Kitty Hawk Sports

Kitty Hawk Sports
Nags Head

Ralph Buxton, president of the six-location chain of Kitty Hawk Sports stores on the Outer Banks, admits that his stores don’t fit the mold of the traditional hardcore surf shop.

The main store in Nags Head has an extensive kayak department — located a few feet from a large, well-merchandised resort-wear section. However, surf apparel dominates the 7,000-square-foot store with clean displays and good sightlines throughout.


“We’re trying to put forth more of a water-sports store with a beach location,” he says. “It’s a very competitive area. Not only because of the number of surf shops, but also because of the outlet malls, Kmart, WalMart, and Wings.”

Founded in 1981, Kitty Hawk appears to comfortably straddle the line between its tourist and local clientele — something every shop deals with in its own way.

Buxton says summer sales were strong, if occasionally spotty. Sunglass sales were strong, swimwear universally flat. “Lycra — especially Quiksilver Lycra — was probably the hottest product,” he says. “Kids and families buy it for protection — it’s not a fashion item.” Kitty Hawk also is happy with Volcom sales, a line it brought in for the first time this year. Buxton says Quiksilver and Billabong “keep chugging along,” and both brands have a large footprint within the store.

While sales are good and Kitty Hawk Sports appears healthy, Buxton isn’t entirely content. Like many retailers on the East Coast, he’s grown increasingly concerned about distribution and the effect distribution has on sales.

“If you want something to be special, you’re going to have to limit its distribution,” he says. “There are no two ways about it. It bothers me to see some of the major surf brands opening their own outlet stores now. It concerns me to see the number of Pacific Sunwear stores. Maybe that bodes well for the manufacturing companies, but I’m not sure it bodes well for the beach surf shops. The proliferation of surf brands in the interior mall stores has taken away some steam. It’s not as easy anymore. It used to be you put it on the racks and it would fly out the door.”

Buxton stops for a moment to think, then continues in his thoughtful, Southern voice: “It does force you to stay on your toes — stay sharp and keep looking for new lines. With all the new lines coming along, something is going to fall out. My guess is that it’s going to be the middle tier brands. Maybe the recession, terrorist thing — whatever you want to call it — will accelerate that, but it would have happened anyway.”

Despite the challenges, Buxton says he remains fundamentally optimistic about his business, although he will be wary over the next few months. “We’re buying very cautiously for Easter,” he says. “We’ll wait to make our big commitments until Surf Expo — which is normally how it happens anyway. A lot could happen in our kind of fashion business in three or four months. My guess is that by next spring, people will be very weary of watching all this sad news on the television and they will be ready for some serious fun — somewhere where they can let loose.”

Window Brand: Quiksilver
Major Display Brands: Quiksilver, Billabong
Strongest Category: Lycra
Weakest Category: Swimwear
Strongest Brand: Quiksilver
Best Rep: Rick (Quiksilver)