Bobbie Abdelfattah, general retail buyer and co-owner at Jack’s Surfboards, has a pretty amazing view. There, where Main Street butts up against Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach, and four stories up, Abdelfattah can look out of the huge panes of glass of his conference room and down at the very epicenter of Surf City, U.S.A.
The tiled floor, cathedral ceilings, and walls lined with framed letters from city governments from throughout Southern California — accolades of his generosity — give the upstairs offices of Jack’s Surfboards more than a subtle sheen of success.
But it’s not just the view of the Huntington Beach pier, the Pacific Ocean, and Main Street that gives Abdelfattah a unique perspective of the surf market. Four stories below lies one of the highest-volume and most respected surf shops in the world. Jack’s is also an almost weekly stop for a big chunk of the surf industry’s brass. To steal a phrase, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere — at least in the surf industry.
But even after 26 years of steady success, Abdelfattah comes across as unassuming and humble — although rightly proud of what he’s helped to create.
TransWorld SURF Business: How long have you’ve been at Jack’s?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: Twenty-six years ago my family used to have a clothing shop that had nothing to do with surfing. We met Jack Hokanson in 1972, and when he decided to retire, he asked us to run the business. It took us about six months to learn about surfing, but it took a long time to turn Jack’s into what it is today.
The surf industry has changed so much. The only companies I dealt with back then were Hang Ten, Levi’s, Laguna, Sundeck, and maybe one more. Now there are 50 or 60 companies in the shop. The business is much more sophisticated these days. There’s so much fashion influence now. The surf market used to go to the other industries to get designs, now it seems all the other industries are coming to the surf market for ideas.TransWorld SURF Business: Which companies in the market right now are doing a better job than others?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: A lot of companies are doing a very good job. Besides Quik, there’s Hurley, Billabong, O’Neill. There are quite a few companies keeping distribution tight. That’s what keeps the brand in demand. I would like to see fewer big retailers carrying some of the brands. Before, when you wanted trunks or a T-shirt, no matter where you lived, you had to go to the beach. Now you can go everywhere. It’s stiff competition for the surf shop.
TransWorld SURF Business: What should brands be doing to stay fresh and not die out?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: Make sure your distribution isn’t everywhere, and take care of your line so it’s not discounted. Brands also have to keep up the quality and the style of the line and keep rejuvenating the look of the line.
TransWorld SURF Business: That sounds easy, but for a lot of brands it seems pretty hard.
Bobbie Abdelfattah: I don’t think so. Quiksilver’s been doing it for twenty years.
TransWorld SURF Business: You’re located right across from the pier. Many of the brands are located nearby and drop in to see what’s happening. What advantage does that give Jack’s?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: The advantage isn’t totally based on location. Jack’s has always been a showcase for a lot of companies. We represent a line from A to Z. You can go to any brand and see we carry the T-shirts, the trunks, the walking shorts, the wovens, the jackets, and everything else they make. That’s made a big difference.
That was one of the reasons we opened Jack’s Girls. We weren’t able to represent the juniors’ lines in a good way within the men’s shop. To be fair, and to give the girls’ clothing the look it deserved, we had to open a new shop where we could make a good presentation of the lines.
There are brands we refuse to carry because we don’t have the room to represent them in a good way. And I don’t like to carry just the shorts, T-shirts, or trunks from a line and say I’m carrying the line.
Another advantage is we carry everything you need for surfing. We’re one of the few shops in California where you can find guns big wave boards. If there’s anything a surfer might need to go to Indo or Fiji, they’ll find it here. It’s the one-stop surf shop. Even if we don’t sell a lot of an item, we’ll carry it because we feel obligated to have anything a surfer might need.
TransWorld SURF Business: Are you happy with the level of support you’re getting from the brands?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: Oh, yes. A shop that can turn merchandise over and over again will be taken care of by the manufacturers a little more than a shop that orders once and then never makes a reorder. With us, we’re like a market here. Most manufacturers make weekly refills. This is a weekly stop for a lot of brands.
TransWorld SURF Business: Most people who think of Jack’s picture the Huntington Beach store, but you also have a shop in Newport Beach. Is it as successful?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: The Newport shop doesn’t do as much volume as this shop, but it’s a very good business. You have to understand, though, that the Huntington Beach store is the most recognized surf shop in the world. When I hand someone a Jack’s card, they recognize it right away. Last year when I went to Tahiti, almost everywhere I went people knew about the shop.
That makes me feel really good. I was in Egypt not too long ago and I saw a few people wearing Jack’s T-shirts. It turns out they were from Australia.
