outside the box.”