TransWorld SURF Business: Does the fame of Jack’s Surfboards surprise you?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: I’m not really surprised to see those shirts because of the amount of international business I see here. I am surprised, however, at the success of Jack’s. Twenty-six years ago, I never thought I would be where I am right now. To tell you the truth, I never thought I’d be sitting in a room like this.
TransWorld SURF Business: Is the women’s market still the fastest-growing category in your store?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: The women’s market is growing so much. I didn’t realize how strong and how important it was until we opened the new shop and I saw how much demand there was. That made me wonder why I didn’t do it five years ago.
TransWorld SURF Business: Is Roxy still leading that category?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: Roxy is very strong, Hurley is very strong, Volcom is very strong — so are Billabong and O’Neill. They are the leaders, but every other company makes a juniors’ line and they represent a little portion of sales. But the strongest five companies lead the business.
TransWorld SURF Business: How important is skateboarding to the surf market?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: Skateboarding is very important, both for the image and also for sales in Jack’s. But for the last two months we’ve been hit with the new scooter fad. That hurt the skateboard business in a big way. It took twenty to 30 percent of the business away from my skate business.
But it’s a temporary trend, and I’m glad it came in the summer and not in the winter time when we’re doing a lot of business in our skate and snowboard shop next door Jack’s Garage. That fad will last two to three months. As soon as all the big shops start selling scooters, kids will go back to skateboarding.
TransWorld SURF Business: A lot of people in the surf industry are worried about e-commerce. What’s your take on it?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: I’m already having a problem with it. People now buy over the Internet, don’t get the right stuff, the right size, or the right color, and come to shops like Jack’s to make exchanges. That’s created a big problem for us, and we’re really against the whole e-commerce thing. It’s forced us to put up signs that read, “No exchanges without receipts.”
Now, something like Bluetorch is okay. It’s not like they’re retailing from their Web site. But if they start doing that, it’s going to be really bad for everyone.
I gave up on selling things on the ‘Net th
ree years ago. I was getting so many bad checks and charges. Oftentimes, people would send stuff back because they didn’t want it anymore, so I lose the shipping both ways. I teamed with a company that helped me get on the Web, and every month we gave away a surfboard, but at the end of the year we didn’t make any money off the site. It was just a huge problem. It will be very difficult for e-commerce to work in the surf market.
TransWorld SURF Business: What’s your feeling about the state of surfing right now? Are surf manufacturers doing enough to promote surfing?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: I’d like the surf industry be more involved, and I’d like to see the surf shops get involved with SIMA. Surf shops certainly benefit from what happens in the surf industry, so they should help SIMA with their activities. I can see surf shops paying dues and being part of the SIMA membership. If a big shop like Jack’s pays 500 dollars a year, maybe some of the smaller shops could pay 100 dollars a year. If you count how many surf shops there are up and down the coast, you’d find at least five or six hundred shops.
TransWorld SURF Business: And what would you want to get for that money?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: I’m not necessarily asking for a return on my investment, but I’d like to see some benefits. Perhaps if you were a member of SIMA you’d get your stuff earlier at trade shows or not have to wait in such long lines. Maybe you’d get a certain discount on what you order from the brands. That would really encourage every surf shop to be a member.
I’d also like to see SIMA get more contests going up and down the coast. There’s not enough support for the amateur and pro surfer.
TransWorld SURF Business: Like with what they trying to do with Surfing America?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: Surfing America? What is Surfing America? To me it’s just a name. Is Surfing America doing any contests? When something happens, I might believe in it.
We need something concrete. We need SIMA behind something that we all can get behind. There seems to be a lot of disagreement with a lot of the SIMA people right now, and I hope things will change with Dick Baker as president.
TransWorld SURF Business: What about surfboards, are they an important part of your business?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: We move more surfboards right now than we’ve ever moved before. We sell an average of five to eight boards a day. We carry almost 300 boards on the floor from brands like Channel Islands, Local Motion — we carry every big brand in the market. I can’t even count them all. Lost — we’re going through those like crazy.
We have very good relationships with the shapers. Once again, it’s who pays you first. If you sent the shipment today and get paid the next day, you’ll know who to ship first. We don’t have any problem getting merchandise from anybody.
TransWorld SURF Business: How much bigger can Jack’s get?
Bobbie Abdelfattah: We’re not looking to open any new locations. If we take care of what we have now, we’ll serve our customers much better than if we expand and lose the control of the business, lose touch with our customers, and our relationships with the manufacturers. It’s much better to be smaller and in control and know what’s going on around you. After all, it’s not the quantity of service, it’s the quality.